The Keys to Being an Effective Global Leader

Being able to engage, influence and lead effectively across borders was once considered one of the new frontiers of leadership as globalisation started to take effect.  Now it seems there is almost an assumption that if you work in a global organisation, and are an effective leader in your home country that this will automatically translate into being an effective leader in a different country or across a region.  But that’s not normally the case, as I’ve found when coaching many leaders who have found themselves in this position. 

So, what are the characteristics of being an effective global leader? In my experience, there are three dimensions to consider that have underpinned the success of those leaders I’ve worked with who are achieving good results beyond borders.  By contrast, I would also suggest that they are many of the missing elements for those I’ve coached who aren’t performing as well as they would like at this level. 

These three dimensions are:

  1. Perceptual Awareness
  2. Relational Awareness
  3. Self-Awareness

Let’s take a brief look at what these dimensions comprise.

Perceptual Awareness:
This is the ability and desire to:

  • Be open to the world around you.
  • Be open to new ideas, and the fact that things will happen differently to what you are used to.
  • Suspend judgement when things seem confronting or not the way you think it ‘should’ be.
  • Be inquisitive and want to understand why things are done differently.

Relational Awareness:
This is the ability and desire to:

  • Want to engage with, and build relationships with those from other countries and cultures.
  • Adapt your behaviours so that you can build rapport in these situations, with aim of developing a relationship.
  • Learn how to ‘feel the air’; in other words, knowing that when building a relationship with many other cultures, what’s not said is often more important than what is said.

This is the ability and desire to:

  • Be an optimist, and see the best in situations.
  • Believe that those around you are operating with the best of intentions.
  • Have, or be developing, a healthy level of emotional resilience, especially if you are an expat living and leading in a different country.

These dimensions are highly interdependent, for example, you can be quite open to taking in new experiences (Perceptual Awareness) but not be so interested in engaging with your new surrounds (Relational Awareness).  I see this when strong technical leaders who have spent many years working as an individual contributor, and have a preference for taking in what’s going on around them, but not really wanting to engage with it, find themselves in an expat or global leadership role and suddenly having to lead or influence peers across the globe.  Engaging with others in their home country probably presented enough challenges without the complexity of having to do it in a global setting! 

Then there are leaders who have average to well-developed levels of Perceptual and Relational Awareness, but have lower levels of Self-Awareness, and are unable to cope effectively with the stresses that come with having to perform and lead in a foreign environment.  Working in these environments can allow lower levels of self-esteem and confidence to manifest as stress and negatively impact what could potentially be a positive experience.

You’ll also notice that I’ve not referred to technical competence.  It’s not that I don’t think it’s important; it’s just that rarely is it the reason that I find myself coaching global leaders.  In fact, I can only think of a couple of occasions when part of the challenge for a global leader has been technical competence.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen more frequently, however it’s the behaviours relating to the ‘global self’ that are mostly the reason for poor performance than technical competence.

The good news is that these dimensions can be measured and developed providing the global leader with a window to their ‘global self’; which is a good thing for the leader and the organisation when we consider the high turnover rates of expats either during their assignment or within eighteen months of returning.  But even if the only thing you do is take the time to reflect on where you think you sit on these dimensions, you’ve already taken the first step towards developing your ‘global self’ and enhancing your effectiveness as a global leader, no matter your starting point!

Ponte Valle Insight: The Keys to Being an Effective Global Leader

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