What does a global leader look like? Are they walking around with any distinct features, or special characteristics that brand or identify them?
Just because you have an excellent executive in your home country who has given you great results year after year, doesn’t mean you can place them on a jet and send them to work overseas, it also doesn’t mean he/she will be ready to lead your global initiatives right here at home.
Knowledge, experience and competencies are all critical, but being a global leader requires some unique qualities. For example, can your best leaders be molded? Can you teach them sensitivity? Can you teach them energy?
The best global leaders are a breed in and of themselves, partly because of nature and partly because of their life experiences. They have a “magic mix” of skills and behaviors that come together to create a competitive advantage for your company.
Whether your leader is at headquarters or globe-hopping they need to succeed across countries, economies and cultures, they must be able to have excellent people skills and know when and how to adapt instantly. Here are some of the differentiators that spell success:
Ambassadors – Global leaders are the company they represent. They stand for and represent the company’s core values. People may never get to visit your headquarters to see how you operate; a global leader brings corporate culture to them, they are your spokesperson.
Explorers – Effective, successful global leaders love exploring new places and learning about new environments. A global leader once told me there are two kinds of global travelers, those who arrive, go directly to the Westernized hotel, visit the office and leave, and those who arrive early and have passion to understand the native culture. They want to know how do things work in this country. They take the time to learn how the unique, local environment impacts what individuals do. They are willing to look at changes in the business landscape. They visit and stay in local places and delve themselves into the local flare of their environment. Global explorers are passionate and inquisitive about understanding their surroundings, if you want to spot someone like this, look for the person who isn’t afraid to ask questions. As the quote on the back of Jacques Cousteau’s research vessel said, “ll Faut Aller Voir,” which means, “We must go and find out for ourselves.” Global explorers are curious by nature, they find things out, they are information seekers.
Energetic – The most successful global leaders have high amounts of energy. Imagine flying across the globe, going through customs, traveling to your branch office and walking into a meeting ready to conduct business. You must have a huge amount of energy to complete this task alone. Global business happens 24/7; there is no time to pause. This type of fast-paced environment requires boundless energy. A global leader is always on.
Vision – Epic global leaders possess visionary skills, they must be able to leverage themselves in any environment. They must think entrepreneurial in order to be able to utilize highly developed analytical and decision-making skills to successfully manage in unfamiliar places. With their vision, they are able to take business to a higher level. Take for example, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of India’s Reliance Industries, who is creating what he promises to be the world’s largest startup. He plans to create 1 million jobs and reach $25 billion in annual sales by increasing the standard of living in India, by setting up airlines and trucking routes that never before existed. The vision is: we are not afraid, we can see what needs to be done and we know how to get there. Excellent global leaders follow their dreams.
Mobilizers – The best global leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with are masters at mobilization. Many are required to mange or start-up new operations, and sometimes don’t have enough resources or information. They need to influence decision makers and work with, not through them to obtain what they need to get the job done. They need to learn how to utilize local resources, to find the right people for the right job, how to organize the right teams to accomplish their goals and most importantly, be where their people are.
Personal Integrity – Integrity and acceptable business practices vary from one culture to another. In challenging local conditions, global leaders must demonstrate the highest level of integrity. They must be honest, committed and able to perform consistently in many differing situations. They must be genuine, true, transparent and real in order to gain trust from those they lead.
Chameleons – Effective global leaders are chameleonic, able to adjust to their surroundings without standing out. They must be able to adapt their behaviors and beliefs to unfamiliar roles and environments. This skill is important in any leadership role, but with global leaders it is imperative to adapt to your local environment instantly. You can’t change a person, but you can teach them to be sensitive to what’s acceptable within the different cultures they operate in. In addition, they must be able to understand their own personal leadership style as well as how to adjust their style in order to be effective in diverse situations.
Black Belts – Black belts represent the highest level of mastery in martial arts, in business it’s Six Sigma, at the global leadership level it’s mastery of cultural diversity and emotional intelligence. This type of mastery involves knowing and understanding how to engage, motivate, and inspire individuals within various cultures. Excellent global leaders know how to adjust their styles according to each situation. When it comes to understanding the importance of forming a human connection, global leaders are masters, the black belts of communication, and experts in what they do. For example, engaging and motivating in France requires a different process than what is needed to get the same result in Germany. Global leaders don’t fail because they lack technical skills or experience, they experience difficulty because they don’t have people skills, the ability to stop, listen and understand. An effective global leader is always respected by those they influence and lead.
Intellectual Stamina – Operating as a leader at the executive level is complex in any country. Operating a global organization with multiple regions, economies, political, social, and cultural factors; and understanding the factors that influence strategy is even more complex. Global leaders are sharp, they possess “street-smarts,” which is the ability and the intuitive knowledge needed to survive in difficult situations. They are on their feet and thinking all the time. They must be able to deal with ambiguity and crunch a lot of information into the smallest amount of time.
Research shows that there a significant difference between excellent leadership and excellent global leadership.
To effectively answer the question on how to spot a global leader, you need to delve into getting to know your people, dig in, ask questions, observe, listen and understand them and you may wind up finding your diamond in the rough.