Six Practices for Developing Global Leaders

Amy Armitage, Senior Vice President WJM Associates

Globalization is creating vast new opportunities for corporations. But too few companies have the talent ready to leverage those opportunities. Exceptional international organizations recognize that talent, more than strategies and systems, drives competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Yet, finding and developing that global talent remains a challenge. 

How can companies best prepare leaders and their teams to deal with the broad social, cultural, and political issues of the global marketplace? Here are six core practices you may wish to consider, whether your firm is just initiating a global leadership strategy or accelerating the development of global leadership competencies throughout the organization.

1. Identify if and why global talent is important to your business strategy.

Start by asking, why is global leadership capability important to your business strategy? Most large and many mid-size companies have leadership development programs for managers and special learning programs for their high potentials. Yet for many, the notion of building global leadership capability is a new undertaking. According to a recent study by AMA/i4cp, only one third of companies surveyed had initiated global leadership programs. Yet those who did generally had higher performance returns and, not surprisingly, success operating in global markets. 

Organizations need to have strategic clarity around exactly what capabilities and skills to develop, and why. Are global markets a source of growth, new talent, lower production costs, suppliers, or investors? Are senior executives motivated to develop a strategic multi-year talent development program to address growth and talent requirements? Or are more tactical requirements the primary consideration? What level of commitment do senior executives have to driving the global leadership program forward as a means to drive strategy?

2. Know what competencies and behaviors are needed to achieve business outcomes.

What competencies and behaviors are critical to the global business strategy – and to achieving specific business objectives? The WJM Executive Leadership Model, for example, is a global behavioral model that covers the four core areas of Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Change, and Leading Results (with specific behavioral competencies in each area). Many companies have a competency model that identifies how results will be achieved. A global competency model like the Global Mindset Inventory (GMI) can be used to supplement a core model for purposes of assessment and development of executives. The GMI is a scientifically validated instrument based on data from thousands of executives working for global organizations in many countries. 

The Global Mindset Inventory measures three types of capital: Intellectual Capital, Psychological Capital, and Social Capital (see previous article). 

Global leaders who have a high level of global mindset tend to better understand the situations and individuals they are interacting with in a global environment. They demonstrate a passion for learning about multiple cultures and ideas. They are better able to identify and enact appropriate methods to influence stakeholders to work towards achieving the company’s goals. They show openness to collaborate and innovate in teams. 

Individual job profiles for global leadership positions can also be useful for both selection and development purposes. Good job profiles describe the behavioral characteristics that it takes to succeed in the job (often based on history), as well as capabilities and preferences for work environment.

3. Choose talent selection and assessment tools to provide feedback and insight into global developmental needs.

Today many companies combine "high tech" on-line assessment with "high touch" talent review and feedback. For example, a WJM leadership assessment typically includes personality inventories (such as the Hogan Leadership Forecast Series, MBTI, or 360 feedback assessments), as well as the Global Mindset Inventory (GMI). WJM consultants can assess executives against the company’s own global competency model or against WJM’s Executive Leadership model. The purpose of is to create feedback relevant to the executive and a development plan for closing gaps in global leadership capability. 

Many organizations are also putting rigorous assessment tools in place for identifying high potentials and "emerging" leaders – to better target global learning investments. Experts believe that emerging leaders need exposure to global talent issues early in their careers to ensure that global mindset is a core of their leadership capability. 

Where scalability is important, several online systems are available. For example, Matchpoint Careers is a scalable online system that can match people with job profiles using a job based framework of proven competencies, capabilities and preferences. A scalable assessment might then be supplemented by more intensive "high touch" pre-employment assessment, selection, and development. Rigorous psychological and capability assessments can help leaders to develop more self awareness and pinpoint precise global developmental opportunities.

4. Target the use of executive coaching to achieve global leadership objectives.

When developing global leadership capability, coaching may be used to prepare the executive for a particular international assignment or for addressing specific gaps in the leader’s global mindset capability. Executive coaching typically begins with an initial assessment, followed by feedback with the participant, a meeting with the participant and their manager, and the creation of a development plan. In some cases, the development plan will be focused on cultural on-boarding for say a new assignment in a new country. Often, WJM will draw on its international Faculty to assign a local Executive Coach in that country to assist with the assimilation on site. 

For example, one manager who took the GMI assessment identified areas of core strength in Psychological Capital – meaning he had a passion for diversity, a quest for adventure and self assurance. He also had high scores on Social Capital meaning he had ability to building trusting relationships with people who were different than him through intercultural empathy, interpersonal impact and diplomacy. 

However, this executive needed to enhance his Intellectual Capital, specifically the global business savvy and cosmopolitan outlook needed to succeed in an assignment in Tokyo. He embarked upon a development program to learn how his industry operates in other parts of the world, especially Asia. Once he reached Japan, the executive worked with an executive coach familiar with the Asian global business environment to learn about culturally sensitive issues and behaviors needed in the new assignment.

5. Identify any additional support and training needed.

Many companies choose culture-specific training, as awareness and sensitivity are important factors in assimilation and personal effectiveness in a new country. For example, WJM consultants design and facilitate custom workshop modules around such topics asUnderstanding the Impact of Chinese Cultural Style on Negotiations or Presenting Effectively in Japan, among many others. 

A good source for other leadership and management training is The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Project. The GLOBE study of 62 societies and 17,300 middle managers concluded that leadership effectiveness is contextual, i.e., it is embedded in the organizational norms, values and beliefs of people being led. To be effective, one must understand and act in a way that aligns with the dominant social patterns of a culture. The study identified nine culture dimensions that make it possible to compare similarities and difference across societies. These include: power distance, uncertainly avoidance, humane orientation, collectivism (institutional and group), assertiveness, gender egalitarianism, future orientation and performance orientation. Country clusters allow managers to understand relative differences between Nordic cultures and, say, Eastern European cultures which are very different. Training for managers helps them to understand and adapt their leadership and team behaviors to the appropriate culture and team membership.

6.Ensure relevant developmental opportunities abroad.

International assignments are still critical to the development of global leaders. To be optimal as a global leader, learning through experience is required. This means living for some time in a different culture. Selecting the right people for international assignments is also a critical competitive advantage. A failed international assignment can be costly. 

Some experts differentiate between Level 1 leaders who have never lived anywhere outside the U.S. and Level 2 leaders who have lived in different cultures. Development of Level 1 leaders (who may be managing global teams from the US) often focuses on "cultural awareness" issues such as sensitivity to stereotypes, cultural power dynamics and basics of inter-cultural relationships. But this type of training rarely deeply imbeds cultural learning. Level 2 leaders, who have broader experience with international cultures, often have an enhanced ability to understand the nuances of culture. Nevertheless, culture-specific training greatly enhances an executive’s ability to work with global teams. 

"Being a global leader requires experience to understand nuances, important business subtleties, and most importantly to challenge one’s own assumptions and norms as a leader and a person," states Ashley Miles, Organizational Development Leader of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, who has lived in four countries and trained employees in twenty-seven. 

Adds Paul Basile, CEO and Founder of MatchPoint Careers and an experienced global manager, "Training global leaders requires that they live and work in multiple countries and cultures. You can’t fly in, stay at the Hilton, and say you know Azerbaijan."


Amy Armitage is an Account Director and Senior Vice President with WJM Associates. Amy has spent the last twenty years as a leadership consultant to Fortune 500 corporations, non-profits and mid-size businesses across a wide range of industries and services.

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