Shanghai is a glittering metropolis, the kind of city that easily fool Western visitors that China is just like Manhattan. It’s a far more complex place than that, though, and although I’m here only briefly, I’ve been able to see it from a couple of points of view.
I’ve met a couple of dynamic businessmen building fascinating businesses here. The great thing is that they are bloggers, which means that I–and you–can learn from them and get an insider’s view of what’s going on in Shanghai, and China. First, there’s Sam Flemming, who comes from Alabama and ended up here by chance, after a stint teaching English in Japan. He says he never imagined himself living in China, or anywhere outside the U.S., in the long-term. But he’s developed a consulting and market research business focused on social media (BBS and blogs), a subject we cover in this month’s Guanxi: The China Letter.
Frank Mulligan is another blogger, a specialist in Human Resources (HR), or, as he seems to prefer to put it, a specialist in talent. Frank met me for coffee this morning at my hotel, the beautiful old Peace Hotel on the Bund (a long parade of European building facing the river). We went to the eighth floor restaurant and talked as we looked out at the Pudong, the area across the river that is being developed as China’s major financial center. (Here’s a photo my son Tom took in 2004.) I was intrigued to hear that Chinese employers complain about some of the same problems we Americans do, as well as about some challenges specific to China. I had wanted to have an issue of Guanxi on HR, and now with Frank’s advice I can see how to do this. But I think I’ll take his lead and make the issue about China’s “Talent Search.”
Yesterday I had a lengthy meeting and tour at the new China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP), thanks to a suggestion made by one of the Encyclopedia of Leadership‘s advisory board members, Barbara Kellerman. Barbara was one of the speakers when CELAP opened last year. It’s a breathtaking enterprise, on 40 hectares, with top hotel standard accommodation for 900, a five-floor library, and a large sports center. CELAP is intended to teach leadership skills though a variety of activities, from classroom teaching to field studies in different organizations to seminars led by participants. These participants are primarily top government (CPC, or Communist Party) officials, along with senior business people from private and state-run corporations, as well as a smattering of other senior people-university presidents, for example.
I’ve spent a lot of time with leadership scholars and know that world fairly well. CELAP was something completely new, however, and it’s going to take some time-and more communications-to understand how leadership studies is going to evolve and develop in China. There’s considerable interest in Western ideas here, along with a commitment to Chinese approaches and practices. Although leadership is something everyone understands, in real life, the world of leadership studies is still taking shape, and I’m going to watching carefully as it tries to incorporate Chinese ideas. Communicating accurately is going to be a great challenge, I suspect, because the same words may well mean different things in Chinese context. The January issue of Guanxi is about leadership, so we’ll be doing some exploration of this important topic, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some book projects develop, too.