By Claire West

China has the fastest growing global economy and — according to research by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) — also boasts a highly ambitious, sophisticated and commercially astute management population that poses a rising challenge to managers and businesses in the West.

The Global Management Challenge — which surveyed the opinions of over 325 managers in the UK, US, France and China — paints a picture of Chinese managers who are hugely underestimated by their complacent western counterparts and who are launching a serious challenge to established Western business and management practices.

The study identifies the top ten list of global good management characteristics — led by a determination to get things done, good communication skills and the ability to learn.

However, the research also highlights some fundamental differences between the approaches of Chinese and Western managers. Chinese managers have a real thirst for knowledge and experience. Despite being largely satisfied with the standard of managers in their country, they were by far the most focussed on improving performance and processes. In contrast, when Western managers were asked about their managerial weaknesses over 65% felt there were no management weaknesses in their business that could hold back development.

On the issue of management training, Western managers are once again shown to be falling behind their Eastern counterparts; not only were Chinese managers better educated to begin with, they also receive more in-house training than their peers in the West.

“Messages we traditionally receive about China portray an authoritarian, sweat shop economy that has scant regard for the environment or concepts such as corporate social responsibility. In contrast, the Global Management Challenge reveals a more sophisticated picture of Chinese managers. They see themselves as having a high regard for rules, customer focus and their impact on the environment. They value wisdom and knowledge, and while willing to acknowledge weaknesses, are also determined to correct them,” explains Penny de Valk, chief executive of ILM.

The Global Management Challenge encourages Western managers to consider a number of key lessons that they must accept and learn quickly to remain competitive with their Chinese peers.

1. Know the competition — Western perception of Chinese managers is rooted in the past and China is still seen by the majority of managers as a society whose economic strength relies on low cost, long hours and tough competition. In fact, ILM research suggests China is already developing a sophisticated, innovative and ambitious management culture.

2. Define your priorities — ILM research makes it clear Western managers do not practice what they preach. The areas Western managers identify as most important — such as getting things done, customer focus and communication — are not the areas in which they felt they performed most strongly. Yet there was little interest among western managers to invest in developing these key abilities.

3. Address your weaknesses — Chinese managers surveyed came across as well educated and far more ambitious than those in the West; although we seem happy with the current state of our management capacity, they are not and are doing something about it.

4. Prepare for a new management style — we need to be alert to an emerging Chinese way of managing. We need to learn from this new management perspective and understand its potential impact on future economic relationships.

“The archetypal ideal manager — as revealed by the research — is determined to get things done, has good communication skills, good general knowledge, wisdom and the ability to learn. Furthermore, they take responsibility and enjoy good relationships with others. Less important are business knowledge, customer focus or team working skills,” says de Valk.

“Unfortunately, by their own admission, few managers live up to this ideal and this mismatch, between ideal and reality, is something managers across the globe must work on. Success breeds complacency and there are signs from the research that decades of economic success and prosperity have made managers in the West complacent,” she says.

“Chinese managers are setting the global management agenda and those businesses and managers that are unable or unwilling to accept this change and evolve accordingly will fall by the wayside,” concludes de Valk.