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Developing Leaders in a Global Business Environment

In today’s world, given the corporate growth pressures, globalization strategies have increased exponentially and with tremendous intensity.  Being a global player is a key business strategy that gives companies a competitive edge in the marketplace.  Having a global footprint allows companies to be close to their customers, their markets, and the local talent pool.  However, few organizations are prepared to meet global talent demands.   Global talent needs different skills and competencies.  The development of global leaders across all levels of the organization, is not just a personal development initiative but a critical strategic business initiative.

Few organizations are prepared for the talent demands required to successfully lead the business’s strategic initiatives behind the globalization strategies.  There is an inability to identify global leadership talent, inadequate talent management practices, and hit or miss approaches to development.  We need to develop a global mindset that encompasses more than just offering jobs that cross country borders.  Global leaders need to expand their perspectives, become more cosmopolitan and appreciative of diverse cultures, and change their mental models.  We also have to be sensitized to the reality that leadership looks different in different parts of the world.  Putting the pieces of the global leadership puzzle together is a big challenge.

When creating a strategy for Global Leadership Development, it is imperative to start with a business case for your senior leadership team.  The business case should explain why the organization needs to focus on a global leadership talent pool.  It is most helpful to highlight the critical gaps in the leadership talent pool for emerging and key global markets.  A workforce analysis will further clarify the needs.  In your analysis identify: 1) the key positions; 2) number and levels of leadership required; 3) core job responsibilities; 4) job expectations; 5) locations; 6) critical skills and competencies; and 7) available leaders in the pipeline.  Be sure the business case and workforce analysis are aligned to the organization’s strategic goals.   When creating the Leadership Development Strategy, establish a leadership capability framework.  In your framework, recognize the baseline requirements for leading globally as well as the unique demands or your organization and culture.

Identifying global candidate potential is also crucial to your success in implementing your Global Leadership Strategy.  When considering candidates, be sure to assess their competencies and capabilities.  Review baseline competencies, global skills and knowledge, and global mindset.
Global baseline competencies recognize the natural receptivity to cross cultural experiences.  We must consider catalytic learning capacity, sense of adventure, entrepreneurial spirit, and sensitivity/responsiveness to cultural differences.  Global skills and knowledge capabilities include:  the ability to lead multi-cultural teams, the ability to network in a sophisticated environment, cultural literacy, and context specific competencies.  Global mindset is tied to significant multi-cultural responsibility with emphasis on strategic decision making.  The leader must demonstrate comfort with cultural complexity and its contradictions, opportunity sensing for the uncertainty of global contexts, systems thinking, and extended time perspectives.

When assessing candidates for global positions, it is also important to understand their motivation to lead in a cross cultural context.  It is recommended that candidates be interviewed to assess the depth of their interest in other cultures, their ability to adapt to new environments, and their desire for the international assignment.

Once the candidates are selected, another important consideration in your Global Leadership Development Strategy is to include supporting initiatives that will enable these leaders to acclimate quickly to their new challenges.   They include:
1.       Establish a simple mentoring program with experienced leaders serving as  in-country mentors
2.      Create career and development plans  with emphasis on international business so managers can plan for global careers
3.      Identify high potential global leadership talent pools and provide developmental assignments
4.      Plan job assignments carefully ensuring a good match between the leader and the role while providing regular feedback, coaching, and training
5.      Reserve a pool of international jobs that form “stepping stone” assignments which lead to more demanding and complex global roles
6.      Establish multi-cultural teams  that provide opportunities to learn about critical differences in national, functional, and corporate cultures
7.      Provide training for high potential global leaders before they are placed in key positions

Studies have shown that the biggest challenge around filling global vacancies is tied to mobility.  One reason could be management’s reluctance to part with their talent for the greater good of the organization.  In order to promote global sharing, structuring incentives so managers are rewarded for developing and promoting their staff will make a difference.  Move people early in their careers before they have a lot of personal commitments and plenty of time for the organization to reap the benefits of their new global perspective.
One last important consideration in building your global talent pool is to help the senior leaders in the organization to take the initiative seriously.  Break the barriers by:
1.       Promoting greater cultural intelligence amongst the leadership ranks
2.       Enhance the representation of different cultures at the top levels in the organization
3.       Enhance language skills in leadership roles to facilitate communication and increase productivity
4.      Encourage foreign assignments for future leaders
5.      Develop a greater understanding of local laws and business arrangements

As you put these strategies, interventions, processes and tools in place to support your Global Leadership Development Strategy, you will position the organization to attract and retain the best talent and to successfully achieve its global goals.

Author

Susan Gervasi, Senior OD Consultant, HR Talent Pro and Lead Facilitator, Institute of Organization Development. She can be reached at susan_gervasi@yahoo.com.