Significant changes have occurred since the emergence of the
knowledge economy, and those changes are altering the roles of
Today's leaders live and work in countries other than their home
country, manage multinational teams, and have customers from all
over the globe. Anyone who is working either outside their country
of origin or with others from outside their country of origin needs
to demonstrate an effective blend of global competencies. This is
even more critical for leaders and requires blending cultural
definitions of leadership with multiple geographic influences.
More and more, the Internet and other means of rapid communication
are enabling diverse groups of employees to come together to work
and learn from each other.
Ian Davis and Elizabeth Stephenson explained in a recent issue of
The McKinsey Quarterly, "More transformational than technology
itself is the shift in behavior that it enables. We work not just
globally but also instantaneously. We are forming communities and
relationships in new ways. More than 1 billion people now use cell
phones. We send 9 trillion emails a year. We do a billion Google
searches a day, more than half in languages other than English. For
perhaps the first time in history, geography is not the primary
constraint on the limits of social and economic organization."
Indeed, we live in a web-enabled world; yet, we travel more than
ever, encountering new people, new places, and new cultures.
According to the International Air Transport Association,
international travel is expected to grow an average of 5.6 percent
per year between 2005 and 2009. The five fastest growing markets
are Poland at 11.2 percent, China at 9.6 percent, the Czech
Republic at 9.5 percent, Qatar at 9.2 percent, and Turkey at 8.9
Likewise, according to a Business Week article by Beverley Fearis,
"Business travel remains strong in most regions of the world,
according to the latest findings from the airline industry.
Significant growth in airline capacity, particularly in Asia
Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, indicates a continued
upturn in business travel in these regions."
Today, a leader might be from India working for an India-owned
company and assigned to work in the United States. Another may be
from France, working for an Australia-owned company and living in
In my case, I am an American who relocated to India to work for an
India-owned company. Yet another person might work for a company
headquartered in one part of the world and be assigned to a region
in another part of the world. Wherever they are, workers can
connect simultaneously (with some creative and respectful time zone
planning) to make key decisions that instantly influence
organizations on a global scale.
Leadership without borders
My book Leadership Without Borders started as a way for me to learn
how to be successful in my new role as head of Satyam School of
Leadership in Hyderabad, India. I had never lived outside the
United States or worked for a non-American company, and things
weren't going quite as I had thought they would.
The leadership techniques I had used successfully in my home
country weren't working for me in this new part of the world. As I
struggled with my own learning curve, I realized that many other
people were likely embarking on the same type of leadership journey
At Satyam, my journey and that of my colleagues toward borderless
leadership, comprised three stages:
Stage 1. Satyam conducted its Global Leadership
Study, a survey in partnership with ASTD that received more than
200 responses from 16 countries. Findings suggest that leaders who
have the opportunity to gain business and personal familiarity with
other countries tend to be more focused on global issues. (The
report can be found here.)
Stage 2. Satyam interviewed more than 50 leaders
who have lived and worked in more than 60 different countries.
Stage 3. Satyam sought advice and counsel from
those successful global leaders, which we distilled into the book.
I took the advice and counsel from the interviewees and turned it
into strategies for success that anyone can use. Successful global
leaders are entrepreneurial. When most people hear the word
"entrepreneur," they think "business owner." But the dictionary
defines entrepreneur as an innovator; one who recognizes
opportunities and organizes resources to take advantage of the
opportunity. In this context, everyone has the ability to be a
successful global entrepreneur.
There are two types of leaders: those who use the best talent and
those who develop the best talent. Ralph Nader once said, "The
function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more
Successful global leaders understand that developing talent is a
top priority. Therefore, executives need to grow more leaders by
constantly developing and assisting in the growth of their careers.
Successful global leaders understand the dynamics of global
business. Deep domain and functional knowledge may take people up
the career ladder. But the leaders we spoke with understand that
these skills are not enough. They understand the need to develop
global business savvy including being technology perceptive;
demonstrating financial acumen; and being skilled in the areas of
strategic marketing, enterprise knowledge, organizational behavior,
and operations management.
Effective leaders also successfully balance tactical work and
strategic work, so that they both produce and lead simultaneously.
They understand the need to balance time spent in thinking, doing,
As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you
say, and what you do are in harmony." Successful global leaders
lead others by influencing them. Mentoring, coaching, and teaching
are three primary roles that leaders must master.
People no longer want to work in settings where the leaders are
authoritarian micro-managers. They want to work for leaders who
empower them; someone who can, according to Peter Drucker, "lift a
person's vision to higher sights, raise a person's performance to a
higher standard, building a personality beyond its normal
Successful global leaders delight stakeholders. Within every
organization, there are multiple stakeholders, including employees,
investors, customers, and society at large. Leaders balance their
efforts to enhance stakeholder satisfaction and ensure the success
of their organizations. In addition, they understand that a
multidimensional, diverse workforce is better prepared to take full
advantage of opportunities that result in megainnovation and
Successful global leaders share a set of core vales. Integrity,
excellence, respect, and perseverance are just a few of the core
values important to leaders. In addition, leaders admire traits
such as desiring to learn, enjoying differences, and seeking to
Critical competency areas
Within the context of global competencies, Satyam's survey
respondents and the leader interviewees listed critical
competencies needed to be a successful global leader in the
- global business acumen, 29.5 percent
- leadership characteristics, 16.6 percent
- world view, 12.5 percent people leadership, 27.2 percent
- business leadership, 14.2 percent.
The data suggests that while leaders recognize the importance of
awareness of the global environment, it can be a challenging factor
in running a team, and many organizations are therefore failing to
make encouraging a world view a key focus of their leadership
Details about the five critical categories offer additional insight
into the issues and challenges facing successful global leaders.
Global business acumen encompasses the ability to comprehend the
business environment in its totality. This includes entrepreneurial
and financial skills; profit and customer awareness; and domain,
industry, and business knowledge.
Leadership characteristics encompass mental and emotional
behaviors, including self-assurance, energy and enthusiasm, being
learning-focused, and displaying empathy. It also includes a common
set of core values, and the ability to remain authentic regardless
of the situational and environmental challenges.
World view encompasses global environment awareness, cultural
adaptation, and social, political, and economic trends. The common
themes that emerged from our research - experience with foreign
countries, years in leadership, and organization size - influenced
our survey and interviewees' world view responses.
Variables related to foreign experience that influenced the
worldview responses included number of countries traveled to for
business, responsibility for staff in other countries, interaction
with customers in other countries, and work experience in other
countries. Leaders from larger organizations were more likely to
mention world view than leaders from smaller organizations.
People leadership encompasses communication skills, ability to
motivate and inspire people, human resource skills, networking, and
Business leadership encompasses strategic decision-making,
efficient resource allocation, effective time management,
problem-solving ability, ease in managing complexities, and ability
to stay flexible. It also includes the ability to adapt a
leadership style to a variety of situations, creativity,
innovation, and having a strategic or visionary mindset.
Organizations must continually identify new, and extend existing,
expectations about the competencies and characteristics required of
their employees who are doing business in our increasingly global
Our lives, our economies, and our societies are more interconnected
than ever before. Across the globe, those who have the leadership
characteristics, business acumen, world view, and people and
business leadership skills to be successful, and who are willing to
take these risks, will become more and more marketable.