What Is Global Leadership?

Working in the corporate sector gives me great access to the latest business buzz words. They come and go about every couple of years, and some of them are more useful than others. Remember when you couldn’t walk down a company hallway without hearing the word “synergy?”

I personally like some of today’s buzz words like “inclusion” because I see some companies putting real effort toward creating an inclusive work environment. 

One buzz word, however, needs more definition. That word is “global.” 

While there is no single definition of the word, it is often misused or used in an incomplete way. 

When it comes to leadership, many assume “global” to mean that a leader has global experience, is well traveled, has lived abroad, and manages people in multiple countries.

All of those things contribute to a global leader’s effectiveness, but do not guarantee it. In fact, research shows that in spite of having every one of the factors mentioned above, most leaders still score “average” on assessments that measure their intercultural capability

So, what’s missing? 

In my experience and according to multiple studies, here are three key areas of successful global leadership that need more attention: 

  • Awareness of power dynamics: Many global leaders, with all their experience, still have significant blind spots to how their power and privilege impacts their teams. For example, if you have a global team where 90% of the people (including the leader) are in Indonesia and 10% are in Mexico, the Mexican team will be at an automatic disadvantage simply because of the numbers. The Indonesian leader would need to put systems in place to ensure that the Mexican voices were being heard, that the Mexican team could contribute solutions, and that they were not always outvoted due to “headquarters syndrome.” Beyond that, the Indonesian leader should be seeking out the Mexican point of view to provide diversity of thought and innovation.
  • Human connection: Global leaders need to place more value on informal conversations and bonding experiences. Yes results matter, but the way to results is through relationships. If you plan an offsite meeting for your global team, encourage people to build in time to engage as human beings. One client of mine formed a WhatsApp group with their senior leadership team, and planned social activities before the meeting agenda began. They reported a significant increase in collaboration and effective communication after the offsite meeting. Front-end investment led to efficiency in the long-term.
  • Cross-cultural competence as a way of life: Some leaders still treat cross-cultural competence and inclusion as a check box item rather than embedding it into the air the organization breathes. When global skills become a way of life in a company, that company reaps financial rewards. For example, organizations with diverse leadership are 70% likelier to capture a new market than companies lacking diverse leadership (Journal of Economic Geography, 2015).

Global leaders are far more sophisticated in their cross-cultural skills today than twenty years ago. But we still have work to do to get the full benefit of diversity in our organization. 

To find out more about how to make cross-cultural competence a way of life in your organization, contact us at vicki@highroaders.com, or 770-936-9209. 


Vicki Flier Hudson

Vicki Flier Hudson

Vicki Flier Hudson, Chief Collaboration Officer for Highroad Global Services, Inc. inspires people to leverage the full power of differences. She has helped countless large-sized corporations establish successful operations across the globe and build bridges across cultures, distance, and time.

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