Over the past several years, many American leaders in both the public and private sector have reinforced a stereotype that Americans harbor an uninformed global view. This is not to say that leaders across the globe are any better. Every region has its fair share of 'global leaders' and 'global experts' who do little to foster global understanding. The global community can and should do better. Doing so means aggressively rethinking and re-tooling how public, private, and social sector leaders prepare for global leadership roles. The world needs a new breed of global leader, now.
"How do you define global leadership?"
In July 2013, I taught a class on women's leadership at the Hult International Business School in Dubai, UAE. I ended class with this question which not surprisingly received strong and deeply varied responses in a room of over 40 nationalities from around the globe. That evening after class, several students approached me with their thoughts and passionate viewpoints on the subject. I continued to receive comments over the remainder of the course and some even emailed me after the class with additional thoughts.
I always enjoy throwing questions like this out to a Hult graduate class, which naturally attracts students who are globally minded. Though their definitions varied, my students agreed on one thing: The current models of global leadership, as evidence by what they were reading and absorbing from global news outlets, was in dire need of a complete overhaul. When I pressed for specifics on where global leadership could improve, four key categories emerged:
Where Many Global Leaders Fall Short
Weak Global Skillsets: Lack effective communication skills, mismanage crisis and risk, and fail to effectively collaborate across sectors
Too Little On-the-Ground Experience: Deficiency in global knowledge and geopolitical context, compromising effective cross-cultural collaboration
Misunderstand Global Citizenship & Stewardship: Fail to see corporations and individuals as global citizens and do not understand the responsibility such a perspective imparts
Obstinate Leadership: Lead with ego, fear, and intimidation
In many ways, it is easy to criticize and identify weaknesses in the most visible global leaders. Uncovering what makes for an effective global leader, one who sustains success over the course of a lifetime, is much more difficult. These are the global leaders one rarely reads about or sees featured in the press. They lead with humility, discretion, and listening. Moreover, they are the first to admit that no one leads all the time. Leadership emerges in moments, particularly in times of crises. These leadership opportunities present themselves more frequently in a global career that presents new challenges daily in an ever-changing environment. Not everyone has the innate ability to succeed in a global leadership role, but everyone at some point in their personal and professional lives are presented with moments that offer the opportunity to lead, and everyone should have the courage and the tools to respond effectively.
"Why would anyone follow you?"
Over the course of my own global career, I have been fortunate to work on-the-ground all over the world, where I have learned from many exceptional yet subtle global leaders. For years, I have been asking these individuals how they have effectively navigated their global careers and successive global leadership roles. When I have asked them what makes an effective leader, many responded with the essential question: "Why would anyone follow you?" I routinely relay this question back to my graduate students because it gets to the root of what drives all successful leaders in any role they undertake: passion.
You can't fake passion and without it, you can't inspire others to follow you. In addition to passion, I've collected hundreds of insights on specific skill sets and experiences that have aided these global leaders in their careers. Irrespective of their educational and cultural backgrounds or their professional pursuits, all had underlying strengths in the following three areas: global mindset, global skillset, and global experience.
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