As technology makes the world more connected than ever, there is a significant increase in globalization and multinational corporations. This evolution from local to global has created a dire need for strong “global leaders,” a term that is inundating boardrooms, research articles and business news around the world.
Global leadership is not just about doing business abroad. It encompasses influencing or leading people from diverse backgrounds or cultures. One may become a global leader by having clients or working with colleagues in different countries, supervising a multinational staff and/or having foreign based suppliers or vendors. Global leaders have the complex task of accomplishing a common goal in different countries or environments.
Like a growing number of companies, NASDAQ is aware of the value of having effective global leaders. Recently, NASDAQ — which serves six continents and created the world's first electronic stock market — appointed leaders to strengthen client relationships across the world. Adena Friedman, president of global corporate, information and technology solutions for the NASDAQ OMX Group Inc., stated, "As we gain momentum through our growth and expansion, it is vital that we continue, at pace, to develop our leadership and ensure they are aligned with the growth opportunities ahead." It is clear global leaders are necessary to ensure the success of international companies.
However, what are often not as lucid are the characteristics that make a successful global leader. There are a number of traits that facilitate any leader’s success, and being a global leader is no different. Here are five of the many characteristics that likely make an effective global leader.
1. Multicultural curiosity. As a futurist, Nat Irvin II proclaims in “The Arrival of the Thrivals,” there is a generation of young leaders “who will aggressively compete in the battle to shape the images, ideas, and the future of global culture, business and commerce, science and technology, education, politics, the environment, the arts, and the role of nongovernmental organizations.” To effectively work with people from other countries and cultures, it is imperative that a global leader has a high level of cultural empathy and respect for people different from themselves.
Engaging with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds requires that one is first aware their own culture, values and biases that may affect how they relate to others. Global leaders should not hold the notion that their country, race or any part of their cultural or social identity is superior to that of others. Although it is impossible to know everything about every culture, an effective global leader has a desire to learn about various cultures and exudes a sense of respect and understanding towards them.
2. A global mindset. Global leaders should be able to understand their area of the business as well as those of the cultures they are working with. They are able to look at various perspectives to see the possible impact of a global decision on the local market while also noting the effect of a local decision globally. Furthermore, a global leader should be able to innovatively develop or shape appropriate management systems for a specific culture. Just because a system is effective in Idaho does not mean that it will be successful in Manila. Therefore, global leaders should exercise mental flexibility and be able to create solutions using multicultural lens.
3. Strong cross-cultural communication skills. Like any leader, a global leader should have excellent communication skills. Awareness of various cultural backgrounds and how their communication styles differ is also important. Global leaders should have foreign negotiating skills. Although knowing other languages may be helpful, it is not mandatory.
4. Ability to identify and develop talent from diverse cultural backgrounds. Companies that are set up in other countries sometimes struggle because of the lack of attracting or keeping talent in that country. A successful global leader can help to thwart this challenge by engaging the local talent in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner.
5. Empathy. Being nice still goes a long way. Global leaders should be caring instead of ruling with an iron fist. Emotional intelligence is an important trait of global leaders.
As we continue to bridge cultural gaps in business, there is an emerging need for successful global leaders. What is your company doing to identify and develop them? Do not be caught behind the global leadership wave. It is not too late to start.