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6 Things Every Global Leader Needs to Remember

6 Things Every Global Leader Needs to Remember

Implications of Global Leadership

The role of a global leader has a particular complexity, one that is categorically different from the complexity faced by domestic and even regional leaders.

To be an effective global leader and to lead multicultural teams with cultural intelligence, you must be able to operate amid myriad challenges. Our research and experience show that the leap from being a successful manager in your home country to a global leader is a big one. Previously successful strategies and preferred ways of leading may not translate well in a global setting.

The rules of engagement understood by one group or culture may not be relevant to another, and leading remote and virtual teams can be challenging. This creates an environment of multiple complexities.

Here are 6 of the challenges leaders face when working in a global environment:

  1. Handling culture conflicts. Global leaders work across multiple cultural groups simultaneously. They face situations or incidents in which priorities or values may conflict. Sometimes the cultural conflict is glaring; more likely, the differences are subtle and easy to miss.
  2. Adapting your own behaviors. Cultural assumptions and behaviors play a role in a leader’s identity, too. Global leaders need to be highly aware of the influence of culture on their own thinking — and then have the ability to go beyond that. They can’t limit choices and actions to reflect only their own culture or social identity group. Leaders need to be skilled at accurately reading people and situations and then adjusting their behaviors accordingly.
  3. Creating shared goals and implementing shared work. Leaders in global organizations need to find ways to find common ground while honoring differences. Global leaders must be able to build trust in their teams and understand and appreciate other cultural perspectives while at the same time creating alignment around the work and the mission.
  4. Managing the relationship between global and local. A significant challenge for global leaders is to understand and manage the tensions between global headquarters and regional or local offices. When do local needs, customs, regulations, practices, or markets drive decisions? How do organization-level expectations get infused at the local level? And how can leaders navigate the constant duality? They must be able to communicate effectively in virtual spaces, since much of their collaboration will be with team members at other geographic locations.
  5. Communicating across barriers. Communication can be a challenge in any setting; it’s more complex and even more essential to communicate effectively when you’re managing remote teams and leading from a distance. Effective global leaders learn to overcome geographic, cultural, and language barriers to ensure their virtual persona communicates effectively.
  6. Understanding and managing external forces. Doing business globally requires leaders to learn the governmental, legal, historical, and economic factors that influence their work. External forces impact the way organizations operate, and often, leaders must accept that these factors are outside of their control.

Leaders can’t be prepared for every situation, every cultural setting, every challenge. But to be effective outside of familiar settings, global leaders do need to think and act in new ways.

A Balancing Act: Local vs. Global

One of the biggest challenges for global leaders is managing the tension between the need to be globally consistent while taking into account local differentiation.

Imagine this scenario: A Global Vice President and a Regional Director of Sales are at odds. Both consider the other to be a savvy leader with solid business acumen. So what’s the problem?

Chances are, the issue has to do with global expectations vs. local expectations.

The Global VP is responsible for the whole picture. They operate out of their home country and culture but travel extensively to regional operations around the world. They rely on Regional Directors to implement the global strategy, but they aren’t immersed in the culture or the work the way their direct reports are.

The Regional Director has another set of challenges. In this case, they may feel that much of the global strategy breaks down or becomes extraordinarily complex when applied to their office. They are frustrated that the Vice President can’t see that.

The challenge is immense for both leaders.

Global and regional leaders need to create strategies for balancing the tension inherent in their positions. Global leaders can do this in 3 ways:

  1. Leaders should think and act globally. A global mindset is needed when the organization is developing universal policies and procedures, seeking efficiencies of scale, and integrating decision-making across global boundaries. For instance, the human resources function of a large, multi-national organization should keep its worldwide management policies updated.
  2. Leaders should think and act locally. Global organizations should try to meet local needs and maximize regional adaptations. For example, the HR function would likely take a local approach to establishing healthcare benefits. Benefit programs in each country would be determined and managed at the country or regional level and in response to employees’ cultures and needs.
  3. Leaders should think and act “glocally.” This basically means trying to operate locally and globally at the same time. An either/or approach to decision-making is often faulty; many times both global and local perspectives need to be considered simultaneously. HR might take a “glocal” approach to developing the organization’s hiring strategy and processes. Recruiting, selecting, and utilizing the best talent is implemented by integrating global and local efforts.

Optimum balance is a result of knowing when to act globally, or locally, or when a new, yet-to-be-invented “glocal” approach is required.

By considering these 3 approaches, global leaders can more easily understand implications for global leadership and determine when to let go of an issue and when to roll up their sleeves and work through the complexities of creating a “glocal” approach.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can partner with you to develop leaders who understand the implications of global leadership, leading remote teams, and balancing global vs. local considerations with cultural sensitivity. Partner with us to craft a customized learning journey for your leaders using our research-backed modules. Available leadership topics include Beyond Bias, Conflict Management, Emotional Intelligence, Listening to Understand, Psychological Safety, Leading Virtual & Remote Teams, and more.


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March 25, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff to help you and your organization's leaders at every level. Want more content like this? Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-backed articles, webinars, insights, and news about leadership development solutions sent straight to your inbox.

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