I'm going to Singapore and Malaysia for a talk this week. For a futurist, going to Singapore is a bit like a salmon visiting the Pacific Northwest: it's where we all want to end up. Malaysia is on fewer people's radar, but it really should be: a study, led by Mansour Javidan and published in HBR a couple years ago, found that Malaysia is one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world (Singapore, Denmark and the Netherlands rank 1-3), and by far the most future-oriented predominantly Islamic nation. And the food is awesome.

I'm talking about Futures 2.0 and preferred futures, and one of the things I'm trying to think through is how futures might evolve in Asian countries, or other places with deep, non-Western ideas about leadership, temporal perspectives, etc.. Just as futures in the U.S. was strongly shaped by the Cold War, so too do I suspect it's shaped now by unconscious assumptions about leadership (Bob Johansen's Leaders Make the Future is a fine book, but it strikes me as very American). So it's worth trying to better understand both American presumptions, and those of other countries.

Fortunately, this is something Javidan has been working on. As he blogs in Harvard Business Review:

The best leaders:

  • Are friends with their subordinates but make decisions on their own;
  • Compete with their own direct reports and make sure they are better than others;
  • Speak honestly, but take into account others' status;
  • Use indirect language and metaphors rather than get straight to the point;
  • Avoid taking risks

American readers are probably scratching their heads: what kind of a leadership profile is this? How can a leader ignore his direct reports when making key decisions? What happens to credibility when you're constantly massaging the message?

The brief profile above came from a survey of Chinese managers as part of the research program called the GLOBE project. Of course, there are also parts of the Chinese ideal leadership profile that are similar to the American profile, but it's usually the differences that get managers in trouble.

Interesting to think how a futures methodology for such a leadership style would differ from the ones we use with American companies (or global companies led by people who are mainly from UCLA and Stanford, and are veterans of GE and McKinsey).