Connective Leadership in the Global Environment

By David Chu

How would the management concepts developed in the United States work in environments that are different than ours? As we move deeper and deeper into the knowledge economy, earlier American management principles have encountered unexpected results. As an Asian-American who led a global function from Switzerland working for a global Fortune enterprise, I have seen some of these results first hand. Fortunately, upon closer examination of today's management principles being taught at the Drucker School I believe that the answer to the question is that these principles do apply globally. In this section I have included two observations of leadership as they are viewed through the Connective Era lens concerning global enterprises and different cultures.

.Connective Leadership in Global Enterprises

“As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant;
They too have their story.” [Desiderada]

If there is any person who comes to mind whenever I read the above phrase in Desiderada, that person would be Dr. Joerg Staeheli. And as I thought about the project’s theme regarding individuals exercising connective leadership and nurturing connective leaders, Joerg's name again came to mind. Finally, when I was reading “The Servant as Leader[1],” my thoughts turned to Joerg as well. Hence, I decided to share with the reader my observation of one connective leader, Joerg, within one global enterprise, Novartis, but this observation may provide a glimpse of how connective leaders may work effectively in other global organizations.

..Seek and One Shall Find

“It is seekers, then, who make prophets, and the initiative of any one of us in searching for and responding to the voice of contemporary prophets may mark the turning point in their growth and service[1],” This passage resonated with me because it described the most dramtic turning point in my own career in November of 1995, when I literally searched for and found my prophet in Basel, Switzerland.

It had already been three years since I made a career transition by leaving Exxon Engineering and Research to join a pharmaceutical company. Ever since a traffic accident had seriously injured my parents I had been considering such a career change. And when I joined American Cyanamid in 1992, I was finally able to team up with others to help bring drugs to market sooner. But I, similar to most people, did not appreciate that drug discovery and development is a very time consuming and resource intensive process. Fortunately for me, however, I quickly realized that I was in a knowledge industry and that a more effective collaborative knowledge creation process may make a life or death difference for some patients and a quality of life difference for many others. I became a seeker for ways to improve the drug discovery to marketing cycle.

It was as a seeker when I joined the US branch of Sandoz in November of 1995 as a “groupware evangelist” and within one week one of my US system administrators came to me for permission to remove some applications. He complained that “some Swiss” had forced onto us some applications that took up server space and were not being used. I took one look at these applications, named the Knowledge MarketPlace[2], and I saw the handiwork of a fellow seeker and evangelist.

Luckily this “Swiss” had included his name and telephone number, so I called him up and volunteered to help him spread the word. I mentioned that I would be visiting Basel in a few days to educate scientists about IT-assisted collaboration and to teach them how to use some collaboration tools that I had developed. He invited me for a short meeting and gave me directions to his office. His name was Dr. Joerg Staeheli.

Because this was my first trip to the Sandoz campus in Basel, Switzerland, I had to literally search for Joerg. And when I found him I was taken aback when I walked into his office. It was in an executive suite and Joerg turned out to be the Technology VP for Sandoz Research. In subsequent years, always informally but connectively, working in different business units and at different hierarchical levels of Novartis and located in different regions of Switzerland, we would combine his organizational and interpersonal strengths and my collaboration technology and process knowledge and together we would set out to improve the Knowledge MarketPlace and to evangelize about its benefits and to teach the ways to use it.

Joerg became one of my mentors and I learned how to become a better mentor for my mentees. Together, as connective leaders[3], Joerg and I mentored many others, as the next section, The Shepherd and His Flock, illustrates.

The lesson for the aspiring connective leaders is that one should not be afraid to seek. Serendipitous events such as mine happen daily and to many people. Furthermore, one of the proven strategies that both Joerg and I had followed may be classified as that of the servant-leader and the Achievement Styles we used successfully were presented earlier in "Connective Leadership and the Technology Server."

..The Shepherd and His Flock

“Born of the merger in 1996, … (Novartis) has become a $24 billion corporation. … How can (Novartis) marshal its dispersed, compartmentalized intellectual resources? … Novartis addresses it with a three-pronged strategy: using Web-based technology to foster collaboration within its worldwide workforce; creating a system of development grants (think of in-house Fulbrights) for projects that will make different business units work together; and hosting periodic knowledge fairs to spark ideas.” Wiring the Corporate Brain[2]

In the previous section, I presented my observation about how individuals can connect and lead across organizational hierarchies in the global organization. In this section, we will examine how the enterprise can develop connective leadership. I will again use Dr. Joerg Staeheli and our informally connected effort to illustrate.

In the summer of 1996, Sandoz merged with Ciba-Geigy to form Novartis. By then, I was already convinced that there existed something I named the “knowledge network[6]” which was a term I had coined from an IT term as part of the concept of the “Organizational Mind[7].” I had evangelized in the academic newsgroups for epistemology discussions about the different focus of this terminology to that of the more popular "knowledge management" and I introduced it formally during the merger by reaching out to our Ciba-Geigy colleagues to form the Novartis Knowledge Network of specialists, technologists, and executives. We invited Joerg to join as one of our earliest members.

By November of 1998, Joerg had taken the knowledge networking concept (I realized at the start of this course that it is actually a form of connected leadership.) to new heights. He had formalized it and had started to use the Knowledge MarketPlace as the means in the Connected Era to mentor new connective leaders and had invited me to be one of those leaders. As Gary Abramson wrote in the CIO Magazine, Wiring the Corporate Brain[2]:

“(Staeheli) prefers to see himself as a shepherd rather than a director. The wording is more than symbolic. Novartis's president, Dan Vasella, asserts that knowledge transfer and creation will determine the company's future competitiveness. ‘Knowledge networking’ shows that Novartis understands that making the most of an organization's intellectual assets is more of a cultural than a technological challenge.

(A) few dozen of Novartis's younger scientists and managers (were selected) to become the company's first ‘technology scouts’ in each of its business units worldwide. Their mission is to lead the charge at their home offices in search of promising, cutting-edge technologies and bring colleagues into worldwide, online brainstorming groups that will, hopefully, lead to the development and sharing of those technologies across business units.

To convince the scouts to devote time to the new knowledge-sharing project despite pressures the merger has brought, Staeheli brings his boss, Hans Kindler, head of group technology and a member of the Novartis eight-member executive committee, to rub elbows with the scientists the night before their first meeting and emphasize his sponsorship of the project.”

Today, Novartis is recognized as one of the best run companies in the World, a rare success from the slew of pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions, and its value to its stockholders had increased while the fortunes of many other pharmaceutical companies had declined. It is my sincere belief that part of that success must have resulted from its formalization of connective leadership throughout the enterprise.

For the aspiring connective leaders, please note the authenticity traits that Joerg exhibited. I included and highlighted his view of himself as a shepherd because of the term’s Biblical implications related to nurturing and serving and to working towards the health and the growth of the flock. And his flock was the connective leaders, the technology scouts.

In this section I presented one enterprise’s strategy for developing its connective leaders. Perhaps you could draw inspiration from this section to explore possibilities of your own?

.Connective Leadership in Different Cultures

In this section, we will use the Connective Era lens to observe the unfolding events in Taiwan, which may be viewed as the challenge to the power of a Stage 2 leader, President Chen Shui-bian, by a Stage 3 leader, "Taiwan's Nelson Mandela[4]," Shih Ming-teh. In particular, we will examine the strategies used by both. While the events in Taiwan may portend the future emergence of Stage 3 leaders to challenge China's Stage 2 leadership and therefore may deserve to be fully researched, we will confine our exploration to within the outline of this project.

We will first introduce the current environment in Taiwan. Next, we will analyze Shih's discernable Individual Achieving Styles. We will follow that by exploring Chen's apparent Stage 2 strategies. And, we will conclude this section by observing possible strategies used by Shih, in context, to confront the quintessentially ineffective and perhaps toxic leader, Chen, and to influence the development of effective connective leaders.

..Current Environment in Taiwan

Taiwan has a number of major diversity and interdependency factors. In the forefront is the fact that Taiwan is still in an unfinished civil war with China[8]. There is the fear of death and destruction that an outbreak of violence with China can bring. In addition, a significant segment of the economy is dependent on commerce with China with a large ex-patriot population working in China. And a majority of the population identifies with China culturally while a lesser segment claims a separate ethnicity, which is real enough in their own minds but is nevertheless a mirage created by a 50-year Japanese occupation.[9]

With China ever present in its collective mind, the populace is divided into the pro-independence Pan-Green alliance and the anti-independence Pan-Blue coalition of pro-status quo and pro-reunification stances. The ruling DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) and its Pan-Green allies lost the majority in the critical local elections to the Pan-Blue parties and the DPP went through a major internal restructuring. The political landscape is made ever more confusing while presenting large openings for ruthless opportunists to exploit, because a poorly written constitution does not clearly divide the powers between the governing branches.[14]

There is also concern about the economy slowing down, growing unemployment concerns, and a less than robust GDP growth rate that averaged, according to The Economist, 3.1% in 2001-2005 and that had even dipped to -2.18% in 2001. A number of corruption scandals related to President Chen's family and aides that may implicate Chen himself still have resulted in a large demonstration by an estimated 1-to-3% of the population.

Since September 9th … protesters, clad in red as a sign of anger, have camped in the city centre. On September 15th hundreds of thousands joined them in heavy rain for what the organisers described as a “siege” march from the presidential palace to the main railway station. … Mr Chen's popularity has plummeted in recent months amid allegations of corruption involving senior aides, a son-in-law and the president's wife. In August the president himself was questioned by prosecutors over the use of false invoices to claim money from a fund available to him for pursuing clandestine diplomacy. [10]

And while we do not have the Organizational Achieving Style for Taiwan, because Taiwan is not an organization, we may infer Taiwan's connective leadership context from an organizational study by Hofstede[5]. The plot shown above was prepared from Hofstede’s Figures 5, 6, and 7. The Hofstede study ranks Taiwan slightly above average on a Power Distance Index (on par with Japan and France) and also slightly above average on the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (on par with France and Switzerland). The same article lists Taiwan at near bottom on the Individualism Index (polar opposite to USA and UK) and slightly below average on the Masculinity Index (on par with France).

Taiwan’s slightly larger Power Distance Index, and mildly stronger Uncertainty Avoidance Index, and moderately feminine Masculine Index indicate a large degree of diversity in most aspects of organizational behavior. Thus, Taiwan’s political environment is fertile ground for Stage 2 leaders to divide and conquer.

On the other hand, Taiwan’s very low Individualism Index, termed “collectivist” by Hofstede, is a reflection of the Confucian ethic that extends the concept of family through the government all the way to the head of state. In Taiwan, the president takes on the role of the father figure. As we shall see in the subsequent sections, both Chen and Shih may have based their strategies on a strong Confucian ethic based behavioral tendency.

..Shih's Individual Achieving Styles

If there ever were a most unlikely challenger to President Chen Shui-bian, one would have thought it would have been Shih Ming-teh. Shih spent 25 years in prison[4], on the so-called Green Isle, Taiwan’s version of the Soviet gulag for those serving life sentences. He was imprisoned by the then ruling KMT party for espousing democracy. A large portion of his time in prison, 13 years, was spent in solitary confinement. He was one of the founders and leaders of the DPP. During Shih’s treason trial, Chen was his lawyer. So it was major news when Shih published his open letter to Chen on August 7, 2006, calling for Chen to resign[13]. It also sent shockwaves throughout the Pan-Green alliance that had resulted in immediate attacks[15]. Subsequently he has exercised Achieving Styles of a Stage 3 leader while seeking to force Chen’s resignation. While Shih had exhibited other styles, due to the limitation of time, I will mainly focus on his highly visible Personal Style

(B)ypass our rational defenses and tap into the deep emotional reservoirs that followers bring to the leader / constituent relationship, Dazzled by the charismatic leader’s ingenious manipulation of symbols, drama, and rituals, constituents find themselves in the leader’s thrall.[3a]” Shih’s open letter to Chen was certainly a counterintuitive move that had resulted in events as described in this passage by Lipman-Blumen. The legalistic manipulations started by the Pan-Blue Stage 2 opposition leaders to force Chen’s resignation had fizzled until the moment of Shih’s letter. After Shih called for 1% of the population to join a sit-in demonstration in the capital, some estimated the actual participation to be up to 3%.

Other examples of Shih’s Personal Style abound. For instance, by simply viewing the attached photo one could see the careful use of symbols. By choosing to be interviewed in a study setting, by sitting behind a desk scattered with paper, by holding a glass of tea, and by wearing a turtleneck shirt, Shih exuded the symbol of Confucian respect, that of the approachable scholar. The symbols certainly worked, as witnessed by the following quotes.

"Shih's romantic quality compelled them to show up.[4]

"We don't consider him a politician," said demonstrator Helen Wang, 52, a retired art teacher from Kaohsiung. "He's a patriot. He's a sensitive person.[4]

While the Personal Style has been easily Shih's main style, other styles, including the Collaboration Style, have been discernable as well. For example, the mayor of the capital, Taipei, is Ma Ying-jeou, who also leads the KMT party. Shih's has gone out of his way to collaborate with Ma to ensure that the demonstrations would be peaceful and to select venues and schedules that would minimize commuter inconvenience. He has even invited Ma to participate but Ma has so far demurred.

..Chen's Stage 2 Strategies

While Shih's has exhibited many Connective Leadership traits, Chen has followed a number of Stage 2 leadership strategies based mainly on fear and Machiavellian intrigue. We will illustrate only the five major discernable strategies.

Raise the "Red terror" specter - "'RED terror' on the streets of Taipei is how Taiwan's ruling party has, with predictable hyperbole, described days of protests ... (insinuating) meddling by the mainland's Communist government. ... China, despite its contempt for Mr Chen and for democracy, would rather see the opposition Kuomintang (KMT ) regain power through the ballot box.[10]" In addition to hyperbole, whenever Chen has been in political trouble he has pushed a bit further toward declaring Taiwan independence in order to goad China into making threats.[16]

President/country singularity – Basically, Chen has been using the symbols of the presidency as a personal shield to drive home the point that anyone who attacks him and his actions would be attacking Taiwan. A most transparent and more recent ploy of this type was his trip to Palau in early September immediately before demonstration masses were gathering. He used Taiwan’s version of Air Force One, which had never been used for such trips before, for the first leg of the trip just so that he could give a press conference on foreign soil, while the demonstrations took place in his absence, to proclaim that “It is a small step for me, but one giant leap for the head of state diplomacy.[12]

Revere the "father" – Another strategy one may notice is the stress on the Confucian ethic that treats the leader of a country as the father to all people. Chen visited schools more frequently than usual where he would hold students in his arms and would otherwise act the fatherly figure. These televised visits remind the audience that in the Confucian ethic fathers are to be revered and not questioned.

Divide and conquer – Throughout the past few months, Chen would speak to the press using only the Taiwanese dialect, the preferred dialect used by the pro-independence segment of the population. He would also make appearances only in the overwhelmingly pro-independence city of Tainan. His apparent goal has been to remind the pro-independence but anti-corruption demonstrators that they, like him, were different from the Pan-Blue demonstrators.

Attack the person – Chen has thrown every attack possible against Shih at the personal level. His forces have brought out Shih’s ex-wife to accuse Shih on TV of having sold out to the KMT. She brought out a shirt that Shih used to write her while he was in prison. They published from the archives his “confessions.” Unfortunately, this particular ploy backfired because Vice President Lu, a Chen deputy, was also jailed at that time and has had her “confession” published and disavowed in the previous year. She distanced herself from the attack and called Shih’s “confession” as nothing but the product of torture.

Thus whatever strategies chosen by Shih must be able to counter the five strategies used by Chen.

..Leadership Strategies in a Cultural Context

While many other factors will determine the outcome of events in Taiwan, the power of the Connective Leadership strategies used by Shih is evident. Other Stage 2 leaders who could not transcend party lines and who had mainly sat on the sidelines, notably Ma Ying-jeou, who heads the KMT, should perhaps take note.

Because of Shih's age and his recent treatment for liver cancer, media and analysts say the sit-in may be his last public campaign. Shih has also said he expects no personal gain from the demonstration.[4]

In the earlier section on Shih’s Achieving Styles I referred to his scholarly appearance. When coupled with his denial of death act that was described in the above passage, the Chinese see in Shih an all powerful symbol. The ultimate Confucian idea is that of the scholar who dares to transcend death to petition for the emperor to act according to propriety. The Chinese have a special place in their hearts especially reserved for those people who are perceived to exhibit zhongcheng (忠誠), which has somewhat similar meanings to authenticity[3b] but connotes loyalty, and demands a devotion to principle that would end with one’s own death if necessary.

I had planned to add other strategies but they all pale when compared to the one I have just listed. By focusing on this single strategy, Shih has certainly succeeded in sowing the seeds of connective leadership in the hearts and minds of the high school and college students, the mothers and the children they bring with them, the business men and women, the pro-democracy advocates, the pro-reunification die-hards, and the status quo seekers.

For the aspiring connective leaders in different cultures, based on this sample case, I would suggest to look for the Achieving Styles that best fit within the cultural context.


[1] Robert K. Greenleaf, "The Servant as Leader," Paulist Press.

[2] Gary Abramson, "Wiring the Corporate Brain," May 15, 1999, CIO Magazine

[3] Jean Lipman-Blumen, "Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World," 2000, Oxford University Press. P.237, “Because connective leaders recognize the importance and inevitability of interdependence, … (their) gifts of trust, collaboration, sponsorship, encouragement, and behind-the-scenes assistance set the reciprocation dynamic in motion. Their behavior in turn becomes a model for other members of their interdependence environment.” [3a] p. 199. [3b] p. 245

[4] Ralph Jennings, "NEWSMAKER-Taiwan's leading dissident in stand against president," Sept. 12, 2006, MSNBC

[5] Geert Hofstede, "Motivation, Leadership, and Organization," 1980, AMACOM.

[6] David L. Chu, “KEY CONCEPT: Shadow Hierarchy”, September, 2005, Knowledge/Action (“Shadow Hierarchy” was a new name for “Knowledge Network”), “To the "yang" of the business structure there is a need for a "yin" structure. … (1) The structure is not as rigidly structured but is flexible. At any instant, the structure would reflect the informational needs of the business. (2) The hierarchy is not vertically structured but is horizontally constructed in order to promote the free flow of information. (3) The direction for information is sensed by each knowledge leader at each stage based on the analysis of business drivers. (4) The forward knowledge leader senses the directions of the following knowledge leaders and creates an aligned direction and then pulls the succeeding knowledge leaders in that aligned direction. (5) Finally, the forward leaders lead and support those who follow.”

[7] David L. Chu, “The Organizational Mind, a K-value of K^2 or K*log(K)?,” September, 2005, Knowledge/Action, “If a network of dumb chips could defeat the human chess champion, what kind of power can one unleash if one can network a bunch of extremely smart scientists?”

[8] “(Taiwan) History in brief,” February 6, 2004, The Economist, “In 1949 Taiwan was taken over by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek, who had lost mainland China to the communists. … Taiwan acts as though independent, but it is deterred from declaring formal independence by a threat of invasion from the mainland. Taiwanese who favour a declaration of independence believe China would not dare invade and risk war with America, which sees itself as Taiwan's guardian. … Modern Taiwan, a racially mixed nation of 22m people, differs from China, they say: it owes its success to a workforce highly educated in a system set up by the Japanese. In 1993, the government supported the establishment of the country's Institute of Taiwan History, crammed with scholars who enthusiastically seek to show Taiwan's ‘unique characteristics’. Despite this politicisation of history, most Taiwanese support the status quo, hoping that an eventual democratisation on the mainland will make reunion possible.”

[9] ibid., “An expanding Japan fancied the island and in 1895 forced China to hand it over after winning the Sino-Japanese war. Japan's rule lasted until 1945, when it was defeated in the second world war.”

[10] “Masses in Taiwan protest against the government,” September 21, 2006, The Economist.

[11] ibid., “Since September 9th Mr Shih and fellow protesters, clad in red as a sign of anger, have camped in the city centre. On September 15th hundreds of thousands joined them in heavy rain for what the organisers described as a “siege” march from the presidential palace to the main railway station.”

[12] President Chen takes Air Force One to Palau,” September 9, 2006, Office of the President, “President Chen also noted that taking Air Force One to conduct the state visit is of great significance since Air Force One strongly demonstrates Taiwan's sovereignty. … After visiting Palau, President Chen will … return to Taipei on September 6.”

[13] 施明德致函-促請陳水扁下台 (Shih Ming-teh’s Open Letter to Chen Shui-bian),” August 7, 2006, Open Letter

[14] “(Taiwan) Political forces,” October 20, 2005, The Economist, “Taiwan the relationship between the president, premier and parliament is less well defined than it is in France. Successive waves of constitutional reform since 1991 have not resolved this lack of clarity, and some academics argue that the changes have made the situation even more confused.”

[15] Gerrit van der Wees and Mei-chin Chen, “A letter to Shih Ming-teh,” August 22, 2006, Taipei Times, “We are deeply concerned about the recent actions of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德), in particular his campaign to get President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down. We are writing this as friends.”.

[16] Luis Ramirez, "China Warns Taiwan Not to Push Constitutional Reforms," September 27, 2006, Voice of America.China is warning Taiwan not to reform the island's constitution. … Revamping the constitution has been one of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's main political objectives, ... Members of Chen's party are expected to introduce a bill on changing the island's name from the current ‘Republic of China,’ to ‘Republic of Taiwan.’”

  • Introduction
  • Table of Contents
  • Methodology
  • Elements of Effective Leadership
  • Strategies for Individuals
  • Muslim Women Leadership Status in the Connective Era>
  • Connective Leadership in the Global Environment
  • Conclusion