7 Key Competencies for Global Business Leadership

Sensitivity to other cultures is a necessary trait for global business leaders.


Business executives should continuously look for new opportunities, untapped markets, unserved or underserved regions, partnerships, new demographics, and streamlined processes.

They also need to be imaginative, experienced, knowledgeable, and culturally attuned to other nations and their vastly different economic environments.

Executives at Beyond Meat Inc., a vegetarian food company that produces meat-like foodstuffs made of plant-based ingredients, exhibited these traits recently when they signed a deal for a new facility. According to the Metro.us article, “Beyond Meat Signs Deal to Open Production Facility Near Shanghai,” the company will be the first multinational corporation of its kind to own a major production plant in China.

Aspiring chief executives need to learn the fundamentals of upper management, core competencies expected of C-suite members, and the skills that make global business solutions possible.

An online executive MBA degree program can provide students with the knowledge, experience, and networks they need to lead strong, prosperous global corporations.

List of Global Business Competencies

Traditional corporate authority has all but given way to a new breed of executive leadership with more fluid, cross-functional characteristics. As most businesses increase their internet and social media presence, cross-industry perspectives are a must in the C-suite. Even a furniture company like Ikea needs chief executives versed in digital disciplines such as data analytics and social media marketing.

On top of cross-functionality, skilled global leaders must have a firm grasp of the business atmosphere in other countries, many of which differ significantly from the economic system of the United States.

“Global leadership is about managing a business across borders where there are different cultural, legal, and economic systems,” the employee recognition company O.C. Tanner explains in “5 Critical Skills for Effective Global Leadership” on its company blog. “It’s about knowing how to operate in multiple environments trying to achieve a common corporate objective.”

Being a global executive can be a rewarding position for those who successfully demonstrate certain competencies, including:

  • Harboring a strategic mindset: Ideally, everything a global leader does should advance the company’s future or maintain its current success and viability. A working knowledge of industry and market trends, both short- and long-term, is necessary for a well-thought-out business strategy.

Great corporate executives are sponges for anything that could affect their business. According to Zenger/Folkman CEO Jack Zenger’s article, “The 6 Competencies Global Leaders Need to Succeed,” in Forbes, “Colleagues [of accomplished global leaders] describe them as being able to ‘see around the corner.’ Looking at the same data that others have available, the best global executives [are] able to identify issues that others pass by or ignore.”

  • Focusing on and exhibiting an understanding of customers: Ultimately, customer satisfaction should be the primary focus of a business. International executives should strive to understand their customers’ needs, concerns, and desires.

A customer focus is especially crucial for global businesses, whose target users may differ widely from one country to another. Chain restaurants, for example, need to understand the dietary restrictions of potential consumers in new markets.

  • Demonstrating soft skills: Global leaders often cite personality and tactfulness as essential characteristics for international executives. For her master’s thesis, “Global Leadership Competencies,” Janne Happo spoke with many global professionals to ascertain which leadership traits were most common. Every interviewee stressed openness, flexibility, and sensitivity to other cultures.

Global business leaders need to be inclusive and open to others’ insights. They must also remain flexible because constant change, unexpected situations, and ambiguities are common in the C-suites of international corporations. And sensitivity to other cultures is a necessary leadership trait when dealing with people of different nationalities and ethnicities.

  • Engaging teams and inspiring esprit de corps: Zenger also writes, “The best global leaders know how to build a highly engaged and committed team. They create a sense of esprit de corps within their team that leverages the skills and commitment of others to accomplish goals and objectives. Their teams are the most desirable place to work in the company.”

Successful executives should never underestimate the power of camaraderie between coworkers. If team members share a common goal, work hard and well together, and are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they will not only enjoy their jobs, they will also produce excellent results.

To inspire a sense of camaraderie, executives should openly share their enthusiasm with their teams and embolden them to maximize their efforts in achieving their goals.

  • Taking risks: Global leaders typically get to where they are by taking calculated risks backed up by research and strategy. Famed entrepreneur Elon Musk illustrates how taking risks can pay off, according to CNBC’s report, Elon Musk: Starting SpaceX and Tesla Were ‘The Dumbest Things to Do.’”

Aware that electric cars and private-industry rockets were markets in unexplored, risky territory, Musk did considerable research before pushing forward with both ideas. His reasoning? Because he likes looking for untapped ideas that are or will be necessary for humanity.

  • Always learning and accumulating experience: Those who study overseas, attend international conferences, and take global assignments will garner a fair amount of experience, according to the Journal of Educational and Social Research’s “Global Leadership Competencies.”

We learn from our experiences, but we also continue learning to have new experiences. A thirst for knowledge and a habit for lifelong learning can help global executives with every other necessary competency for leadership.

  • Communicating effectively: Business leaders should communicate their ideas and instructions in ways that do not lead to confusion or ambiguity. In other countries, executives also need to factor language and cultural differences into their communication.

“Across all markets, leaders need to speak well, deliver a compelling message, and command a room,” writes Hewlett Consulting Partners CEO Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her Harvard Business Review article, “The Attributes of an Effective Global Leader.”

For example, in some countries, business executives forcefully communicate with their teams while other nations expect their leaders to facilitate an open dialogue.

Global leaders such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Marillyn Hewson, and Robert Iger demonstrate the experience, knowledge base, ingenuity, and sensitivity necessary to succeed. They understand how to build a strategy, share their ideas with others, and pass on their enthusiasm and dedication to peers and subordinates.

  • Maintaining resilience and adaptability in times of crisis: For business leaders, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic will likely be the most challenging dilemma of their careers.

Punit Renjen, CEO of Deloitte Global, suggests that they view the crisis as an opportunity to move forward while creating greater value and positive societal impact.

“Clarity of thinking, communications, and decision-making will be at a premium Those CEOs who can best exhibit this clarity—and lead from the heart and the head—will inspire their organizations to persevere through this crisis, positioning their brand to emerge in a better place, prepared for whatever may come,” he writes in “The Heart of Resilient Leadership: Responding to COVID-19” on Deloitte Insights, the company blog.

“Crises like these, with deep challenges to be navigated, will also lead to opportunities for learning and deepening trust with all stakeholders, while equipping organizations for a step change that creates more value not just for shareholders, but for society as a whole.”

About WSU’s Executive Master of Business Administration Online Program

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business delivers one of the top-ranked EMBA programs in the nation. The curriculum is designed to equip students with the tactics, knowledge, skills, strategies, and other resources utilized by today’s high-profile business leaders and focuses on developing executive-level strategic expertise.

For more information, visit WSU’s Executive MBA Online website.


Recommended Reading:

An Overview of Executive Leadership Styles and Traits

5 Ways the World’s Top CEOs Maintain Their Work-life Balance

3 Executive Lessons from Top Business Leaders



Beyond Meat Signs Deal to Open Production Facility Near Shanghai – Metro.us

5 Critical Skills for Effective Global Leadership – OCTanner.com

The 6 Competencies Global Leaders Need to Succeed – Forbes.com

Global Leadership Competencies – Core.ac.uk

Elon Musk: Starting SpaceX and Tesla Were ‘The Dumbest Things to Do’ – CNBC.com

The Attributes of an Effective Global Leader – HBR.org

The Heart of Resilient Leadership – Deloitte Insights