It is becoming more and more clear that the leaders of tomorrow will need to grow in a complex, quickly evolving, multicultural context. A number of leadership experts have therefore started to use the concept of “global leadership” to reflect the fact that leaders must contend with a changing world in which global practices abound. Some authors even claim that the distinctions between leadership and global leadership are shrinking and that all leaders will eventually be global leaders. For them, global leadership will cease to be a specific domain reserved for a handful of expat managers and heads of international operations. Today, local leaders working in emerging countries, leaders who manage employees from many different countries and those who serve clients all across the planet are also considered to be global leaders. Likewise, global leaders can also be managers seeking to improve their results by setting up global supply chains or professionals who interact with people from different countries.

There is currently no consensus regarding the definition of “global leadership.” For example, Dalton et al. define a global leader as “one who manages across distance, countries, and cultures – effective in a globally complex environment,” while Mendenhall et al. refer instead to “individuals who effect significant positive change in organizations by building communities through the development of trust and the arrangement of organizational structures and processes in a context involving multiple cross-boundary stakeholders, multiple sources of external cross-boundary authority, and multiple cultures under conditions of temporal, geographic and cultural complexity.” According to these authors, any employee may be called upon to act as a global leader. This is already the reality for some organizations where all employees are expected to interact with clients or coworkers in other countries to demonstrate global leadership skills.

No consensus has yet been reached when it comes to the competencies required of a global leader. A number of researchers have devised more or less similar competency models based on the data gathered from interviews with a few supposed experts in the field and a few common denominators can be found among these different models:

EPSI Man Intercultural effectiveness, comprising, amongst other points, the ability to communicate appropriately in intercultural situations by using different knowledge and attitudes, the capacity to adapt one’s frames of reference and behaviours to the cultural context, as well as the ability to identify behaviours from a specific culture and replicate them, even if they are unfamiliar.
EPSI Man Skillfulness in managing paradoxes, defined as “contradictory, mutually exclusive elements that exist simultaneously and for which no synthesis or choice is possible nor necessarily desirable1”. Paradoxes are the unavoidable expressions of global change and of the increasing complexity facing leaders today. These latter must therefore learn to manage them in real time, playing roles that may, at times, appear to be contradictory.
EPSI Man Ability to appreciate people’s unique characteristics, since negative stereotypes can be a major obstacle to global leadership. Effective leaders must therefore avoid rigid preconceptions about groups of people, whether defined by race, religion, gender or any other characteristic. Ridding oneself of stereotypes takes time, effort and serious introspection. And appreciating everyone’s unique character also demands a degree of curiosity about others, the capacity to focus all one’s attention on another person and the desire to understand the groups a person belongs to.

Aspiring global leaders will need to develop a whole array of interpersonal, cognitive and managerial competencies. To do this, they will need to acquire a certain amount of experience through trial and error, risk-taking, and working abroad or with multicultural teams. They can also develop a number of competencies by participating in job exchange or rotation programs, global-level teams, cultural diversity communication training programs, global leader development programs or interactive training sessions on conflict resolution, especially ones that focus on cultural realities.

Philippe Longpré et Stéphanie MélançonIn short, every organization would benefit from quickly beginning to define the style they are looking for in their future leaders. Because while anyone can become a global leader, the effective global leaders of tomorrow will be identified today and will have had the opportunity to develop their competencies ahead of time.

Philippe Longpré, Ph. D. (cdt)
Industrial Psychology Consultant

Stéphanie Mélançon, MSc (cdt)
Assessment and Evaluation Consultant

1Cameron & Quinn, 1988, cited in Holt & Seki, 2012, p.202.