Leadership Series, Part 1: Global Leadership: What it is, what it takes, and 5 simple ways to get there

Many people assume that “leadership” is something you are either born with or not. However, research shows that the skills evidenced by strong leaders can be learned and developed throughout an individual’s life.  Maxine Dalton and other researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, have been studying ways leadership potential can be developed for global roles.

The challenges faced by global managers and other leaders differ from those faced domestically. Not only do global leaders encounter the obvious challenges of communicating in a foreign language or with non-native speakers, but they must also deal with all the challenges domestic leaders face in communicating clearly, motivating employees, maintaining standards, and keeping business moving forward smoothly. To compound this, global managers face a great deal more complexity. They must understand legal issues in multiple countries and be able to negotiate favorably even with adverse conditions including jet lag and language barriers; they must deal with broader and more conflicting ethical issues, such as how decisions made in one country will affect another; they must often juggle the needs, policies, and habits of multiple nationalities simultaneously.

So, what is that makes a global leader effective? Dalton suggests the following four traits are crucial for anyone wanting to lead on a global scale:

icon1Tolerance for and ability to manage high levels of complexity. Global leaders need to be able to gather and utilize huge amounts of possibly contradictory information from multiple sources and make quick, effective decisions.

icon2Excellent interpersonal skills. Mangers’ relationship-building skills are often the glue that holds things together while the complexities are sorted out and they determine most appropriate response in any given country or situation.

icon3The ability to learn from experience. The best information is useless if the manager can’t take effective action based on what he knows. The inability to adapt and the tendency to repeat past mistakes only slows down progress.

icon4Advanced moral reasoning. Ethical dilemmas are inevitable when operating globally, since the difference between individual party’s interests will likely be greater. The ability to assess these issues and take effective and fair action is crucial to success.

How can these traits be developed? Dalton recommends that individuals take every opportunity to gain international work experience and to treat every international assignment as an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop actively and consciously.

icon5Seek out feedback, be open to criticism, and attempt to utilize that information once you’ve had time to process it.

icon6Exercise cultural curiosity and the willingness to take risks, try new things, and be flexible.


icon7Seize any opportunity to develop general business skills and interpersonal “soft” skills, since these skills can often be adapted to work cross-culturally.

icon8Don`t be afraid to trust perception, insight, and intuition when communicating — many other cultures rely far more on indirect and non-verbal signals than is common in the US.

icon9Finally, maintain a strong commitment to both success and integrity and don’t shy away from assignments that have consequences, even if the consequences are public.


— by Desiree Beauchamp

(based on Dalton, M.A. (1998) Developing leaders for global roles. In C.D. McCauley, R. S. Moxley, and E.V. Velsor, (Eds.) Center for Creative Leadership handbook of leadership development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.)


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About The Author

Desiree Beauchamp

Teacher, trainer, coach, consultant. Find out more about me at: About Us