Five Characteristics of Successful Global Business Leadership

The traits a good leader in corporate America embodies do not necessarily render him/her as an effective global business leader.

In a domestic setting, leadership plays out within the context of American cultural beliefs and practices. Other countries’ economies, politics, and cultures may be vastly different than those of the U.S., so business leaders who operate on a global stage need to be well versed in the complexities and minutiae of host countries’ cultures.

Thus, an evolved sense of global economies and priorities is necessary for aspiring global business leaders. Global strategies require:

1. An understanding and sensitivity to cultural diversity
2. A versatile personality
3. Great negotiation and communication skills

Students enrolled in an online Executive MBA program are in an ideal place to study how to develop strategic character traits and skills that can guide them on their quest to becoming global business pacesetters.

1. Cultural Cognizance

When corporations open up manufacturing plants or distribution centers in foreign countries, company leadership needs to take the area’s cultural practices and regional values into account.

Organizational structure, for example, differs from culture to culture. In countries that traditionally emphasize social hierarchy and classes, a business executive should instill a clearly defined pecking order where formal respect of those in positions of authority is expected of lower-ranked employees. On the other hand, more egalitarian cultures may function better with a less formal organizational structure.

A competent global leader is cognizant of cultural variations when choosing managers and defining employee wages, benefits, marketing strategies, and long and short-term goals.

“Individuals who are insensitive to such cultural differences, yet are required to lead teams outside their own cultural norms, are likely to find themselves misunderstood and ineffectual,” explains global executive development advisor Charlie Atkinson in his 2014 blog post “Global Leadership and Cultural Differences” on “Multi-national corporations that ignore cultural differences will find it impossible to build a successful global leadership pipeline.”

2. Flexible Approach

The ability to communicate ideas and directives in a clear, concise manner while still taking cultural variations into account can make or break an executive. An effective leader needs to be flexible and shift his or her tactics and approach while continuing to command a room and guiding the business in the right direction. Adapting to a wide range of business challenges quickly is instrumental in leading a global organization.

“Leaders need to be flexible, willing to take input from others, and understand different perspectives,” says CTPartners’ Chief Executive Brian Sullivan in his article “Leaders Need Flexibility To Manage Complexity,” in Financial Times. “Ultimately, they must be prepared to act when faced with conflicting information. It requires boldness and a degree of emotional intelligence.”

Patience and timing require a flexible attitude toward unforeseen events. A flexible leader who promotes active communication between all team members and is not afraid to take risks can be invaluable to a company with a worldwide footprint, where unanticipated events may occur frequently.

3. Broadened Networks

The importance of networking with people in other departments or even in other businesses cannot be overstated. An effective leader is a well-networked leader. Networking at the global executive level means that instead of managing in a vertical sense, from subordinate to superior, a global leader concentrates on collaboration in every direction, horizontal and vertical.

“All managers need to build good working relationships with people who can help them do their jobs,” writes organizational behavior experts Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter in their article, “How Leaders Create And Use Networks,” in Harvard Business Review. “The number and breadth of people involved can be impressive – such operational networks include not only direct reports and superiors but also peers within an operational unit, other internal players with the power to block or support a project, and key outsiders such as suppliers, distributors, and customers.”

4. Inclusiveness

Fostering an inclusive, collaborative environment can strengthen leadership with innovation. The alternative is to leave the majority of decision-making in the hands of a select few leaders, which closes off external influence and feedback. An inclusive leader cherishes feedback and ideas, especially from those who hold a variety of points of view different from his or her own.

“Inclusion is a call to action within the workforce that means actively involving every employee’s ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles to maximize business success,” explains business researcher Dan Schawbel in his article, “How Companies Can Benefit From Inclusion” in Forbes. “It matters now because there are certain realities of the new global business normal that make inclusion a competitive advantage for American business. The customer base is rapidly changing, which means changing tastes and preferences. These same groups of people who are your new customers need to be represented in your firm.”

5. Expanded Horizons

“Concentrating on expanding knowledge, learning the duties of your peers and superiors, and thinking in terms of what’s best for everyone involved are what set true global leaders apart from the pack,” says digital thought leader Pearl Zhu, in her Future Of CIO blog post, “Seven Characteristics of Global Leaders.”

In addition to expanding one's skill set and responsibility, Zhu also focuses on transition areas, which include evolving from problem solver to agenda setter, or from tactician to strategist. In the scenarios she describes, employees, leaders, and managers can learn to expand their horizons and step naturally into a leadership mentality.

Grooming oneself to become a global leader means striving to move upward, beyond the scope of your current position and into a position of greater responsibility and rewards. The common phrase, “Learn the duties of the person above you” is just as applicable today as it was 100 years ago. A leader with a full understanding of a company’s entire organization, capabilities, and future direction, as well as the knowledge and sensitivity to act on the global stage, will make the greatest impact.

Washington State University’s EMBA Degree Program

WSU offers an online executive MBA Program that provides students with the knowledge, skills, and training to rise to the top of their industry as strong, influential business leaders. Coursework includes managerial leadership and productivity, organizational design, and management of innovation.

Recommended Reading:


• Global Leadership and Cultural Differences –
• Leaders Need Flexibility To Manage Complexity –
• How Leaders Create And Use Networks –
• How Companies Can Benefit From Inclusion –
• Seven Characteristics of Global Leaders –