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Global Leadership Counts for You and Your Organization

As public managers today, we live in an international and interconnected world which is becoming more interdependent due to increased technology. While technology is important, the real key to success in taking advantage of global talent and opportunities is having the right people involved. Many organizations have not focused on developing global leaders and even if they recognized the need to do so, many haven’t known how to develop those leaders. By the time leaders get such an assignment or have to lead a global team, many see the world from where they grew up or are preoccupied with the American way of doing things.

I recently surveyed and interviewed 250 government/nonprofit leaders representing more than a dozen nationalities. The leaders ranged in age from 33 to 67, 40 percent were women and 60 percent were men, and all of them had held many and varied positions across more than 20 countries. We asked them to self-report on what behaviors and skills are critical to effective transnational leadership, how those differ from local leaders and then we did follow up interviews to clarify their responses.

They cited as necessary traits for global leaders: strategic orientation, vision, client focus, good people skills, results orientation, team focus, strong moral compass and high integrity and adaptability. They also indicated that global leaders don’t have to work hard at inclusion and diversity and they don’t have to be convinced to try new things because they do so naturally. Several respondents referred to the global leaders as natural innovators. Through interviews, we were able to refine the essential elements of global leadership to five critical behavioral dimensions:

  • Uncertainty Resilience: building on differences and complexity so as to be able to function in ambiguous and vague violence.
  • Team Conductivity: working across boundaries and borders so as to be able to integrate and connect activities and ideas from wherever they are conceived.
  • Pragmatic Flexibility: adapting to other cultures both from the organization and country’s cultural perspectives so as to be able to adjust their value sets to others’ norms.
  • Perceptive Responsiveness: operating with a high degree of sensitivity to others’ needs so as to be able to function through intuition as well as according to actual facts.
  • Talent Orientation: focusing on the development of people as a key lever for success so as to be able and willing to personally take responsibility for talent development.

Respondents, regardless of their gender, also indicated that global leaders have moved from a conscious state of seeking diverse talent to a more natural or subconscious state of competence, and building and working with heterogeneous teams. They recognize the significance of diversity and inclusion in the organization’s culture and their relevance in today’s international markets. They can deal with differences on multiple fronts, including diverse clients and community, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders. They embrace differences in every aspect of doing business and every aspect of human values and principles. Their beliefs and behaviors are defined and refined as they recognize the power and synergies created through experience and immersion in different societies, cultures and geographies. The terms diversity and inclusion were defined differently. As one respondent indicated: Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work.

We found that the characteristics of global leaders and their deeply held convictions set them apart from others in driving the diversity agenda almost effortlessly through their organizations. All five dimensions of leadership serve to enhance the elements of inclusion, selflessness and conductivity and bring inclusive diversity into sharper focus. The three most distinctive characteristics noted by respondents are:

  • Perceptive Responsiveness: they are skilled at reading people and are sensitive to individuals’ cultural and social norms, behaviors and biases. They do not condone or promote individuals who are narrow-minded or those who view diversity as an agenda rather than a value.
  • Uncertainty Resilience: they thrive on cultural, racial, gender, generational, religious, social, familial differences and welcome fresh ideas and approaches that diverse perspectives can offer.
  • Talent Orientation: they are personally involved in the development and growth of talent and are personally involved in discovering and nurturing diverse talent and a culture of inclusive diversity.

Through the surveys and interviews, we were told time and time again by respondents of their early experiences that shaped and cultivated their global skills. Some had opportunities very early in life, even before they reached the age of 20, to live in a multicultural environment and to learn from people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Those who did not have those early experiences, introduced multicultural events into their day-to-day activities by reading diverse literature, enjoying music of various genres, attempting to learn different languages and seeking a deeper learning of history, arts and sciences. In order to develop global organizational capability, respondents recommend:

  • Assessing and Selecting Global Talent: Mere assessment of cognitive abilities using standard interview protocols is not adequate to draw out the cultural, emotional and moral nuances and propensities in an individual. It is important to ask individuals to reflect on their formative years, describing early activities, experiences and the environment in which they were raised.
  • Developing the Potential for Future Global Leaders: Organizations need to offer international assignments and cross-cultural exchange opportunities to high-potential employees including short-term expatriate assignments, job swaps, and long-duration travel assignments that allow managers to spend time in unfamiliar countries and cultures.
  • Accelerating Current Global Leadership Growth and Capabilities: Organizations should consider deliberately changing the nature of management assignments to ensure that they are globally complex, providing cross-border assignments that present multicultural and diverse team challenges; assisting others to uncover their values and to foster experiential events that shape and cultivate cultural sensitivity as well as taking personal ownership of talent development rather than simply relying on Human Resources to do so.
  • Creating a Nurturing and Sustaining Multicultural Global Environment: Regardless of whether the employee is an entry-level manager or a senior executive, organizations should provide support in making adjustments, either through assigned mentors, networking or on-the-ground leadership connections when they are involved in cross-cultural exchanges and international assignments.

In the final analysis, organizations should consider implementing transnational best practices developmentally and organizationally. On the developmental level, organizations should commit to developing a cadre of senior leaders that can move and work anywhere in the world as well as to identify and mentor the next crop of leaders. Emerging talent should be deployed to disaster area projects and to support of local initiatives which take people out of their comfort zones. On the organizational level, there should be a consistent focus on the issue of global talent by regularly communicating on the progress and quality of the talent, by ensuring that global assignments are seen as career enhancers rather than as career minefields, and by measuring and celebrating success through the sharing of client and employee case studies and stories.


Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the Director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at UNLV, the only program of its kind in the United States. She has served on Congressional Panels developing performance metrics for DHS/FEMA grants, a FEMA panel to develop core competencies for college curriculum and degree programs, and on the Congressional Panel evaluating FEMA post-Katrina last year. She also serves on the Nevada Citizen Corps Board of Directors and the National Academy of Public Administration’s Board of Directors. She is also a member of InfraGard. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited, incorporated in 1986 with offices in Nevada and Arizona. To contact Springer, email [email protected]


Image courtesy of http://www.income-outcome.com/blog/bid/63870/Travel-Trade-Innovation-and-Business-Acumen.





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