Intuition, Time -- and Speaking Last

By Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia | International Herald Tribune, August 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Intuition, Time -- and Speaking Last


Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia, International Herald Tribune


Stephen Watts is president for the Asia-Pacific region and Japan at the SAP, the business software company.

Stephen Watts is the president for Asia-Pacific and Japan at SAP, the business software company.

Q. Do you remember the first time you became a manager?

A.Well, I had red hair back then, and it's been a while since I've had red hair. I'm an engineer by profession and started in the utility industry, designing protection and control systems. I was asked at the time if I would consider moving across to I.T. to help out and write a specification. I went there very grudgingly, as it was the last thing on my mind for my career. But I got hooked; I went on to become a programmer and then analysis programing and then project management. Effectively I was managing a team of programmers and analysts in Australia, and I had to scale that team pretty fast. I had a very diverse team, with a large group of Vietnamese engineers. Within a year, 48 percent of my team were females and 70 percent were non-Australian.

I loved the building and coaching of a team. That was actually the best part of the job, because I think as a manager that's the legacy you leave behind. It's the same in my business today. We have about 6,000 people across Asia today, and I think about the next 100 brilliant leaders we're going to build, and the next 500 that are going to come through. That's what gets me excited.

Q. How do you identify these budding leaders in your team?

A.There are three core things I always look for. Maybe it's intuition or I've read something and it's been sinking in over time, but I always look first and foremost at the core behaviors of the human being. I don't like to use the word value, I don't believe I create value -- that's what we learn from our parents and grandparents.

What we do is look at the behavior in support of the right values that we regard for SAP. People that operate with transparency and high integrity, who are clear about completing and finishing their commitments and enjoy making a difference.

Then I look at the core skills needed for the job, and finally pure experience. It's very unlikely that I would hire, externally, someone who doesn't have two out of the three. I want skills or I want experience, and I have to have the right behavior.

Q. What makes the difference between a good and a great leader?

A.Time. I do believe there are people in the world that have a natural ability at leadership, but I also believe you can teach, coach and build great leaders, and particularly in Asia we have a duty of care to do so. It is without a doubt the most exciting part of the job that I do leading the business across Asia, watch young kids, rough diamonds, grow over a period of five years.

Going back to being a great leader, I think performance always matters. You can't describe yourself as a great leader if you're not a great performer; you need to get things finished and done, follow through on your commitments to your employees, leaders, consumers. Clarity and consistency of communication are also important. I often think that although great leaders can overcommunicate they keep it simple. It's simple, short sentences.

Q. What has been your experience communicating across cultures?

A.There are some subtleties, and I think Asia teaches you to be a good listener. A very good colleague of mine gave me a great piece of advice when I left Australia; to get into a cross-regional role, he suggested I might want to speak less, and I'm being very polite as that's not quite the way he put it. …

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