A lot of companies describe global leadership as a major constraint to growth. Global leadership essentially refers to those individuals (managers and leaders within a business) who work in more than a single cultural and/or geographic arena. The best of these are eager to leave their country of origin and undertake assignments that might require the use of a new language or adapting to a different culture.
Joseph Folkman, founder of leadership development firms Zenger Folkman and Novations notes that while the majority of big companies have some sort of plan to increase their overseas assignments, only a minority have a formal leadership development process.
While there has never been a time where cross-cultural or global leadership wasn’t important, it is of the utmost importance today. This is because today’s world is one where technology has dramatically reduced the world in terms of reachability. The time between most distant points on the planet have been cut to hours instead of months, and there’s really only one form of communication that’s acceptable in business: instant.
So if a company were to grow in this environment, it cannot do so without business leaders who know how to, or rather who have been trained to, navigate a transnational terrain. And considering how technology continues to virtually shrink the world we live and do business in, the importance of developing global leaders will grow exponentially.
Leadership Training Should Start Earlier
Jack Zenger, CEO of the leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, noted in a blog on the Harvard Business Review that the average age of business managers when entering a company-sponsored leadership development program was 42. This was, on average, 10 years after these people actually started supervising employees in their careers. When you factor in the inherent sophistication of overseas assignments which an increasing proportion of business leaders have to face, you can see why global leadership training should begin much earlier.
It’s not just the capability to manage complex business issues, but the ability to navigate eclectic languages and cultures that need to be infused into a company’s leadership. This is one of the tenets of strong global leaders which will augment company growth. Granted, this might be more relevant for some companies than others. Nevertheless, the importance of developing global leaders for faster and sustainable company growth is becoming relevant for more companies every day.
What the Best Global Leaders Do Best
So what do global leaders do, or should do very well? What does your organization’s leadership training program infuse in the leaders you’re trying to cultivate? Here are some examples of things the best global leaders do best:
- Understanding how a certain language and culture affects their organization.
- Earning the trust of multiple stakeholders, internal as well as external to the company.
- Valuing and respecting diverse views.
- Identifying key tasks and being committed to achieve company goals without fracturing relationships.
- Having an appropriate sense of humor, i.e. understanding how one thing might be funny in one culture and offensive in another.
In an interview published on the Wall Street Journal, Deloitte Global COO Frank Friedman stated that a crucial issue with undertaking a global leadership role is comprehending the influence of culture and cultural difference. He further elaborated that a global leader needs to recognize the different perspectives behind cultures where the organization operates.
Organizations that wish to create a global mindset need to understand the importance of slowing down a little to better appreciate cultural dynamics. And this should be reflected in leadership training programs as well.
To reiterate, the need for developing global leadership for company growth will only increase with time. Those that succeed in dominating global markets will invariably be ones that master the art of recognizing different cultures and perspectives, and maintain a high level of cooperation across multinational operations.
Fatima Mansoor is a writer at Aepiphanni, a Business Consultancy that provides Management Consulting, Implementation and Managed Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations. She specializes in business & entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and health & fitness. Her focus is on creating compelling web content for small and medium businesses form diverse industries. She mostly writes for entrepreneurs and marketing agencies across the US, Australia and UK.
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