Global Leadership Competencies

In an era when these competencies are so important, how do you assess for the ‘right’ manager style?

Patricia Shafer, President

In the past few months, I’ve met with more than 300 Human Resource professionals while facilitating workshops on “Profiling the Best Organizations of Tomorrow” and “Developing Truly Global Leaders.” The focal points of our conversations ranged far and wide but one theme has been consistent. HR personnel are increasingly expected to guide their organizations in the training and development of managers with a global mindset. And they’re looking for suggestions on how best to do so.

HR managers – even at undeniably multinational firms – are realizing that they themselves need more grounding in the fundamentals of developing global leadership competencies. Moreover, they can be frustrated by the disparity of views on what actually constitutes global competence. It’s little wonder, given that some organizations have chosen to focus on a very small core set of global competencies needed by managers, and others have lists of several hundred qualities spanning multiple pages. The situation prompts HR professionals to ask:

• How do we know which managers will be successful in a multinational setting?

• What are the best assessment tools?

• What classes, coaching and experiences should we provide and to whom?

Initial Response: Consider Three Questions
My first response to these queries takes the form of three questions that I suggest HR professionals reflect upon. They are:

• Do executives in your organization want to ensure that managers are aware of the need for a global mindset, or, are they motivated to craft and enact a strategic and systematic global leadership development framework?

• Does your organization typically focus on short-term tactical training initiatives, or, is there a pattern of more forward-looking and comprehensive efforts to create competitive advantage through people?

• Are you, personally, prepared to serve as a global leadership champion, as well as recruit and support other champions embedded in the business?

By answering these questions, HR professionals are better equipped to make an important decision. As indicated by Allan Bird and Joyce S. Osland in their research on global competencies, organizations and their HR staff must acknowledge above all a distinction between preparing novice global managers to understand basic realities of work in a global context vs. striving to achieve a cadre of expert global managers with a requisite repertoire of attitudes, skills and behaviors. Bird and Osland rightly suggest that there is a quantum leap difference in capacity development for novices and experts. Accordingly, it’s important to define an organization’s global management need and intention (basic training or advanced development) and therefore what opportunities and responsibilities exist for the organization’s HR professionals.

Globally Successful Traits In cases where an organization is prepared to “go the (global competence) distance” with at least a portion of the manager population, one challenge is to assess who has the ‘right style strengths’ and who needs focused feedback and coaching. This can be frustrating for HR professionals once they realize that only a very small percentage of research on effective leadership skills has been conducted with an international outlook and or produced outside North America. The same is true of leadership assessment tools; those that are most well-known tend to be developed in the United States for American managers and then exported for use elsewhere.

Nevertheless, there is a growing body of evidence that’s been gathered over the last twenty years and points to certain leadership traits being likely to ensure multinational managerial success. General competencies around problem-solving, decision-making and general management are, of course, among them. But in many ways, these are merely foundational. Critical, higher-order traits actually lie on the “human side” of organizations and are characterized as “people and soft skills.”

Take as one example research recently published through the Harvard Business School, titled: “Innovation through Global Collaboration: A New Source of Competitive Advantage.” The primary conclusion is that firms effectively managing global innovation are able to do so because their managers operate with a spirit of multinational collaboration that is strategic, evident in how a firm is organized, and energetically incorporated into staff and process capabilities.

My colleagues and I have reached complementary conclusions based on a multinational research initiative that I co-led, titled “The Whole World at Work” (Compel Ltd., 2006). The findings underlined that successful global managers are exceptionally facile at bridging geographic, divisional and other differences because they are communicative and collaborative consensus-builders eager to listen to and integrate multiple perspectives.

And similar themes emerged in one of the most comprehensive projects on the subject to date. In a multi-year investigation of more than 900 organizations and 60 societies known as “The Globe (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) Study,” key manager traits discovered to be universally desirable and effective included being team-oriented, participative and humane. Negatives included being self-protective and autonomous, in other words, operating from self-interest rather than for the greater good.

From Broad Mechanics to Deep Mindfulness
So, what ultimately is the path that an HR professional must take as well as guide his or her organization down in order to be globally successful? It’s to start by making sure the “tactical mechanics” of global skills education and training are covered. This includes increasing manager access to and awareness of an organization’s multinational strategies, as well as market specifics and cross-cultural training. But the more advanced and savvy undertaking is to strategically support the assessment and development of managers with a deep mindfulness and respect for how to behave on the world stage.