Developing Global Leadership Competence

developing global leadership competencies

Developing Global Leadership Competence

By Neal Goodman Ph.D.

The geographically dispersed, culturally diverse workforce and marketplace is the new reality.  Yet most organizations lack a clear roadmap on how to best develop global leaders for this new reality.

“I was selected to be the new President of our operations in Japan with the expectation that upon the completion of this assignment I would become one of the top leaders in the company.  As soon as I arrived I thought to myself “everything they are doing here is stupid”.  Was this potential leader going to fail?

If you could design the perfect global leadership development program (GLDP) what would it look like? Having worked on the GLDPs of scores of Global Fortune 1000 companies it is hard to identify any one that has it perfectly right but here are a few modest suggestions:

Understand the cultural underpinnings of your assumptions regarding what a good leader is.  Variations include giving more or less emphasis on focusing on the community/society/shareholder value.

Most Global Leadership Development Programs fail primarily due to the lack of a systematic internal process to create astute, flexible and visionary leaders who can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously.

Create a GLDP curriculum that is unique to your organization; one that encompasses your vision, mission and leadership competencies.  Relying on a canned University program is not an effective solution. The curriculum should be multi faceted and with clear milestones and metrics. A global leadership curriculum must be a progressive process of training, coaching, immersion and reflection

Understand and address the competencies which are critical for global leaders.

Most research on global leadership identifies competencies such as: having a global business mindset;; cultural intelligence (CQ); collaborative leadership skills, creativity, innovation and vision and, teambuilding and partnering as being key factors for success.

One of the best ways to guarantee the success of senior global leaders is to put them into an extended immersion into a new culture. A global stretch assignment should be a part of the development program.  The assignees must be provided with the cultural coaching and support from both the sending and receiving sponsors.  In The Innovator’s DNA, Jeff Dyer and  Clay Christensen report that business people are 35% more likely to conceive new ideas if they have lived in a foreign country. Such assignments when combined with training and coaching can help the assignee to make the most of such assignments. A hallmark of a successful global leader is the ability to view the same situation from multiple perspectives. Living and working in more that one cultural setting helps to develop such a perspective. International travel is not a substitute.This is one of the most effective, yet least utilized, opportunities for the training and development of global leaders. Most organizations see international assignments simply as a requirement to achieve a functional need.

There are a number of organizations that do include an international assignment as a prerequisite for global leadership positions but then do not measure whether these people have gained the core competencies as a result of their assignments. One executive I interviewed after a 5 year assignment in Taiwan, boasted how he did just great without ever learning to speak more than 50 words of Chinese.  On the other extreme another executive (the one described above who had a negative first impression of Japan) said he was coached to spend his first six months in Japan learning Japanese and carefully observing and noting the relationship building that took place in the office. Neither of these executives was given any structured training or development program but one came back to the US ready to take on global responsibilities while the other did not.  Though there may be a cultural training component to the assignment, there is usually no training and development plan to develop the skills needed to become a future leader of the organization. As a result, some people return from an international assignment with very few of the competencies mentioned above.

Executive Coaching for Global Leadership – While executive coaching has become the norm in many organizations there are very few Executive Coaches who have the competency and experience to provide guidance to achieve the qualities of a global leader. An effective Global Executive Coaching program will target the specific issues associated with global work. Much of this is focused on the hidden cultural dimensions that are not “seen” by either the executive or the coach if they have not been trained in the field of intercultural interactions..

For example, one VP of Marketing for Latin America received an extensive Executive Coaching program that focused on his leadership, communications, and teambuilding styles and how they were to be adjusted for the various counties in Latin America for which he had responsibility. As a result of the coaching the executive and his direct reports in the region reported significant improvements in his interactions.  The more he learned the more he wanted to know and the assignment which was staring to fail ended up successfully and with a new global position for the VP.

Global collaboration and project team leadership must be an inherent part of a GLLDP.  Ideally this would allow the potential leaders to work on joint global projects and have the opportunity to meet face to face for as long as it takes to get the project going and then work virtually across time zones and cultures. Global leaders must be “Masters of Collaboration”.  This goes far beyond knowing how to use the latest collaborative technologies. Collaborative Dexterity is needed. In this global interconnected world, global opportunities and problems can be most successfully dealt with by seeking out perspectives representing a cross section of experiences, cultures, and thinking styles. 

When the new American leader for Asia Pacific of a highly respected global company met with for the first time with their most important client in China, he started the meeting by discussing the new payment terms.  The client saw this as a serious lack of trust and the multimillion dollar arrangement which had been secure for many years went out to bid.  Had the new leader included divergent perspectives in planning the meeting, he would have been informed that discussing new terms is NOT the way to sustain a good business relationship in China.

Inclusiveness in Global Leadership Development Programs. Innovation and creativity often comes from intentional disruptions of the “normal way of thinking” at HQ”. There must be a deliberate effort to include participants who represent your current and future client base.  If over 50%of your revenues come from outside your boarders so should your future leaders. This diversity of perspectives is critical.  Whenever possible, select participants who have shown a proclivity to see things from different perspectives. They may have been involved with multicultural affairs at home or may have studied abroad or hosted people from abroad.  It is much easier to training a leader with a global mindset to develop functional expertise then the opposite. 

If organizations wish to succeed in the global marketplace they will need to do a better job at training and developing their global leaders.  The current hit or miss approach is much too costly and inefficient.  Creative approaches to build the competence of global leaders must be developed and integrated across the organization.

Dr. Neal Goodman is the President of Global Dynamics Inc, a leading Training and Development firm specializing in Globalization, Cultural Intelligence, Effective Virtual Workplaces and Diversity & Inclusion.