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Jane Horan

Based in Singapore

  • Founder of The Horan Group
  • Expert in cross cultural and women leaders
  • Author of I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics and How Asian Women Lead: Lessons for Global Corporations
  • Founder of The Horan Group
  • Expert in cross cultural and women leaders
  • Author of I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics and How Asian Women Lead: Lessons for Global Corporations

Jane HORAN is Founder of the Horan Group, a strategic consulting firm which builds inclusive and engaged work environments, emphasizing leadership acceleration, unconscious bias, and workplace politics. As an expert in Organisational Development, she worked for Kraft Foods, The Walt Disney Company and CNBC in Asia-based talent and leadership development roles.

Her book, I Wish I’d Known That Earlier In My Career: the Power of Positive Workplace Politics was published January 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. Her next book, How Asian Women Lead: Lessons for Global Organisations will be published 2014 by Palgrave MacMillan.

She has an extensive background in cross-cultural leadership and building diverse, global teams, and is a frequent speaker on Transformational Women Leaders, Positive Politics, and Unconscious Bias. Horan has presented at leadership conferences globally, been published in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Business Times, The Straits Times, The South China Morning Post, The Organisational Development Journal, profiled in radio, podcasts and television in Asia, Europe and North America. Horan both leads workshops and is an executive coach for Fortune 100 companies, NGO’s and academic institutions in Asia, North America and Europe. A partial list of business engagements include: Microsoft, HP, BP, Bayer, McDonald’s, Unilever, P&G, eBay, VMWare, Monsanto, Jones Lang LaSalle, Covidien, Singtel, ANZ, UBS, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Deutsche Bank. She is a Senior Fellow with the Conference Board Human Capital Committee, serves on the board of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) and past board member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

She completed her Educational Doctorate with Bristol University, focusing on Transformational Asian Women Leaders, holds a Masters Degree in Organization Design and Effectiveness from The Fielding Institute, California, studied International Relations and Chinese Language with the Monterey Institute California/Hunan Technical University in Changsha, China, and received a BA from the University of California at Irvine. Horan moved to China to study and teach, and has lived in Asia for over two decades.


Doubt may arrive unannounced. Whether you’ve been given a great work opportunity or told your job is ending, just when you’ve decide to take action, doubt surfaces, slides next to you and whispers

Are you sure?

Do you think this is the right choice?

What if it doesn’t work out?

One of my ex-colleagues was recently offered a huge promotion. It is a big step but she’s completely qualified and more than capable, and has all the right stuff for leadership. But she told me, “One side of my brain tells me I should have this role, and the other side reminds me I may not be good enough.”

Everyone–leaders included–has doubts. Every opportunity or crisis raises our doubt quotient. Too often, doubt is linked with distrust, but doubt actually necessitates the courage to ask challenging questions. Courage, in turn, requires having a voice, trusting others, and taking action. As long as we’re not paralyzed by doubt, it’s a good thing. Sitting with doubt allows self insight as well.

How then do we become comfortable with doubting? By acknowledging that doubt challenges perfectionism. For centuries, scientists and philosophers honed their doubting skills, asking questions to challenge opinions before acting. Seek comfort in the fact that doubt has driven intelligent decisions over the centuries.

One thing is certain–doubting keeps us humble and prepared.

Originally by Jane Horan, Source: Dec 12, 2014, The Horan Group


I work with many mid-career executives who are unclear what to do next in their career. Having invested significant time building a profession, they understandably find it difficult to shift into something new–if that is the direction they’re considering.

I’ve recently had conversations with management trainees and financial analysts, all starting careers and expressing doubt about making the right career choice. It’s not about the concerns of long hours or having a difficult boss, but more “Is this all there is to life?”

One analyst told me she’d been in her role for three years, and was planning to quit and write poetry. Another said she knew what she wanted to really do but was afraid to make a change, having invested so much time to become an accountant and didn’t want to feel it was all a waste of time.

Careers are not straight lines; you can take a side journey. Don’t wait for a job to end; develop another side to yourself in parallel to your full time job.

Last month, the New York Times Magazine published a series of interviews entitled “Old Masters”–delightful stories of 80 plus year-olds celebrating long-lasting careers. What drives this group of artists, academics and business people to keep going? The desire to learn, to perfect a craft and discover more. Some believed it’s important to stay with a project, while others said ‘know what’s possible and wait for the right time’. At 80 plus, time is a precious commodity.

Travelling on a bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, I spoke to a young professional who shared his story. He’d studied finance in Manchester, England and was now a chef on a private yacht in the South of France. After completing an MBA, he realized life behind a desk was not for him. Not knowing what to do, he signed up to be a deck hand on a yacht. When the head chef didn’t show up, the captain asked him, “Can you cook?” That ended his finance career and started a culinary adventure.

It’s never too late to start something new. It’s never too soon to hone your craft.
How do you think about what’s next? Take out a piece of paper and a handful of pens, your career visualization roadmap-the power of free drawing.

Pen in hand, visualize and draw past achievements, setbacks, celebrations. Write headlines of experiences, lessons learned, losses and gains. Your map. Learn from the past to sketch out what’s meaningful–for you only.

Careers are not straight lines.

You may start off in accounting and end up as a sous chef.

You can go into marketing and decide to write poems.

You can begin as a primary school teacher and become CEO of an integrated media company.

Whether you’re 20, 50 or 80, when opportunity knocks, take the plunge. Enjoy the journey and appreciate the curves–and not knowing what’s around the corner. There’s much more you can add to your sojourn once you have a drawn your own map.

Originally by Jane Horan, Source: Nov 24, 2014, The HoranGroup

The HR head of a global pharmaceutical company recently asked me, “Can you really teach managers to be political savvy? It’s intuitive, isn’t it? You either have it or you don’t.”

Not really. Maybe for a select few, but most of us trip over multiple political mishaps on our career path. We either learn how not to stumble, or become disgruntled and disengaged.

A new Gallup poll states that most employees hate their jobs but is that really true?

I don’t think so. Many people do enjoy their work but dislike dealing with “office politics.”

Gallup’s survey doesn’t ask about politics. Had they done so, it’s likely they would have found decades of employee disengagement patterns.

McKinsey, however, uncovered links to a dislike of politics and the poor retention and promotion of mid-level managers.

Let me be crystal clear–political savvy is a critical leadership skill. Ironically, learning such skills are seldom part of development programs. In 1987, UK professors Simon Baddeley and Kim James researched political behaviour within organisations, and found that very few developed this sort of savvy. Since Baddeley’s and James’ work, little has changed, although they did uncover two critical savvy elements: reading and carrying.

Knowing how to “read” a situation is balanced with insights, values and experience in order to take action. Reading is external, whereas “carrying” is your internal compass, the ability to look inward and become aware of your every action.

In other words, if your internal compass points to the world as negatively political, you’ll hit a brick wall in your career.

I discovered the importance of ‘reading and carrying’ observing John, the head of Compensation for the same global pharmaceutical company:

John is brilliant, one of the best in his field. He works alone, doesn’t talk about accomplishments; his work speaks for itself. For six months, John developed a superb sales incentive plan. Working with the business leader on the plan, he did not see the need to share with anyone else. Last week, John was invited to share the incentive plan with the executive team. Fifteen minutes into the presentation, questions started. Although a technical expert, he was vastly underskilled in reading the meeting. Lacking self-insight, John became defensive, answered succinctly but viewed each question as a political attack on the plan. Frustrated, he shut down.

While researching for my book on political savvy, I met thousands of technically excellent professionals and saw this picture far too many times.

I found that employees who lack a positive view tend to ‘read’ many work situations as negative, seeing a tangled mix of people’s incomprehensible behaviour. Being savvy is a balance–simultaneously translating the external world (John’s group of executives) while managing internal feelings (John seeing everyone as a political animal).

Instead of thinking how much you hate politics, view politics as a force for good–how to influence, lobby, communicate and steer an agenda by knowing who’s in the “room.”

How many innovative ideas do you lose from a misinterpretation of politics?

Savvy is both intuitive and learned. It’s puzzling that organisations place little emphasis on developing this skill, and surprising that political astuteness has not been linked with work engagement and job satisfaction.

It is time to reconsider how we can be more effective and satisfied in our jobs. First is to redefine work politics as a power of good rather than underhanded and second to develop politically savvy skills to improve both morale and engagement.

Originally by Jane Horan, Source: Nov 9, 2014 The Horan Group

I often wonder about the link between optimism and success.

Last month I had lunch with a remarkable entrepreneur, Ms. Koo. She regaled me with stories of serendipitous life events – a funny, authentic and unassuming woman. What rang through each story was her persistent optimism in the face of extreme uncertainty. From the inner city streets in Los Angeles to small manufacturing towns of Ohio, she was quick on her feet, mentally and physically, with a flair for jumping in and figuring things out as they happened.

How does each of us view the world? The ‘half empty or half full’ full question…

There is much talk on “positive psychology” now – the science of positive experience and purposeful life.

In 2000, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published an article which built the framework for the scientific structure behind positive psychology.One of the questions they explored were the links between positive traits/optimism and positive experiences/happiness.

Positive psychology has roots with humanist and analytical psychologists. Many researchers headed down the same positive path, from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to Jung’s spirituality and soul searching in the late 1930’s and early ’40′s.

Well-being and happiness is important, but hardly the only elements needed for success.There’s more.

How about sheer determination?

I saw this trait when interviewing Asian women leaders. Similar to Ms. Koo, the leaders I interviewed shared stories about overcoming formidable barriers on the road to success. Determination falls within the trait theory of leadership. But trait theory has fallen out of favour in leadership selection.

Angela Duckworth, psychologist and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, explores “grit and the links to sustaining success.” She defines grit as sustained interest, effort, and focus, for long term goals.

Grit and determination are synonymous.

She believes grit and self-control are the keys to sustained success. I agree with Dr. Duckworth, and would say that grit or determination, coupled with persistent optimism, achieve the same results.

What drives this determined spirit? I don’t have the answers quite yet. But I believe if organisations place more emphasis on grit, self-control and persistent optimism, and less on “executive presence”, we just might find the leaders for the future.

Originally by: Jane Horan, Source: August 12, 2014, the Horan Group

I’ve grappled with this question for some time. In my first bookI Wish I’d Known That Earlier, I wrote about the ‘power of self’, and of ‘team promotion.’ Both phrases remain important, but I now realize that the mere mention of such phrases can make others cringe.

self-promotionI thought about new words or ways to explain self-promotion, and came up with the tried and true “elevator pitch”, which hardly translates easily, but is actually similar to “self-promotion.” There are cultural cues and rituals on elevators–where to stand, space requirements, eye contact, and conversational guidelines.

Both ‘self promotion’ and ‘elevator pitch’ are a lot of “me”, but the truth is that you must talk about yourself, particularly when it has to do with your career.

Some of us err on the side of being humble, others embellish and talk themselves up (according to western psychologists, most people exaggerate). Interestingly, I didn’t find this exaggerated quality in my research with Asian leaders. What I did find, however, was their ability to tell a genuine story, a combination of the humble and effusive leader.

Succinctly sharing your story and what you know sounds much better than “self-promotion”, doesn’t it?

Know how to tell your story and know your audience; if you’re not convinced, they won’t be, either. A genuine story is compelling, and draws others in.

If you’re in the midst of a career change, share your story with others. If you’re a new leader, share your story of why you’re here with a new team. An elevator pitch is not appropriate, nor a monologue.

We’re captivated by stories. Stories cut across culture, consistently used by leaders, educators and politicians alike.

When you can draw others in, you’re capturing their attention. A story moves beyond promoting oneself. It entwines us with others, to hear things in new ways.

Think less about yourself, and more on how you can genuinely engage with others around you.

Why not start your next meeting with a story and see where it takes you and your colleagues?

Originally by: Jane Horan, Source: August 5, the Horan Group

…or will a flexible one serve you better?

A few years ago I spoke at a global banking conference in Hong Kong. My topic was career navigation, the audience was comprised of newly promoted VPs.

The evening before the conference, the bank hosted a celebration dinner. I listened as the keynote speaker, their Managing Director, reeled off success stories and offered sage advice. As his Q&A came to a close, one person asked, “What’s your secret of success? When you started your career did you have a plan?”

Everyone–I mean everyone–quieted down and leaned in to hear his response.
“I didn’t.”

His reply made me change my presentation the following day, and was also the fillip to my own research on careers. I later interviewed global executives and to my surprise, found that few had ever made robust plans. Many attributed serendipitous events to their success, most admitted to periods of uncertainty, some mentioned uncomfortable transitions. Very few shared their feelings of insecurity, but the fear of failure and subsequent anxiety hovered close by.

There are many books on goal setting, finding happiness, and “do what you love.” And even more books cite the opposite… take the contrarian’s view and just let life and careers happen.

I know, as I’ve read many of them.

Lately I see more books refuting the idea of finding happiness and passion. Not pessimistic writing, but focusing more on realism; living through ambiguity, being adaptable, and embracing uncertainty.

In my interviews, no one mentioned luck. A few said, “Luck has nothing to do with it, it’s about being open to opportunities.” They took risks – calculated risk for some, less so for others. No one worried about having the “right” skills.

What I learned:

The strength of conviction,

the courage to choose, and

ability to navigate uncertainty.

You may not need an intricate plan, but you do need an idea of where you’re headed. And maybe an objective advisor to help as a sounding board.

Originally by: Jane Horan, Source: July 28, 2014, The Horan Group

A rich diversity of talent, Asian Women Leaders

Jane Horan PageThe Asia Pacific, with half the world’s population, a growing middle class and a young educated workforce, presents tremendous opportunity. Fifty percent of this demographic is women and more highly educated Asian women are steadily joining the workforce.

But to benefit from this rich diversity of talent, organisations must place a renewed emphasis and a re-think on understanding leadership.

Multi-national corporation (MNC) leadership is often visibly skewed towards a Western perspective; competency frameworks, language and corporate culture all too easily reflect such underlying influences. While English is the language of business, words seldom translate equally across cultures. Simple words, repeated daily at work or used for selecting leaders carry different meanings.

Lost in translation

One example is the phrase “leadership presence”. Too often this simple phrase equates with physical attributes or vocal aspects of leadership. The word “presence” conjures up charisma or gravitas. The value of charisma in leadership has been hotly contested for decades. Not only is charisma falling out of favour today, it doesn’t translate cross-culturally either.

I started a three year research project in 2010 to explore leadership experiences from a women’s perspective, immersed in the intricacies of culture in global industries. I wanted to understand the value drivers, complexities of career life and what the success factors were for Asian women leaders. I reached out to professional networks across Asia to find executive women, either running departments or heads of functions, with the time and interest to participate in this study.

Before I conducted interviews, I read various writings from leadership scholars, Alice Eagly, Sally Helgesen, James McGregor Burns and management consultants, McKinsey & Co and The Boston Consulting Group and found quantitative data connecting women with transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leaders – grounded in ethics and morals- sit atop the others, providing a solid foundation for 21st century organisations. These leaders operate from a higher playing field and have a better understanding of their own needs and values as well as those of their followers.

While women are prone to this style of leadership, transformational leadership is androgynous, bringing out the best in men and women.

A distinguishing feature of Transformational Leadership is the collaborative approach towards a common goal. The leader’s intent is to shift the follower’s focus towards a larger, more meaningful cause, moving from self-interest to collective concerns and benefits.

A critical element of such leadership is to actually know how to tap into the motivations of each team member. This collective effort and morally based position demonstrates the inclusive nature of these leaders, a style that fits well with today’s globally diverse organisations.

Three crucial leadership qualities for Asia  

Piecing together my interviews and leadership research, I saw fascinating insights on careers, leadership and sustaining success.  While individual experiences varied, three themes quickly surfaced.

  • focus on integrity and purpose. These moral values guided women when working cross-culturally, with diverse teams to drive performance.
  • An emphasis on having a meaningful career. More than any P&L and departmental re-org, they placed value on the impact of their performance and impact to develop others.  Having a meaningful career meant much more than having flexible working arrangements. Most women stated something along the lines of ‘If I am making a difference, I can balance the rest.’ Their determination was clear, with the innate ability to overcome mental and structural obstacles.
  • Building an integrated, inclusive web to sustain success and balance life. The idea of creating a ‘web of inclusion’ surfaced with other researchers studying executive women leaders.  Many discussed how they led from the centre rather than the top of the hierarchy. Interestingly, when I asked about their leadership style, most preferred the word “coach” to “leader.”

The organisational web

This integrated web of inclusion uses soft power and influence to achieve mutual, not individual, results. This leadership style is aligned with collective cultures, and within flattened organisational structures.

I found a pattern of inclusiveness; building a web was uniquely Asian, most women mentioned family or extended family being integral to their success.  In sharing stories about leading from the centre, their organisational charts even depicted this model, placing themselves in the middle, surrounded by their team. The family was placed on the next connecting circle.

With this insight, it’s clear that organisations must now take a step back to re-examine their leadership selection processes. In assessing the next generation of leaders, the transformational ones should be top of the list. Such leaders are now in high demand, as they are more capable of using collective thinking to achieve results, bringing the organisation to new heights.

These leaders know how to build a sturdy inclusive network, and more comfortable motivating a globally diverse team.

Originally by: Jane Horan, Source: June 10, 2014, BlueNotes 

Jane Horan, author, speaker and consultant, is the founder of the Horan Group, a strategic consultancy that shapes savvy cross-cultural work environments. She works with Fortune 500 companies, NGO’s and academic institutions in Asia, North America and Europe as an executive coach and facilitator in unconscious bias and political savvy.

Jane is a frequent speaker on Transformational Women Leaders, Organisational Politics and Innovation. Jane has lived and worked in the Asia Pacific Region for over two decades, and previously worked for Kraft, The Walt Disney Company, and CNBC in Organisational, Leadership and Talent Development roles. She is an EdD candidate with Bristol University on Asian Women Leaders, holds a Masters Degree in Organisational Effectiveness from the Fielding Institute and studied International Business Management and Chinese Language at the Monterey Institute and Hunan Technical University.

Click here to watch the full speech.

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Source: October 25, 2012, Eventer

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) — Jane Horan, author of “How Asian Women Lead: Lessons for Global Corporations,” discusses the obstacles Asian women face while climbing the corporate ladder. She speaks with Angie Lau on Bloomberg Television’s “First Up.” 

Source: February 17, Bloomberg

See All News 
  • Women as Transformational Leaders
  • The Art of Career Navigation
  • Unconscious Bias – what we don’t know
  • The Power of Positive Workplace Politics
  • Building Social Capital – Investing in Relationships
  • The Power of Perception Management
  • Embracing Political Savvy
  • Perception Management, Building Your Story, Creating a Web of Advisors
  • Unconscious Bias
  • Building Inclusive Workplaces
  • Human Resources