Globalization in business means that the world is shrinking – and that leaders need to be well equipped to manage a wide swath of employees, policies and cultural differences. According to a report on strategic leadership development by The Conference Board, the top five traits ranking most important now are: leading change, retaining/developing talent, global thinking/mindset, collaboration and integrity. And the five most important traits over the next five years are: leading change, global thinking/mindset, retaining/developing talent, learning agility and creativity.
An incredibly demanding role, it’s clear that global managers must think both intuitively and analytically in order to produce sound decisions that inspire global teams to yield widespread results. Valerie Keller, the CEO of Veritas, recently said at a conference for global young leaders: “[Global] leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it must have context. Leaders need to be flexible and resilient; they need to be generals one day and consensus builders the next.”
The emergence of global managers is changing how companies train leaders, but learning these skills requires time and experience. Certainly highly valued global leaders share common inherent traits and competencies but that does not preclude their development in others. Here are three tips for developing truly global managers:
- Train early
Leadership training for the global stage should begin sooner in the average management-track employee’s career. Instead of intensive training in their early 40s, companies should instead offer global mobility and leadership training to staff members a decade younger who are entering supervisorial roles. This provides them with both necessary training and direct experience in other countries, which will prove invaluable as they later transition into global managerial roles.
And while there are costs associated with transporting, subsidizing and training employees for an overseas assignment, the payoff can be substantial when they transform into capable global leaders. It’s especially attractive for millennials who often crave experiences over large paychecks and are willing to immerse themselves in other business cultures and languages.
- Encourage collaboration and communication
Global managers must develop an “us” perspective among global team members. If a manager is handling 50 employees ranging in age from 25 to 65 who live in 14 different countries, then it’s imperative to encourage sharing and collaboration. Managers should encourage team members to talk about their cultural differences as they apply to their work in order to develop understanding and connections.
A next step is to present unified goals. The successful global manager will relate each individual’s work to the company’s overall global goals; however, it’s important to remember that global goals and values translate differently across cultures. For example, while “competitiveness” might translate to a goal of “aggressively seeking revenue opportunities in all markets,” that wording would not sit comfortably across all cultures. The balancing act of the global manager is to link global, team and personal goals in a way that is understandable and comfortable to all.
Personal communication is essential for global leadership, despite the challenges of time zones and some language barriers. Successful global managers will take the time to reach out with phone calls to develop a trusting relationship and further team building. This is especially true if the manager expects similar communication among the team. If the expectation is for the developers in Moldova to talk frequently with the Australian design team, then the global leader in New York needs to set the right example.
The manager must understand that “leadership” looks different across the world. The western style is top-down, with leaders pushing down messages that they expect will be followed. Outside of the west is a more consensus-driven approach, where the group agrees to a goal and then develops a corresponding strategy.
Managers also need to adapt their speaking style to accommodate non-native language team members. For example, they should remove slang terms or any pop culture references, and instead speak slowly and clearly. Managers should also encourage staff members to speak up if something isn’t understand, instead of allowing “lost in translation” moments to potentially disrupt important projects. The manager and the team members must learn from one another over time by explaining cultural differences
- Encourage international assignments and multicultural teams
Exposure to multicultural teams is also an excellent way to develop managers that can understand different cultural perspectives and styles. Through such work prospective global managers develop the need for geographical context, where they better understand specific markets as well as the corresponding initiatives to reach those audiences.
Global managers also need to develop their communication skills to properly connect with different generational and geographic groups. For example, staff members in their 40’s and 50’s might be more receptive and used to a “command and control” style of interaction from their management teams. Millennials often prefer a softer style that seeks to challenge and inspire them without being autocratic. Effective global leaders will understand how to switch gears quickly between various styles, understanding they need to convey leadership while tailoring interactions for optimal results.
Take another cue from effective politicians such as Hillary Clinton who adjust their style of language depending on the audience. For example, she might utilize more inclusive phrasing such as frequent “we” sentences when trying to build a feeling of unity, and then a more “I” focused language when projecting strength, such as during contentious foreign affairs discussions. Global managers must understand how to shift gears quickly to both give firm direction and build a consensus among disparate groups that must come together.
Encouraging and leveraging diversity is crucial for global managers, as well as their ability to flexibly tackle problems. There is evidence that shows the most highly effective teams are those that leverage diversity—whether its cultural, gender or age based. The least effective teams are homogenous teams or those that minimize or ignore diversity. The most successful global leaders embrace diversity and develop a sound process for the team, one that overcomes any language or cultural barriers and relies on open and frequent communication.
Being a truly global manager and leader requires a lot of effort. Companies that want to thrive in the international arena need to conduct early-stage training of their top performers in order to give them the skills to operate everywhere from the skyscrapers of Singapore to the growing marketplaces of Tunisia. Through training and direct exposure to foreign markets, these managers will understand how to encourage team-building, effectively communicate across various barriers, and how to adapt on the fly to cultural differences.
Even with globalization and the international growth of many businesses, there remain significant cultural differences in both the ways people work together and what is important to local consumers. The idiosyncrasies between various regions are critical, and the best managers will embrace and leverage those differences – not push them to conformity.
Joanne Danehl is practice leader for Global Intercultural and Language Training at Crown World Mobility. In this role, Danehl is responsible for leading the Crown intercultural and language training team, and working with Crown clients to incorporate language and cultural training solutions to meet both their corporate goals and the needs of their international assignees. Crown World Mobility helps corporations manage global talent and talented individuals perform on the global stage.