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Are You Ready To Be a Great Global Leader?

By John Golding

John GoldingMany years ago, I had the opportunity to lead the development of a team of newly promoted group leaders in a large manufacturing plant in Mexico. I did all the typical things you might suspect to ready myself. I bought all the learn-the-language tapes I could find, plus some books on Mexican culture. I was ready to hit the ground running!

After extending my first few “¡Hola! ¿Como estas?” greetings, I quickly realized that all of the training kits I had shipped six weeks earlier for our first formal session had not arrived at the plant. In my ignorance, I had assumed that since I’d sent them via FedEx, they’d be there in plenty of time. So, after spending the better part of two days working with customs officials, I was finally able to deliver the training at the plant.

You may be thinking: Hey, no big deal, the delay was only a couple of days. Well, try explaining this to the supervisors who were forced to rearrange several production schedules—not an easy task! This was a valuable, if not painful, lesson to learn.

In my enthusiasm to be culturally sensitive to my colleagues, I’d made the assumption that things worked the same in Mexico as they did at home. But I knew this, right? So what happened?

It takes more than just cultural sensitivity

At the time, I failed to consider the full impact of key business practices such as logistics, national and local laws, and customs. In fact, I didn’t think strategically enough about what I needed to execute my plan, and with whom I needed to build relationships to be successful.Global Factors But, I felt I was a pretty good (albeit young) leader who demonstrated these leadership skills effectively in past roles. After all, that’s why I was asked to take the assignment!

Also, as I look back at that experience, I realize I should have demonstrated better global acumen—a better awareness of global factors such as customary business practices, economic conditions, social practices, and other key trends that impacted my ability to execute my portion of the manufacturer’s global strategy.

By combining this knowledge with an understanding of my own cultural orientation and preferences (how I navigate across cultures), I would have been better prepared to apply my leadership skills in the most relevant context; I would have been more culturally competent.Cultural Orientations Model

Developing today’s global leader

Today, it’s virtually impossible to not have at least part of your organization’s strategy dependent upon the success of your leaders as effective global leaders. Leaders at all levels and roles are required to combine core leadership skills with ever-improving global acumen. As you look to develop global leaders, consider a few key points from the recent Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 study from DDI and The Conference Board:

  • When asked to describe their global expansion plans, 32 percent of organizations reported having no current global expansion plans, 30 percent had gradual global expansion plans, 26 percent had moderate global expansion plans, and 12 percent had rapid global expansion plans. How rapidly is your organization expanding or planning to expand?
  • Only 22 percent of leaders working for Multinational Corporations (MNCs) said they feel “very prepared” to lead a global expansion. How are you preparing leaders to work in a more global environment?
  • Skills such as leading across countries and cultures, intercultural communication, and integrating oneself inter-culturally are in increasing demand. However, these skills are at a very low baseline for most leaders, and organizations are not focusing development efforts on them. How can organizations close this glaring gap? Are there limited options to develop these skills?
  • Only 41 percent of organizations have formal programs for identifying employees who could become global/multinational leaders. How are you identifying the next generation of global leaders?

As I reflect back on the lesson I learned as a young, global leader, I realize that most leaders today routinely deal with situations that are far more complex. They have greater responsibilities that span several regions and/or involve internal and external partners from multiple countries. Still, when only 41 percent of leaders in MNCs feel they are highly effective in leading across countries and cultures, we have a long way to go to get them to be muy preparado.

DDI is built to serve multinational clients. Learn how to simplify your global talent management projects.

John Golding is a senior consultant at DDI. John provides consulting and program delivery services addressing culture change, leadership and team development, strategic focus, and continuous improvement. His experience includes managing complex change and leadership initiatives across many sectors, including automotive and chemical manufacturing, retail, and financial services. Email him at

Posted: 03 Mar, 2015,
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