How to Deal with Business Uncertainty in China

Paul Loo, Managing Director of Profile China, shares his thoughts on managing teams in China's ever-changing business landscape this year.​

There is an air of uncertainty for businesses in China this year, more so than in the past.

Trade wars, reduced consumer spending, falling profits and a contraction of the manufacturing sector all contributed to the uncertainty in China when we welcomed 2019 just a few months ago.

But is it all doom and gloom?

Not really, as it depends on your business and your industry.

And regardless of whether your business is affected by this unpredictability, what we have noticed repeatedly in China is that to create greater certainty, two leadership steps keep repeating themselves: (1) Build a more nimble and resilient team, and (2) Become a more empathetic leader.

1. Build a More Nimble and Resilient Team

Especially in 2019, building a dynamic team is on every leader’s agenda when faced with an uncertain market. This means the need to respond and recover quickly is more important this year than in the past.

But perhaps it’s time to take a slightly different approach. Leaders have a tendency to tell their team to “be more flexible,” or “think outside the box,” or encourage them with “come on — hang in there, we can do it.” Sadly, these overused words mean nothing these days and can even demotivate the team!

More importantly, for your team members to thrive in this increasingly volatile business environment, a behaviour change is needed. These words are useless in changing behaviour, especially during times of stress.

How then, can you create such a change so your team learns to embrace uncertainty to become more effective and to accelerate growth?

A one-size-fits-all approach that you read online or in books may not work, which means you must know each key team member at a far deeper level, and discover what stops them from building resilience and what it would take for them to change their mindset.

In other words, discover what motivates or demotivates each team member as they strive to become more nimble and resilient.

"Discover what motivates or demotivates each team member as they strive to become more nimble and resilient."

Building a dynamic and agile team requires behaviour change, and as the leader, the onus is on you to understand why people will/won’t or can/can’t change. And how do you do this? By becoming a more empathetic leader!

2. Become a more empathetic leader

What is an empathetic leader? Why is this type of leader different?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share other people’s feelings, and a more empathetic leader wants to understand the feelings of their team members, and what stops them from being more nimble and resilient.

I'm useless by myself. My success hinges entirely on the people I work with–the people who enlist themselves to join me in my vision. And it's my responsibility to see that they're working at their best capacity.

This concept is not new in China; however, it has remained mostly a concept and not a daily practice. It is easy to blame the education system, the old habit of leaders leading by command or the belief that leaders must have all the answers. But with the ever pressing need to embrace change and uncertainty, isn’t this the right time for leaders to respond with more empathy?

This begs the question, “How do I grow into an empathetic leader?”

All it takes is to simply ASK before you act. Just as importantly, an empathetic leader listens deeply, listens to understand, and asks and listens again.

"An empathetic leader listens deeply, listens to understand, and asks and listens again."

Take the opportunity to understand why your team members resist building resiliency, understand their fears, and understand what motivates them when faced with a challenging task.

Ask and Listen.

Before you dismiss all of this as New Age mumbo-jumbo, the power of empathy is rooted in science. When we ask to understand and empathise, our team members feel appreciated, which in turn releases a small shot of oxytocin in their brain. Oxytocin is the “feel good” chemical, and when we feel good, we are more likely to have a little more courage and energy to do what we unconsciously resist or deliberately avoid.

Of course, the effects of the oxytocin release can dissipate quickly, but just a small boost is good enough to get us over that initial resistance.


Yes, 2019 could still turn out as an uncertain year in China, but we can reduce the uncertainty by creating nimble and resilient teams who are willing to adapt to the changing environment. And to do this, choose to become a more empathetic leader.

Do let me know how it goes, and I would be delighted to hear from you!

In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behaviour.

​For more information, please contact Paul Loo, Managing Director, Profile Search & Selection.


Paul Loo, Managing Director, Profile Search & Selection


April 2019

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