Working in a Global Marketplace

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Dr. Steven Rumery

How are the best and brightest global leaders identified and developed? This question was posed in a survey of nearly 2,000 managers and training professionals around the world. The respondents were members and clients of professional organizations, including American Management Association (AMA), American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), Franklin Covey ®, The Ken Blanchard Companies® and Marshall Goldsmith.

The sample contained a diverse group of cross-functional managers, including training and development professionals:

·         26% are managers who lead globally

·         40% are coaches, mentors or trainers of global leaders

·         62% are from global or multinational companies

·         53% are from organizations with at least 1,000 employees

·         50% are in corporate roles, 20% in plant or office roles, 17% in division roles and 13% in region roles.

The sample also represents a number of geographical regions.

Successful Global Leaders Address Critical Drivers of Change
Asked to “rank the drivers of change that need to be addressed by global leaders to be successful,” the respondents suggested that the most critical drivers focused on the customer, including ensuring quality products and services, driving innovation, retaining the best people and running business efficiently.

In addition, the results for the top drivers of change were consistent across industries, different size organizations, regions and whether or not the survey respondent was in a global leadership role or someone who coaches and develops global leaders.

None of these drivers is particularly surprising. However, the challenge to global leaders in addressing these common and critical business drivers is that they must do so within a constantly shifting global context. Thus, the fundamentals of leading globally are the same as for leaders in general, but the challenges can be much more difficult within the context of their global roles.

The Complexities for Leaders Who Manage Globally
Many survey respondents highlighted the complexities of managing globally. Some of the consistent themes included:

Managing a Patchwork of People.  To lead effectively within a global context, managers need to understand and influence a complex patchwork of people. Each customer, employee and vendor is uniquely characterized by a host of attributes and experiences, including ethnicity, language, religion and social norms. All of these stakeholders weave together into a vibrant patchwork of people with a number of unique attributes and experiences that must be understood and appreciated.

Distributed Team Members. Teams in global organizations are often comprised of people in dfferent geographic areas and time zones. The challenges to global leaders are three-fold:

1. Keeping communication channels open and clear. This is an especially huge challenge with virtual teams where face-to-face communication is limited.
2. Maintaining a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of team members. Remote team members often struggle to collaborate over time because of a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what. To be successful, there has to be a genuine sensitivity to team members’ varying schedules, opinions and personal interests.
3. Providing team members with the right levels of leadership support and guidance. It is hard for global leaders to exercise the complete range of leadership behaviors necessary to organize and influence their people over time. For example, it is hard for global leaders to direct or to lend a hand to a direct report when they are not in the same office or time zone.

Change Is Constant. If it isn’t hard enough for global leaders to try to manage their patchwork of people, the global marketplace itself is in a constant state of change. Global leaders must have a firm grasp on the business and its products, while having the business acumen necessary to perform in a game with rules that are constantly changing.

Attributes, Behaviors and Skills to Address the Drivers of Change
What were the survey respondents’ opinion of the skills and attributes necessary for global leaders to be successful?

Asked to choose the one skill that is critical to determining the best succession candidate for a global leadership role, survey respondents chose—by a large margin—leadership behaviors, followed by international experience and dealing with ambiguity. The lesson here: leadership matters.

In a follow-up question, survey respondents were asked to pick the most important attributes when examining candidates for a global leadership role. The most important attributes continued to highlight leadership. The behaviors included superior communication skills and the abilities to develop a business strategy, foster innovation and creativity, develop their people and drive for results.

Allocating Resources for Leadership Development
Another follow-up question also highlighted the importance of leadership skills. When survey respondents were asked to choose the top subject areas to which to allocate money and resources for the development of global leaders, the subject areas selected most often related to cultural awareness, coaching, emotional intelligence, fostering innovation and leading remotely.

What can organizations do to develop the competencies that are required of global leaders to focus on the drivers of change?

Superior management needs to value the development of global leaders, which requires the full backing of the organization’s senior leadership.

The culture needs to value diversity. Organizations with cultures that truly value diversity are best equipped to develop global results.

Clear goals need to be set regarding the development of global managers and leaders. The organization must have clearly stated, consistent goals from its senior leadership regarding the development of global leaders.

The organization needs to build a pipeline of global leaders. This is easier said than done. An organization must identify the appropriate skills and behaviors and then work to accurately assess and develop them.

Organizations can hire global talent, but the supply can be limited. Given the significant difficulties in developing global leaders, it would seem that hiring effective global leaders would be the most straightforward solution. However, it is difficult to find leaders who are “ready now” to manage global businesses given the combinations of factors that are critical to the global leader’s role.
In fact, when survey respondents were asked what the best strategy will be in the next five years for building a stronger bench of global leaders, only 20% responded that hiring is the way to go. A resounding 80% of respondents indicated that developing leaders internally is the best strategy.

Allocate the resources to support strong communication. The success of global leaders and the teams they lead relies upon rich communications.

Think globally, act locally. Organizational goals and initiatives need to be translated into the local culture to facilitate understanding and engagement.

In closing, the current survey of leading in the global marketplace provides some unique insights from nearly 2,000 global leaders and training and development professionals. The results indicate that the challenges facing global leaders can be quite complex given the cultural context of their roles. To be successful, global leaders must be strong on a number of leadership competencies, including being open minded and adaptable, strong on emotional intelligence and highly collaborative on dispersed teams. Given the unique and varied challenges of individual leadership roles, survey respondents recommend a highly tailored, blended approach to developing global leaders.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Steven Rumery is a principal with the Leadership Research Institute. He specializes in developing the credibility and impact of leaders and organizations through executive coaching, research and consulting. He has experience working with Fortune 500 companies across industries, including banking, investment management, private equity, pharmaceutical and mass media. For more information, contact [email protected].