For individuals who are required to lead across cultures it often requires making decisions in complex or ambiguous environments, understanding cultural nuances and adapting one’s style accordingly. A good track record in one country does not guarantee success in the global arena, nor will merely exposing high-performing leaders to new cultures make them effective multinational leaders.
Right Management and Tucker International partnered on a study of 1,867 leaders of 13 nationalities to help multinational clients address the challenges of developing leaders with global responsibilities.
Six Fundamentals Required of Global Leadership Success
Our research identified six competencies essential for global leadership success:
Adapting Socially – To socialize comfortably with new people in unfamiliar social situations and to demonstrate genuine interest in other people.
Demonstrating Creativity – To enjoy new challenges, strive for innovative solutions to social and situational issues and to learn from a variety of sources. Creative approaches are more difficult, but more successful, in ambiguous situations.
Even Disposition – To remain calm, not being critical of oneself and learn from mistakes.
Respecting Beliefs – Demonstrate respect for the political and spiritual beliefs of people in other cultures.
Instilling Trust – To build and maintain trusting relationships, which is complicated because trust does not mean the same thing to members of different cultures.
Navigating Ambiguity – To see through vagueness and uncertainty, not become frustrated, and figure out how things are done in other cultures.
What this research found is that successful global leaders enjoy new challenges, strive for innovative solutions to social and situational issues and learn from a variety of sources. They are able to build and maintain trusting relationships and socialize comfortably with new people in unfamiliar social situations. Such leaders are able to see through vagueness and uncertainty, not become frustrated, and figure out how things are done in other cultures while also remaining calm, not critical of oneself, and learning from mistakes. They can also demonstrate respect for the political and spiritual beliefs of people of other cultures.
Multinational Organizations Can Apply This Research
Consider the following applications of this research for selecting, developing and retaining leaders who are required to succeed in a global business environment:
Selecting Overseas Managers
Use the six competencies to ensure the right managers are selected to assume and succeed in international or global roles. Assess their abilities against the competencies and identify competency gaps and risks associated with job performance. Create personalized development plans to foster growth and build strength. Evaluate competency strength against desired outcomes.
Growing International Leadership Bench Strength
Systematically grow leadership talent pipelines around the world to ensure a strong pool of qualified leaders ready for deployment into global roles. Continually identify, develop, nurture and retain leaders as part of an ongoing talent development strategy. Provide coaching to accelerate development in targeted and individualized ways, building upon the learning’s garnered from assessing the six competencies required for global leadership success. Place high-potential leaders in stretch assignments and in short-term cross-border placements to build proficiency in intercultural competencies.
Ensuring Success of Leaders in New International Roles
Once the decision to expand a leaders role to a global one has been made, be sure to put steps in place to aid their success in the short- and long-term. The cost associated with deploying the wrong leader is very high and as many as 42% of leaders fail when transferred internationally. Together develop an action plan for the first 90 days in the new role to ensure alignment with priorities and goals. Assign a coach for personalized and specific development. Meet for regular reviews of goal achievement against plan and adapt for change as necessary.
Localizing Country Management Teams
Many global companies are now focusing on developing their own local talent as part of building their overall leadership bench strength. These local leaders may take on overseas assignments themselves one day. Relying on expatriates and foreign assignees is costly, and unsustainable for many organizations in the long-term. Build accelerated leadership development programs that are customized for the top two to three levels of management to ensure a robust pipeline. Conduct competency assessments and identify skills gaps. Create customized leader plans specific to development needs. Support with coaching to accelerate targeted development.
Developing leaders for the Human Age is the most strategic effort organizations can make to create competitive advantage. Organizations can no longer rely on outdated work models, talent sources, people practices and leadership techniques to achieve success. The key to productivity is building a talent strategy that takes advantage of the innovations, information and technology available in the Human Age. Organizations must recognize that people have become their most valuable assets and they must optimize these assets to deliver on the needed results.
Owen J. Sullivan is CEO of Right Management and President, Specialty Brands ManpowerGroup. Email firstname.lastname@example.org