CEO Loneliness: the Case of China – lll

A side-effect of China’s unprecedented growth has been to illuminate a seldom discussed cost of leadership — CEO loneliness. In this final part of a 3-part series, James Ng suggests ways this is being handled.

Part Three:  The Way Out Takes Planning

In the previous  post, we looked at reasons why CEO’s in China carry an added burden.

To safeguard the wellbeing of both businesses and CEOs operating in China, here are some suggestions gathered from business literature and from Cornerstone CCC Surveys:

  • CEOs themselves must first acknowledge their reality — that they have real needs that must be addressed.  To be successful in China, no matter how capable a person is, requires support.  Tragedies such as the untimely death of Robin Williams serve as a reminder of the ultimate consequences of neglect.
  • The CEO should explore and seek help from trusted friends or peers.
  • Support groups — an informal peer advisory group, or a more formal group headed by a leader with hands-on experiences and professional credentials – can be helpful.
  • Professional executive coaches have the training to provide valuable help.
  • A mentor, someone who has gone through a similar journey in China, can give practical advice “from the trenches”.

CEOs can help themselves by developing networks that extend beyond their current circles of friends. To gain access to local Chinese networks, they should invest in learning Mandarin and acquiring cultural literacy.  However, finding or creating a support group is a difficult task.  Our surveys confirm, not surprisingly, that CEOs expect to deal with business challenges in peer advisory networks and avoid personal and family issues.

Finally, the goal posts are being moved.  As organizations get flatter, the CEO job is no longer as permanent as before. CEOs should prepare a strategic career plan for themselves to hedge against career risks due to performance or other reasons, such as M&A redundancy, restructuring or the shifting of business models.

Peter Drucker has long warned that permanent corporate careers are disappearing and one needs to bring his or her own knife to clear the way and make their own career paths.

Preparing for financial independence, investing in new skills including local languages, coaching, board and business advisory credentials and investing in wide networks to back up career options will definitely help CEOs reduce anxiety caused by the career risks they face.

About James Ng and Cornerstone:
James Ng is the Managing Partner of Cornerstone International Group and President of Cornerstone C-Suites Circle, a mentoring service to assist CEOs and senior executives to achieve more in China.  He has extensive corporate leadership experience and has worked in China for over 18 years.
Cornerstone International Group has six offices in China supporting domestic and ex-pat leadership and interpreting this extraordinary country through its 60 other offices worldwide.

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