Hong Kong is one of the great business centers of the world. As such, its business and leadership cultures have been subject to many of the paradigm shifts and economic trends that are attendant to the globalizing world economy. This makes this a useful context within which to examine some of the more important recent developments in leadership theory. Included among them, the discussion hereafter considers such leadership dimensions as relationship orientation, task orientation, empowerment, charismatic leadership and transformational leadership. These leadership dimensions help to define a business atmosphere that is in a constant state of evolution since Hong Kong's turnover to Chinese authority in 1997. As the discussion will demonstrate, many of the leadership practices and principles in place reflect Hong Kong's longterm evolution as a free-market society and a bastion for capitalism. Simultaneously though, its role and relationship with respect to mainland China denotes that Hong Kong is a unique nexus point between western business culture and that in the region dominated by mainland China. The result is a picture of leadership which is largely western in nature but which carries some qualities which are specific to its region and ethnic culture.
First and foremost to the discussion is the importance of defining leadership within the context of the modern business world. An attempt to effectively define leadership inevitably brings us to a discussion on how best to both incorporate with and distinguish from the roles of business management. Indeed, the line between these conditions is often difficult to see without proper discernment. And more to the point, perhaps leadership is the term most difficult to discern from the overall roles of a management. But in fact, leadership is a concept unto itself and a quality which can often mean the difference between effective management or authoritative impotence. Accordingly, Vecchio (2007) remarks that "leadership is a process that includes managers. If you look at leadership, you will see good management at work. Leadership and management work hand in hand with one another. They both need support from each process in order to achieve its goals." (Vecchio, 3)
Often, the difference between an effective management core and one which fails to motivate its organization is in the dexterity and sensibility present in its leadership. This is particularly because it falls on the shoulders of management to construct and oversee the implementation of both strategy and execution. To this end, we consider the balance between task orientation and relationship orientation where managerial leadership is concerned. For business leaders in Hong Kong, evidence suggests that task orientation is actually of secondary importance to relationship orientation. This differentiates Hong Kong significantly from mainland China, in which the business culture tends to reflect a more mechanistic interest in productivity and task outcomes rather than on the long-term implications of effective human resource management or organizational culture. As Bass & Stogdill (1990) recognize, there is a fundamental difference between national cultures which dictates the emphasis on either task or relationship orientation. This is true to the extent that "cross-national differences in the relevance of task and relations orientation have been found using the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) questionnaire. Bennett (1977), for example, found that high performance managers in the Phillipines had a low score (task oriented) while their counterparts in Hong Kong had high LPC scores (relations oriented)." (Bass & Stogdill, p. 796)
For business leaders in Hong Kong, there is a recognition that the fostering and cultivation of positive, dynamic and multi-directional relationships is an effective way to stimulate greater organizational commitment, to improve company-wide morale and to achieve a posture in external business relationships that is consistent with the capitalist-leaning global market. As research demonstrates, this is not strictly a function of capitalist vs. communist political orientation either. It is also a function of a distinct ethnic and ideological culture, at least as this compares to mainland China, where certain features of the national identity are vividly evident in the country's business culture. Particularly, China is distinguished from the free-market economies within its regional sphere by corporate realities which disincline relationship orientation. As Bass & Stogdill observe, "aside from the obvious effects on them of the differences in their economic, political, and social systems, the Chinese in the People's Republic of China diverge from the Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. . . Managers in the People's Republic of China valued power differences, risk taking, individualism, and assertive masculinity considerably less than did their Hong Kong counterparts." (Bass & Stogdill, p. 767)
This suggests that the power-dynamics and hierarchies which formulate free-market corporations tend to stimulate leadership which is relationship oriented. The points of distinction between superiors and subordinates are defining characteristics of a business culture and of the model of leadership implemented. Where Chinese business leaders have been molded in a context where relationship orientated is subjugated behind aggressive task orientation, Hong Kong reflects the global economic tendencies toward sustainable relationships based on certain procedures, practices, rules and norms. These norms are often tied to specific features of the cultural hierarchy, whether these are factored according to gender, race, ethnicity or age.
It bears noting that this relationship orientation is also of considerable relevance where customer service is concerned as well in Hong Kong. According to Peng (2008), relationship orientation is more importantly a function of customer and partner dynamics than of personnel dynamics. Here, Peng argues that relationship orientation can be "defined as a focus to establish, maintain, and enhance relationships with customers. Relationship orientation also originates from marketing (often known as 'relationship marketing'). Like market orientation, relationship orientation has more recently been expanded to touch many functions beyond marketing. Given the necessity for building trust and coordinating operations, supply chains certainly can benefit from relationship orientation." (Peng, 428)
This suggests that for Hong Kong business leaders, there is a distinct economic benefit to creating meaningful business relationships as compares to simply meeting production metrics or achieving quantifiable economic goals. This is why, perhaps more than many other economies in the world, Hong Kong business leadership may be defined by a sense of empowerment, both for leaders and for those over whom they preside. Such is to argue that empowerment places a critical role in the evolution of relationships, offering personnel a degree of socio-economic mobility which is distinct from that in China or even that in the United States. This is particularly so because Hong Kong has historically been a paragon to laissez-faire economic principles, producing a climate in which empowerment of personnel may often lead to greater leadership development from within and more accountable long-term commitment to the goals of a company. This is a feature which is particular to Hong Kong's economy, though more recent historical developments have shifted the landscape slightly where empowerment is concerned. So is this noted in the text by Peng, which asks, "which economy has the highest degree of economic freedom (the lowest degree of government intervention in the economy)? Hint: It is not the United States. A series of surveys report that it is Hong Kong ( the post 1997 handover to Chinese sovereignty does not make a difference) The crucial poing here is that even in Hong Kong, there is still some noticeable government intervention in the economy. During the aftermath of the 1997 economic crisis when the share price of all Hong Kong-listed firms took a nosedive, the Hong Kong government took a highly controversial action. It used government funds to purchase 10% of the shares of all the 'blue-chip' firms listed under the Hnag Seng index." (Peng, 40)
While Peng reports that this did help to slow the decline of share prices across the board, today it leaves the Hong Kong government with at least a 10% ownership stake in all of the territories most prolific corporations. To this extent, the economic freedom and empowerment that are prominent in Hong Kong may have diminished slightly, mostly as a result of the need for greater economic control on the part of the government. That said, it remains the case that Hong Kong offers one of the world's most liberalized economies, indicating that opportunities are more than present still for business leaders to excel and to encourage self-directed excellence amongst their personnel.
Of course, yielding positive outcomes from personnel empowerment typically requires leadership well-heeled to the challenges of an always-changing economic environment. This invokes a consideration of the concept of 'charismatic leadership.' This mode of leadership suggests an individual particularly well-suited to the relationship orientation that characterizes Hong Kong's business culture. Here, we refer to a leader who is particularly skilled in various aspects of communication, human resource orientation and inspiration of one's colleagues. As Choi (2006) offers, "charismatic leadership is assumed to have three core components: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment. A charismatic leader's envisioning behavior influences followers' need for achievement, and the leader's empathic behavior stimulates followers' need for affiliation. Followers' need for power is enhanced by a charismatic leader's…