Study Examines the Importance of Globally Competent Leaders

By Bill Leonard May 21, 2015
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Most businesses recognize the importance of having leaders who are able to thrive in a global economy, but few companies have th​e strategies in place that provide the opportunities needed to develop such leadership, according to a new study by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Human Capital Institute.

The report, Compete and Connect: Developing Globally Competent Leaders, examines how organizations develop global competence in their workforces, based on a survey of more than 300 human resource and talent development professionals.

“A globally competent individual has the right attitude, knowledge, skills and functional business expertise to effectively work within and across cultures,” said David Roberts, an executive development professor at Kenan-Flagler.

When the survey participants were asked about the qualities most needed for leaders to work effectively in a global business environment, the top responses were:

  • Multicultural sensitivity and awareness (57 percent).
  • The ability to communicate effectively (49 percent).
  • Strategic thinking (47 percent).
  • The ability to influence others (45 percent).
  • Respect for differences (44 percent).
More than 60 percent of the survey respondents reported that developing global competencies is an urgent business need, and 92 percent of those respondents said that these competencies can be developed through better and targeted training.

Despite this, the study revealed that global leadership development at most organizations is in a poor state. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents stated that their organizations are underdeveloped in multicultural sensitivity, and slightly more than half of respondents (52 percent) who work at companies with global operations reported that their organizations struggle to recruit talent for global leadership positions.

When asked about their organizations’ leadership potential, only a third (35 percent) of the respondents said their organizations have a strong leadership pipeline, and slightly less than a quarter said that their organization’s senior leaders are satisfied with the current bench strength.

The study revealed that the most popular ways organizations develop global competence are through passive methods, such as offering international travel opportunities and encouraging networking outside of the organization.

Most organizations aren’t taking a proactive or hands-on approach, even though the most effective methods are deliberate and experiential, according to Kip Kelly, director of marketing and public programs for executive development at Kenan-Flagler.

“Businesses need to do much more than just send individuals on business trips. They need a complete top-to-bottom training strategy,” Kelly said. “That kind of investment gives both organizations and individuals a competitive advantage.”

Bill Leonard is an online editor/manager at SHRM.
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