Expatriate Leadership in Asia: Aperio Behavioural Preferences Insight Tool

Some might argue that a good leader should be able to lead effectively anywhere, but leadership styles that work in one part of the world don’t always translate to success in another. Research has shown that Western work behaviours can have the opposite effect in the Asian context.

Professor Giles Hirst, Director of Product Development for Aperio and Chair of Leadership for the Australian National University, discusses the Behavioural Preferences Insight Tool and how it can help shed light on workplace behaviours that are more successful within the Asian context for multinational organisations.

Multinational organisations are increasingly sending high-performing leaders to work outside of their home countries as expatriates on international assignments. It’s an expensive endeavour to uproot an employee (and sometimes a family) and presents a new set of challenges that extend beyond the normal work/life framework.

It can be an exciting time for a leader to be presented with a new set of challenges and the opportunity to grow the business by applying past successes within a new context. But the behaviours and leadership styles that work in one environment do not always apply in another, and there are instances when a leader’s capabilities can be, literally, lost in translation.

Much effort has gone into identifying a leader who can succeed across a range of contexts. Organisations use personality and work preferences tools to identify employees who possess the aptitudes and styles for special projects and to send on international assignments. And while there is nothing wrong with this process, the problem lies with the tools utilised. The vast majority of psychometric tools have been developed for the Anglo-European work environment and reflect the values and assumptions of those contexts. Yet behaviours that have proven successful in these cultures don’t necessarily achieve the same positive results in others, especially ones with different values and motivating factors.

To help multinational organisations better identify which behavioural work preferences succeed in the Asia Pacific context, Professor Giles Hirst, Director of Product Development at Aperio, and his colleagues conducted interviews with thousands of regional business leaders from multinational organisations across a diverse set of industries to develop the Behavioural Preferences Insight (BPI) tool.

The Aperio BPI selection tool aims to help multinational organisations fit the right employees in the right roles within the Asia Pacific context.

“There are some remarkably universal characteristics among us, regardless of culture,” says Dr Hirst, “like our desire to learn and build relationships. But there are also some cultural differences that need to be acknowledged when looking at leadership and employee work styles.”

The degree to which some societies accept the unequal distribution of power (also referred to as power distance) differs between Western and Asian cultures. And knowing how to navigate and manage in one environment, then adapt that leadership style to a new one, is a key component to becoming a successful expatriate leader.

For example, in the western context, leaders are more accustomed to a direct style of conflict, yet it is well documented that in some Asian cultures, a more harmonious resolution leads to greater success.

“Our tool is designed to encourage potential and current employees to move away from choosing the most socially desirable response in order to get the job,” explains Dr Hirst, “and instead choose an answer from two attractive alternatives–where there is no preferred or “right” option. And this is how a picture of true work preferences emerges.”

The BPI measures behavioural preferences on a bipolar scale. Employees taking the assessment choose between situational options that are direct opposites, like analytical versus intuitive or harmonistic versus individual. When there is no middle ground–an option that can go either way–then an employee is free to select which situation he prefers.

Dr Hirst advises that there’s no prescribed recipe for success or failure when assessing which leaders to send on an international assignment. “It’s important to understand that there are many reasons why one leader might not succeed: a lack of integration into the working environment or the surrounding culture, or one’s family’s ability to adapt.”

However, leaders who have been able to make the transition show the ability to adjust their style to the local context. “They exhibit some general themes around facilitating conversations, encouraging innovation, and demonstrating humility and a willingness to listen. They possess a cultural empathy and a cultural flexibility that allows them to lead across borders.”

To learn more about the Aperio Behavioural Preference Insight tool, visit


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