What is Required to be a Global Leader?

February 2012, by So-Young Kang

By now, I believe we are all convinced that the world is global and things are shifting around. Global powers of influence are shifting from the West to the East. In the research that we’ve conducted in the past three years with CEOs from all over the world, we continue to see a shift in globalization. In the US alone, 7% of businesses are going abroad or foreign, both in 2010 and the trend continued in 2011. We expect to see the same thing happen this year; in fact, about a third of customers are already international or foreign.

As a consumer, we have so many choices. If I want to purchase something in Singapore, I’m no longer limited to the choices available here. I can purchase what I need in Europe or the US and have it shipped here for a nominal cost, or even for free. As consumers are becoming much more sophisticated and the pace of change is happening at rapid pace, it is no longer sufficient to be thinking about 5 or 10-year strategies and the ways we may have thought about a few years ago. For some, it may make sense, but for others, we may need to start rethinking how we think about planning ahead given the constant pace of change. Given this reality, what is required now to lead globally?

As a curious observer and student of this topic, let me offer a model of what I believe is required for global leadership based on the research we have conducted.

1) “Human” leadership. Vision. Strategy. Values.
a. Vision. Need to at least start with your global vision. Why are you going global? What does this mean? Who do you want to be known for in the world?
b. Strategy. What to do? How to do it?
c. Values. Humility. This is the acceptance that you may not know best. It’s the openness to learn from the locals and from others who have deeper knowledge of the local culture and context. Empathy and deep understanding of human behavior and motivation.

2) Creative leadership. Every CEO I talk to wants to be creative and innovative—but what does that really mean? Are you willing to allow your teams to make mistakes so that they have enough space to actually create? Creativity is messy and people will make mistakes or fail. Are you okay with that?

3) Adaptive leadership. Ability to adapt and respond to changes and different cultures.
a. Adaptability to rapid change. Is your organization agile to respond to change?
b. Cultural adaptability

Becoming this type of global leader requires clear intention and purpose. You will have to make specific choices to build your own capabilities first and to lead your organization in this way. Everyone wants to be creative. Are you willing to allow your teams to make some mistakes? Everyone wants to be adaptive. Are you willing to take the advice of locals or those junior to you?

In essence, are you willing to make the choice to lead your organization in a more human, creative and adaptive way?