China is in need of top native talent to lead its businesses, whether they are domestic corporations or multinational enterprises. However, there is a serious skill gap between the need for Chinese leadership and the preparation of mid-level managers to step forward and succeed at the top of their organizations.
Jiang Xueqin is Director of Peking University High School’s International Division. In December 2010 he commented on Shanghai’s high school students taking top place in the world for reading, science and math in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test run by OECD. Chinese teenage students are highly literate and certainly test-savvy. Their academic preparation and theoretical knowledge are top-notch.
Jiang goes on to detail the downside of the Chinese education system when he relates the common complaints of both Chinese and multinational companies about China’s university graduates: they cannot work independently, they lack the social skills to work in a team and are too arrogant to learn new skills. These are the fruits of an education system based on rote memorization which emphasizes test results.
Critical thinking skills are certainly needed by Chinese managers in order to become competitive globally. Jiang suggests that the first step of addressing the preparation gap is trying to teach students who are good test takers to be good essay writers. To write well in English, students need to understand concepts such as thesis and argument, structure and support, coherence and flow, tone and audience, diction and syntax—concepts that are barely introduced in Chinese schools.
Beyond this, strong social skills and teamwork are a great need among the majority of Chinese managers, and an obstacle to their effectiveness and global competitiveness at higher levels of management responsibility.
The greatest challenge, however, lies in the attitudinal shortcomings of Chinese managers. The current education system breeds a certain pride based on mastery of knowledge, while the real world of business management calls for the ability to innovate, to take responsibility and be proactive in problem-solving, to lead by example and continuously learn new ways of doing things in response to a constantly changing global marketplace.
Management development in China for the next five years must comprehensively address the need to develop sharper thinking skills, more effective social and communication skills, and most importantly the shift of attitude/mindset that distinguishes authentic leaders from those who simply want to occupy positions of leadership authority but are ineffective at leading organizations to be globally competitive.