Over the past several years, many American leaders in both the public and private sector have reinforced a stereotype that Americans harbor an uninformed global view. This is not to say that leaders across the globe are any better. Every region has its fair share of ‘global leaders’ and ‘global experts’ who do little to foster global understanding. The global community can and should do better. Doing so means aggressively rethinking and re-tooling how public, private, and social sector leaders prepare for global leadership roles. The world needs a new breed of global leader, now.
“How do you define global leadership?”
In July 2013, I taught a class on women’s leadership at the Hult International Business School in Dubai, UAE. I ended class with this question which not surprisingly received strong and deeply varied responses in a room of over 40 nationalities from around the globe. That evening after class, several students approached me with their thoughts and passionate viewpoints on the subject. I continued to receive comments over the remainder of the course and some even emailed me after the class with additional thoughts.
I always enjoy throwing questions like this out to a Hult graduate class, which naturally attracts students who are globally minded. Though their definitions varied, my students agreed on one thing: the current models of global leadership, as evidence by what they were reading and absorbing from global news outlets, was in dire need of a complete overhaul. When I pressed for specifics on where global leadership could improve, four key categories emerged:
Where Many Global Leaders Fall Short
Weak Global Skillsets: Lack effective communication skills, mismanage crisis and risk, and fail to effectively collaborate across sectors
Too Little On-the-Ground Experience: Deficiency in global knowledge and geopolitical context, compromising effective cross-cultural collaboration
Misunderstand Global Citizenship & Stewardship: Fail to see corporations and individuals as global citizens and do not understand the responsibility such a perspective imparts
Obstinate Leadership: Lead with ego, fear, and intimidation
In many ways, it is easy to criticize and identify weaknesses in the most visible global leaders. Uncovering what makes for an effective global leader, one who sustains success over the course of a lifetime, is much more difficult. These are the global leaders one rarely reads about or sees featured in the press. They lead with humility, discretion, and listening. Moreover, they are the first to admit that no one leads all the time. Leadership emerges in moments, particularly in times of crises. These leadership opportunities present themselves more frequently in a global career that presents new challenges daily in an ever-changing environment. Not everyone has the innate ability to succeed in a global leadership role, but everyone at some point in their personal and professional lives are presented with moments that offer the opportunity to lead, and everyone should have the courage and the tools to respond effectively.
“Why would anyone follow you?”
Over the course of my own global career, I have been fortunate to work on-the-ground all over the world, where I have learned from many exceptional yet subtle global leaders. For years, I have been asking these individuals how they have effectively navigated their global careers and successive global leadership roles. When I have asked them what makes an effective leader, many responded with the essential question: “Why would anyone follow you?” I routinely relay this question back to my graduate students because it gets to the root of what drives all successful leaders in any role they undertake: passion.
You can’t fake passion and without it, you can’t inspire others to follow you. In addition to passion, I’ve collected hundreds of insights on specific skillsets and experiences that have aided these global leaders in their careers. Irrespective of their educational and cultural backgrounds or their professional pursuits, all had underlying strengths in the following three areas: global mindset, global skillset, and global experience.
Essential Foundations for Effective Global Leadership
1) A Global Mindset: Intellectual, Psychological, & Social Capital
The most apt definition of a global mindset aligns with that put forth by the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which has an entire institute dedicated to the study and measurement of Global Mindset, outlining and measuring three primary global competency categories they term capitals. I have spoken and written about the capitals extensively as they are leading indicators of one’s potential success in a global role. The Global Mindset Inventory (GMI) is a diagnostic I routinely use in the classroom to give students a starting roadmap that uncovers where they need to focus their attention and energy to build competencies for global roles.
Western leadership pedagogy focuses an inordinate amount of attention on Intellectual Capital—knowledge of industry, market, competitors, economics—at the expense of building Social and Psychological Capital. For a business audience, Social and Psychological Capital are typically weakest. Social Capital captures the ease with which an individual builds and leverages trusted relationships in a global context. Psychological Capital refers to an individual’s self-assurance and self-confidence, and their enthusiasm for diversity. Of the three capitals, Psychological is the toughest to develop as it takes time, is based on experience, and involves leveraging intellectual capital.
All of the effective global leaders I have engaged with, aggressively and systemically build strength in all three capitals continuously throughout their careers.
2) Global Skillsets: Internal/Personal and External
Global Skillsets are essential for successful global leadership; however, most of global leaders break skillsets into two distinct areas: Personal or Internal Skills required to successfully manage yourself and External Skills, those needed to effectively manage individuals and emerging risks. Most business literature traditionally leverages countless models, formulas and frameworks to develop external skillsets, which are important but irrelevant if you can’t manage yourself.
Over the past several years, I’ve been deeply engaged in fostering personal leadership, especially as my work in Women’s Leadership has expanded. Additionally, those pursuing global careers often lack multi-sector skillsets and experience. I am encouraged to see this issue finally gaining recognition. In a recent HBR blog on “Triple-Strength Leadership” the authors noted: “We are convinced that as organizations increasingly face challenges no sector can address alone, they will feel the need, as Google has, to recruit tri-sector leaders for senior positions.”
3) Global Experience
Effective global leadership begins with direct, on-the-ground experience working cross-culturally. I am amazed at how many people assume global roles with no prior engagement with the countries, regions, or cultures demanded by their work. Further, few have direct experience working and building relationships with governments and NGOs—which, depending on the country or region, often wield tremendous power and influence. Gaining this experience takes time and, as one global leader offered: “If you are going to manage and lead a global effort….follow the old axiom: if you want to know you have to go. Never, never, never stop learning and listening because the ground rules, even the cultural nuances change and you have to be receptive to the constant changes.”
No Place to Go But Up
Building competencies and strength in each of the global leadership foundations is essential for anyone who intends to pursue a global career or aspires to a global leadership role. Regardless of which graduate course I am teaching, I always build these leadership foundations into my work. Moreover, it is encouraging to see schools like Hult focused on developing global leaders in new and innovative ways.
To foster a more competent future global leader in any sector, we have to rethink how we seed and nurture global leadership capacities early on, through strategic professional development and career coaching. Constant adaptation and disruption is the new global reality. The next generation of leaders must be prepared to compete and succeed in this evolving global context.