Anatomy Of A Global Leader

Leadership on a global scale doesn’t consist of just managing a larger territory. Globalisation is a force of nature in today’s business climate. Business opportunities are opening up as never before, making lucrative new markets available to firms around the globe. It’s not all smooth sailing, however, and to guide a worldwide organisation truly to success, your leadership must possess vision and judgement that can inspire and guide through tumultuous times.

Before implementing a global leadership programme or initiative, the corporation has to define why they require those global executives — to ensure that the right metrics are put in place for the role. They might be looking to global markets as a source of growth, new talent or greater production efficiencies. Each of these concerns might change how the leaders must be aligned and motivated to be successful. Once it is clear what is expected of the global leadership programme, the search can commence for the right leader to take on the role.

The challenge in sourcing effective global leaders is that the most obvious indicator of their success is positive and successful experience in management across multiple markets today — making this talent more closely managed and held by existing employers and thus harder to acquire. Persistence and skill on the recruiter’s part can pay large dividends, however, as when these individuals are found and integrated, they are often highly likely to succeed.

76% of senior executives believe their organisations need to develop global-leadership capabilities, but only 7% believe they are doing so effectively today. — EABIS/UNPRME survey

In the process of analysing and interviewing countless senior management professionals, executive search firms capture hundreds of pieces of detailed data. These data become the gold mine in which to delve to inform searches for global leadership —  identifying and tracking the future potential of executive talent and uncovering profiles and solutions that might not be obvious.

These data points support and enable the determination of which candidates can potentially step into high-potential global leadership roles.  There are no hard-and-fast rules about spotting this talent, but our experience tells us that there are tell-tale signs that an affiliate executive might have what it takes to manage global businesses.

  1. The successful global executive has a strong track record of sales/marketing and operations management experience. Having already managed both strategy and operations, these candidates often possess better cross-departmental understanding of internal issues and barriers to success than their counterparts. They are less likely to be blind to the inner workings of the company and more likely to understand how the company creates the most value for its customers.
  2. Good candidates for global roles are able to effectively balance long-term and short-term objectives. Global leaders cannot allow the urgent to subvert the important. They must relentlessly demand focus from their teams to keep the whirlwind of the daily demands from blowing the organisation off course. They are also more likely to appreciate the innate complexity in international politics and commerce, and understand how to operate in the midst of contradictions and ambiguity.
  3. They are superior architects of relationships with their people. Leadership across heterogeneous markets needs a special kind of presence, where the leader’s influence can inspire and activate all levels and locations of the enterprise. This talent requires innate sensitivity for spotting trouble or weakness, along with a razor-sharp sense of exactly what is required to move negotiations or discussions to productive territory. Successful global leaders have particularly strong skills in developing relationships across highly-diverse teams, clients, customers, and suppliers.
  4. They make tough decisions, and the results are win-win for the company and the market. As fire refines metal, so conflict refines the best talent, and a history of dealing with difficult situations, market downturns and large-scale mergers or acquisitions indicate the candidate’s ability to lead their organisation through change. If you had to pick one critical skill that most successful global leaders share, it is sound and decisive judgement in the face of often incomplete data.
  5. They see what’s coming before others do. Good international leadership means understanding the implications of a wide array of possible outcomes, and not only see the best course of action, but the unintended consequences of their decisions.

Of course, there is always the question of an X-factor. Some managers are able to bring local affiliates to success, but can’t handle the change in scope required to manage international business. The executive search professional working on delivering such mandates must have experience in spotting and recognising this quality — often referred to a charisma — and be able to work with potential candidates to ensure that they can inspire the people and company culture with their vision.

Although there are many indicators of success, and a wealth of data can help surface novel choices that might get overlooked, the decision to select a candidate for a global leadership position ultimately rests in the search professional’s alignment with the client’s vision, their insight into the individual’s potential and their domain knowledge of the role’s requirements. There may be a time when we can algorithmically predict future successful leaders using technology alone. But for now, it remains both an art, and a science.