As business globalization accelerates, leaders' grasp of core global competencies must grow, as well. Currently, however, organizations vary significantly in their ability to identify current and future global leaders. Corporations are even less consistent and competent at helping global leaders acquire and leverage the competencies necessary to succeed.

Most research on global leadership identifies competencies that are key factors for success, such as having a global business mindset; creativity, innovation, and vision; cultural intelligence; and collaborative leadership, team building, and partnering. However, organizations rarely have a coherent training and development process that promotes the attainment of these competencies.

What organizations are and aren't doing

Corporate training. Few corporations have a global leadership curriculum. Rather, they may offer a course or two in their corporate university that addresses these topics. Many corporations defer to university programs, which vary greatly in their applicability to the needs of the individual and the organization.

International assignments. This is one of the most effective yet least utilized opportunities for the training and development of global leaders. Most organizations see international assignments simply as filling a functional need. There are a number of organizations that do include an international assignment as a prerequisite for global leadership positions, but then do not measure whether participants have gained core competencies as a result of their assignments. Even if there is a cultural training component to the assignment, there is often no training and development plan to develop the skills needed to become a future leader of the organization. As a result, some people return from an international assignment with very few of the competencies mentioned above.

One executive boasted upon his return from a five-year assignment in Taiwan that he did just great there without ever learning to speak more than 10 words of Chinese. On the other extreme, another executive spent his first six months in Japan learning Japanese and carefully observing and noting the relationship building that took place in the office. Neither of these executives was given structured training or development, but one came back to the United States ready to take on global responsibilities while the other did not.

Executive coaching for global leadership. While executive coaching has become the norm in many organizations, there are very few executive coaches who have the skills and experience to help future global leaders achieve the qualities that will help them succeed. An effective global executive coaching program will target the specific issues associated with global work. Much of this is focused on the hidden cultural dimensions that are not seen by either the executive or the coach if they have not been trained in the field of intercultural interactions.

For example, one vice president of marketing for Latin America received an extensive executive coaching program that focused on his leadership, communications, and team building styles and how they were to be adjusted for the various countries in Latin America. As a result of the coaching, the executive and his direct reports in the region reported significant improvements in his interactions. The more he learned, the more he wanted to know, and the assignment ended successfully with a new global position for the vice president.

Global project teams. Many of the competencies described above can be developed in concert with assignments on global project teams. Similar to the international assignment, these project teams focus on achieving a functional objective and are not seen as a way to intentionally teach global leadership skills. If such skill building were integrated into the team members' development plan, there would be a greater cohort of potential global leaders in the organization.

What we can achieve

A global business mindset: the intellectual appreciation of fundamental aspects of how societies and business practices are carried out across the globe, including

  • a keen appreciation of how historical factors within and between countries affect business relationships
  • an understanding of how global demographic trends will affect the future of the organization.

Creativity, innovation and vision: the intuitive capacity to see issues from various and, sometimes, competing perspectives and to create a solution those others could not see - for example, insight to design products or marketing strategies that balance perfectly with local tastes.

Cultural intelligence: understanding core cultural differences found around the globe and the capacity to utilize this understanding to adapt to the various styles - for example, knowing that it would be appropriate in some countries to ask for direct feedback and expect to get it while in other countries the manner, location, and context for giving and receiving feedback is very restricted and constrained.

Collaborative leadership, team building, and partnering: the practice of a leadership style that encourages inclusion and participation of all strategic colleagues, team members, and current and future business partners - for example, understanding how the top-down hierarchy style of leadership is being rejected by employees, even in countries that still maintain a high degree of respect for traditional values.

If organizations wish to succeed in the global marketplace, they must do a better job at training and developing their global leaders. The current hit-or-miss approach is much too costly and inefficient.