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Global Leader: Nature or Nurture?

Declan Mulkeen

29 May 2017

A national success but an international failure. Sport, music, literature and the world of entertainment are full of examples of professionals who have failed to translate national success to the international stage. This is equally true of the corporate world where leaders more often than not fail when removed from their natural environment.

But what does it take to be a global leader and can anyone be one with the correct preparation and training?

Becoming a global leader does not happen overnight

Often [organisations] give little thought as to how national leaders become international leaders

Organisations recognise the need for strong leadership. After all, they needed good leaders to get them to where they are in their home markets. However, they often give little thought as to how national leaders become international leaders and what support and training they may need to get them there.

Global Leadership Qualities

The SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) has identified a series of qualities that any aspiring global leader should have if they wish to be a success on the international stage.

More than 60% of the study’s respondents recognised the urgency of developing leadership skills.

These findings were originally included as a part of a study published in the report ‘Connect and Compete:  Developing Globally-Competent Leaders’.

These qualities include:

Recognising the Need

More than 60% of the study’s respondents recognised the urgency of developing these leadership skills.

Furthermore, 92% of these respondents also acknowledged that these qualities can be developed through targeted global leadership training. But the study also found that few organisations are providing training and other related tools to develop strong global leaders.

The Challenges

More than 50% of respondents say they have difficulty in recruiting global leaders

The same respondents also admitted that their organisations do not have enough multicultural sensitivity – about 40%.

More than half also admitted that they have difficulty in recruiting global leaders, and most of these also believe they have little depth in their current talent pool for future global leaders.  Organisations that simply try to apply the way they did things successfully in their home market may be in for a rude awakening once they venture abroad.

Cultural sensitivity begins with cultural awareness

Cultural sensitivity begins with cultural awareness. Leaders often don’t know what they don’t know. Others may not place a significant value on the impact of cultural differences.

Also, there is a need to recognise that effective communication goes way beyond speaking a common language.

Learning these skills goes a long way to developing a different way of thinking and improving a global leader’s ability to influence others.

Global Leadership Training? What Training?

92% of respondents also acknowledged that leadership qualities can be developed through targeted global leadership training.

Unfortunately, many organisations, whether due to lack of awareness, budget restraints, or other priorities, expect their global leaders to learn on the job.

This means that in some organisations, the total amount of training their leaders get is absorbing cultural knowledge through their experiences while travelling internationally. While a global leader who is switched on and takes note of cultural differences may get by, they may also only be scratching the surface, limited by time from learning more about the strongest cultural motivators in depth.

The Solution

Cultural training is an effective way to prepare future global leaders for their role. It also helps leaders with some exposure to focus their new observations and knowledge to become more effective.

Cultural training raises awareness by defining differences (and similarities) and their importance in the workplace. It also provides practical information on how to communicate effectively way beyond a shared language. Non-verbal cues, tone of voice, reading between the lines and other contextual messages are also important aspects of how people communicate effectively with one another.

Learning what motivates people to function better both in their own culture and how this differs in multicultural environments is key.  These skills also provide the global leader with effective tools to improve their ability to influence others and get the most out of everyone.

Finally, true global leaders embrace difference, making differences work for them, not against them.