The Attributes of an Effective Global Leader19 October, 2016 / Articles
Since early 2015, when he began working with Sodexo’s executive committee as the global services firm’s chief transformation officer, Sunil Nayak has undergone his own leadership transformation. The new role required the former CEO of Sodexo India On-Site Services to work with a team of 15 executives from different nationalities and cultures, demanding a shift to a more inclusive leadership style. “In today’s world, success for any leader is about being a good influencer,” says Nayak, who has since been promoted to CEO of Sodexo’s Corporate Services Asia-Pacific. “If you impose your method, if you’re not sensitive or aware of the other person’s method, either you won’t come to a decision or you won’t get buy-in.”
Nayak is describing a set of competencies that employees must master if they are to become leaders on the global stage. As organizations grow and become more global, it’s crucial that they develop these skills in their local talent so that they can work effectively across cultures. Based on Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) research, we’ve identified four competencies that rising talent needs to master to become global leaders.
According to a recent CTI study, global leaders must master a pivot to project credibility, demonstrating authority in a form familiar to senior executives in the West (the vertical pivot) while prioritizing emotional intelligence with stakeholders in local global markets (the horizontal pivot). CTI’s 11-market study (of Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, the U.S., and the UK) finds that 62% of senior leaders in the U.S. and the UK say that demonstrating authority projects credibility but only 47% of respondents in Asia think it does. Emotional intelligence (versus demonstrating authority) is more important in the growth-hub markets: 57% of respondents in Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, and Turkey say that demonstrating emotional intelligence wins the trust and respect of teams in local markets.
Leaders who pivot well horizontally, earning the trust and respect of their team, are 21% more likely to be satisfied with their career progression than team leaders who haven’t. That trend holds with leaders who pivot well vertically and have won the attention and support of senior leaders: They’re 15% more likely to be satisfied with their advancement.
As Nayak discovered, driving value by unleashing ideas, spurring collaboration, and solving problems across distance and difference requires shifting management methods from command-and-control to behaving inclusively. The way to do this is by asking questions and listening carefully, giving actionable feedback, facilitating constructive arguments, taking advice and implementing feedback, maintaining regular contact with team members, and sharing credit for team success. Global team members with inclusive leaders are four times as likely as global team members with noninclusive leaders to say their teams embrace the input of members whose background or experience differs from their own.
Additionally, inclusive leaders are more likely to encourage risk taking and disruptive thinking: Their team members are three times as likely to say they’re not afraid to fail and four-and-a-half times as likely to report that nobody on their team is afraid to challenge the status quo. This has critical implications for companies whose growth in new markets is predicated on breakthrough products and services, as a growing body of research (including our own) suggests that leaders who don’t merely tolerate failure but avidly celebrate it unlock game-changing innovation.
Communicate Effectively (Even Virtually)
Global leaders need to know how to communicate — not just with their teams but with global headquarters as well. “Communication skills need to be refined to a higher level of sophistication,” observes Paul Abbot, EVP for American Express’s Global Commercial Payments business. “If you don’t set the tone right from the top, nothing will ever happen.”
Across all markets, leaders need to speak well, deliver a compelling message, and command a room. What differs from market to market, though, is how leaders demonstrate those skills. In many markets, men are expected to deliver a compelling message by stating their conclusions directly, while women are expected to guide listeners to their conclusion. In Hong Kong, China, India, and Singapore, men are expected to command a room in a forceful manner, but in Japan, Brazil, and Russia, women are expected to command a room by facilitating others’ dialogue.
Navigating global complexities can be nearly impossible for rising leaders without the support and guidance of a sponsor, a senior-level advocate who will support their protégé’s authority and empower them to make decisions. They also make protégés visible to leaders regionally and at headquarters.
To attract sponsorship at the highest levels, emerging leaders need to be sponsors themselves. Seeding high-potential talent, selecting top performers for development and stretch assignments, and securing a future for them at the company beyond their own borders signals to those at headquarters that you are thinking and acting like a global leader. Indeed, no one is better positioned to sponsor emerging talent than someone who has succeeded in vaulting those same barriers.
These four competencies are the basis for global leadership. As multinational corporations expand into different markets, they must take steps to ensure their rising local talent learns these skills. Formal training programs can teach high-potential leaders the competencies they need to think globally and manage cross-culturally. For example, American Express created its Accelerated Leadership Development program, in 2011. Over the course of the six-month program, 25 participants from American Express offices around the world tackle real-time business challenges to hone their strategic skill set, practice cross-functional collaboration, and learn what it takes to be a transformational leader in today’s ever-changing environment.
Sodexo created its Global Agility program, which includes a series of initiatives and training modules that are designed to promote cross-cultural competence and connect business units and leaders in its 32,700 sites worldwide. These sessions help leaders identify the cultures in which they would function best and understand how to shift their approach to connect meaningfully with others when operating in less-familiar environments. Other modules focus on leading virtual global teams, building trust across cultures, and giving feedback and providing recognition — all critical skills for building high-performing global teams.
As organizations increasingly recognize that diversity is the key to innovation and market growth, it’s more important than ever to develop local talent and nurture the skills to enable them to succeed on the global stage.