“The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure they have the training that will allow them to be the global leaders who will make GE flourish in the future.”
– Jack Welch, General Electric Chairman and CEO (1981-2001)
Though GE has been leading the list of Fortune 500 companies for decades, the concept of global leadership also applies to many small and medium businesses. Economies today are integrated far more than they were even ten years ago, and the impact of cultural, social or economic changes in other countries can affect your business locally. To shield your business from losses and to take advantage of expanding opportunities, your business needs to embrace global leadership. Global leadership is about having a global mindset when managing a business that integrates beyond borders. This includes the following:
1) The Global Business Lifecycle
Understand which part of your business has a global application. Do you source material from (or outsource work to) other countries? Where are your customers, business partners, resellers located? And do they in turn deal with different localities? Essentially you need to identify the global elements in your business lifecycle.
2) Travel Requirements
If your business partners, customers and/or vendors are located overseas, you need to understand cultural, economic and political systems in these countries. Traveling there and meeting with prospects will give you a better understanding of the framework.
3) Setting up Global Teams
Global teams are key to networking across territories. Creating a successful team means integrating workforces on all sides. For example, your domestic team should include members from diverse backgrounds (academic, social, cultural, etc.) who can effectively deal with local business and easily cooperate with your business and culture.
4) Transferring to Foreign Offices
General Electric, among others, is known for transferring employees to foreign locations. Cross-border transfers are necessary for global leaders to learn, infuse, integrate and finally lead.
5) Understanding Context
Dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds involves elements of complexity and ambiguity. A constant global outlook can help you succeed by teaching leaders to consider context – a skill needed to exhibit and understand diverse behavioral patterns while dealing with different people.
Six Leadership Styles
The Hay Group has researched and pointed out six leadership styles that fit well within the profile for a global leader, who will need to navigate and use each style when and where needed.
- A Visionary Leader sets a compelling picture of the future and compels the team to move toward that vision. Essentially, he sells his vision to the employees and then values those employees who work toward that vision.
- An Affiliative Leader strives to create harmony, building and promoting friendly relations and tends to avoid performance-related face-offs. He/she finds it difficult to deal with situations that involve tough decisions.
- A Coaching Leader focuses on the long term and engages in activities for the professional development of employees. He helps them in building their career by working with them to identify their strengths, weaknesses and build a career development plan that aligns with the company’s business goals.
- A Directive Leader looks for your compliance and not a different way of getting things done. You should use this style during a crisis situation, but in the normal course of business it is not advisable.
- A Participative Leader is a democratic leader who looks for commitment and fosters creativity. He works with the team and expects employees to participate in building the vision.
- A Pace-Setting Leader sets high standards of excellence. Typically he likes to lead by example, apprehensive of delegation and he is highly demanding.
The important takeaway here is to succinctly understand interdependent aspects of cross-border business needs and how to navigate various leadership styles to get the most out of a diverse workforce.