To remain competitive in a global economy, organizations must determine the best way to position their business and people for success; that requires strong global leadership. Whether the organization is large or small, all companies are affected by global events and need leaders savvy in both business and cultural affairs.
“Unless you have an interest, ability — competence to understand the world and understand your business that way, you won’t be able to have any kind of real leadership on the business or on the talent within that business,” said Juan-Luis Goujon, president and CEO of BPI group, North America.
It’s why learning leaders and executives at companies like L’Oréal and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business said it’s critical that they place a high value on developing global leaders. Today’s leaders — and tomorrow’s — have to be capable of understanding the world and navigating its complexities.
The Problem with Global Leadership
Goujon said there’s no getting around the impact of world events and conditions on business. Advances in technology have hastened globalization. Companies aren’t isolated to one region like they were in decades past, he explained. And increasingly, organizations not only provide services and products to global markets, they employ global staff and collaborate with global partners.
In its 2015 report on global leadership, the Institute for Corporate Productivity and the American Management Association declared the era of national companies was over. But only half of businesses considered developing global leaders a priority, and only a third of respondents believed their global leadership development initiatives were effective.
Reasons for this failure run the gamut. Some point to a lack of soft skills development. Others blame outdated development strategies or a shortsighted view of who should be developed. But the world won’t wait for businesses to figure things out. Without effective global leaders, businesses shouldn’t count on experiencing much success abroad. The i4cp paper reports that top-performing companies are often 14 times more likely than their low-performing peers to report strong business results in the global marketplace — results attributable to leaders who possess the ability to drive performance in a global business environment.
“Companies that want to be successful globally need to have global leaders,” said BPI Managing Director of Leadership and Talent Practice Michael McGowan.
But what exactly does it mean to be a global leader? It’s part of the learning leader’s job to figure that out. But jotting down a list of key competencies they should possess oversimplifies the issue, said Scott Beardsley, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. A global leader’s functional role will drive the skills required for success.
After researching the topic, James Clawson, Darden’s Johnson and Higgins Professor Emeritus of Business Administration, laid out 11 key characteristics for a global business leader. Beardsley said these skills and traits — including overseas experience, sensitivity to cultural diversity, humility, presence and cautious honesty — are valuable to leadership at home and critical to success in the global environment. “The global leader needs to be more things to more people, as compared to their domestic counterpart,” he explained. “They have more alternatives to consider, factors to weigh, risks to assess.”
Effective global leadership takes strong leadership skills to the next level, said Goujon, who has worked with and managed teams in different parts of the world for much of his life. This next level leadership includes global strategic thinking, intellectual curiosity and strong self-awareness. Cultural intelligence is also critical to a global leader’s success. A person with cultural intelligence can juggle all aspects of leadership in different cultures, leveraging differences to the group’s advantage.
What Does Global Leadership Development Look Like?
Kathy Kavanagh, managing director of leadership development at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the company has undertaken some large scale projects in the past several years to ensure the multinational auditing and tax services company focuses on global leadership in earnest. The company looked at extant programs and considered how to generate greater value from them so that wherever PwC is in the world, development efforts would achieve the same goals.
Kavanagh said PwC’s learning organization looked at business objectives and the firm’s future goals first. “We started with why are we here in the first place?” PwC’s purpose statement — to build trust in society and solve important problems — was central to developing a leadership model. “The world is getting more complex — changing at the speed of light and then some,” she explained. “More and more, people and clients are looking for people they can trust to help them maneuver through these complex times.”
PwC’s employees are key to how the company brings value to clients. Creating its leadership development framework required a deep dive into the key things people need to be able to do and in what context so they can deliver on the company’s goals, Kavanagh said. The organization landed on five areas: whole leadership, understanding the business, relationships, technical capabilities and global acumen. Kavanagh said the framework reflects the company’s move away from programmatic leadership development. It embeds the identified values in learning and development efforts at all levels and is progressive.
When it comes to developing global acumen, employees can take self-assessments around that or one of the other four dimensions to understand what areas need strengthening, and then use learning maps aligned to the respective areas to hone their skills with related readings and videos. Employees also can develop their skills through online and experiential learning that can happen within a team or for a particular group. For example, Genesis Park, a leadership development program for high-performing senior managers and directors, brings together groups from different parts of the world for working sessions. Leaders learn to appreciate cultural differences, different working styles and languages, as well as other things people may bring from local jurisdictions related to laws and practices.
McGowan said some of the skills and characteristics global leaders need they either have already or other skills like cultural intelligence can be developed. Before concentrating on specific skills, however, it’s important that learning leaders examine their company needs and goals, and define what success will look like for global leaders. He said the following questions can guide efforts to build a global leadership development framework:
- What are the key skills necessary to be successful in any given global leadership position?
- What are the strengths these leaders need?
- What are the experiences (e.g. overseas) they will have to have?
- What are their motivators?
- What are some key personality traits they might need to have?
- What are some derailers that person will need to watch out for?
Answers to these questions can help determine whether a person has global leadership capabilities for a particular organization. Further, when learning leaders engage business leaders around global leadership development needs, they can create a model that understands the nuances — and meets the unique business needs — of their company. “The company’s business leaders will know what is needed and what is not to be successful,” McGowan said.
He said companies should take a look at best practices in other industries or in comparable companies but hesitate before adopting their models as the gospel, as each company and its culture is different. Effective global leaders may need a combination of functional skills, sector skills, the ability to role-model values, or specific craft and job-related skills that need to be assessed at different points in their career.
Organizations need to blend these considerations into a leadership development architecture, Beardsley said. General leadership skills can be easily transferred into a global leadership context, but that doesn’t mean an effective domestic leader will be equally as effective in a foreign setting. Consequently, it’s important for those leading global leadership development to assess individuals on both general leadership skills and the competencies needed for success in a global environment.
Delivering Global Leadership Education
Now more than ever global leaders need to work from a place of empathy, curiosity and humility, said Maeve Coburn, vice president of learning and transformation at L’Oréal. These skills aren’t easy to teach, she explained, but “we don’t want anyone to walk around without the right skills.”
Whether a leader works in a different country or L’Oréal has hired a leader from the outside, it asks both to complete a culture profiler assessment. A coach decodes their responses to a set of questions to give leaders an external view of their presence and how they can improve. “It’s a wonderful tool for leaders to push the pulse button when a challenge comes up and see how they can see things different,” Coburn said.
The feedback offered in this setting and others is important in developing global leaders. L’Oréal also develops its leaders through a program piloted three years ago in the United States. In it, every new department head embarks on a six-month learning period that includes leader assessments and a developmental intervention.
McGowan said organizations can use a variety of approaches in addition to in-person learning experiences to develop effective global leaders including overseas deployments and rotational programs for emerging leaders. If an overseas learning experience is not a possibility, he said there’s value in having leaders manage a global team, giving them responsibility for people working in different regions or countries. Further, high-potential employees not serving in a leadership capacity can build critical global leadership skills while working on a virtual team where they collaborate with colleagues from around the world and report to a global leader.
Essentially, developing global leaders has to go beyond a PowerPoint lecture, McGowan said. Through action-based or experiential learning programs, people can practice important skills needed for the global environment. For instance, get different colleagues from different countries to come together on a small team to work on a real business problem with global implications. Or, employ a global-simulated case problem. The bottom line is people should receive a tangible problem to work on in a safe environment where they can practice key leadership skills. During this time, learning leaders also can infuse other leadership skills into the initiative to reinforce the learning employees need to be successful.
Leaders said in order for this type of development work to make a substantial impact, it has to start early and be available to an audience broader than those typically tapped for this leadership work. Despite a 2014 study in Harvard Business Review that showed the average age of entrants in company-sponsored leadership programs as 42 years old, Kavanagh said starting early allows PwC to build more leaders and not have to retool people later on. An i4cp study confirms this, finding strong negative correlations in global leadership development effectiveness when organizations prioritize mid- and senior-level candidates.
Further, since global leaders aren’t defined by title or role but by a set of behaviors everyone needs to demonstrate, organizations can’t relegate their global leadership development work to just a select few. That’s why PwC tries to line up learning and development closely with employees’ daily work across employee levels. Kavanagh calls it “real-time development.”
But these efforts are all for naught, or perhaps are an impossibility altogether, if organizations haven’t decided what is and what isn’t globalization, Goujon said.
Agility is the biggest difference and so is an inclusive approach. Global companies have a wide bandwidth in terms of how they approach issues. They don’t scale what worked in some areas, they think globally from the beginning, and their leadership reflects this. “This isn’t about exporting, it’s about knowing your market, knowing your customers, seeing your talent as global and being able to deploy accordingly,” Goujon said.
Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.