Growing Global Demand for Leaders

By David Everhart Jan 5, 2012

The pattern of globalization has shifted from a North-South route to an East-West one. Economies in the developed world will not grow much compared with those in emerging markets. In 2020, the most important markets for most products and services will be in fast-growth economies in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa regions. So, by 2020 or earlier, businesses will require a shift in capability away from traditional markets to new ones such as Brazil, China, India and Russia. This means they will need to expand global leadership beyond the capabilities of top Western executives to include local managers.

Current leadership models do not fit this paradigm, and many executives are struggling to adjust their thinking. Leaders will need to adjust in the following ways:

Become multilingual in the languages of leadership. What employees need from leaders is not the same around the world. Effective leaders learn how to adapt their styles to different cultural contexts while remaining authentic to their core values. For example, a Western-born executive serving as president of the China operation at a Fortune 50 food and beverage company is an articulate, assertive executive when speaking to colleagues at global headquarters. But when leading meetings in China, she adopts a different style. She is more formal, speaks less and listens more. She also uses different influencing strategies, such as investing more time building relationships with government officials and other stakeholders. She is well-respected in both arenas. This ability to “frame shift” takes time and experience to master, but once a leader is “bilingual,” becoming multilingual happens quickly.

Realize that global leadership is not just for the top of the house. Recently, I was talking with the head of organizational development in the Asia-Pacific region for a U.S.-based Fortune 50 corporation. The company has a growing crisis trying to sustain fast growth in China with an underdeveloped pipeline of leaders. The company has imported experienced leaders from other regions to support this growth. When discussing the coaching needed for these expatriates, my contact added, “An even bigger issue is how to support the development of the Chinese nationals at the lower levels of management. We are discovering that all managers in China, regardless of level and function, are communicating from the first week with our global organization and need global leadership development, too.”

Hence, leadership training should not stop at the top. True global leadership learning does not mean “skills training.” It means developing global leadership behaviors at all management levels. Leaders who champion this kind of strategic development will see retention rates rise.

Make yourself redundant. Leaders in international roles must make succession planning a primary goal. Expatriates have term limits; they should begin to identify and develop potential successors within the first six months of their assignments. This type of project can take three to five years. If I assume that my job is to make myself redundant, then my primary function is to teach others to do my job, or the job that my job will become. As a leader, give local managers stretch roles to accelerate development. Leaders who make themselves redundant move on to the next challenge.

David Everhart is practice group leader of global leadership at Aperian Global in San Francisco.


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