Tips to Raise Up Global Leaders

HR executives should be concerned: Fewer than 20 percent of global leaders can be described as great. Even worse, more than one in three leaders is failing in their role. And the difference in performance of these leaders isn’t marginal: The best leaders were two and a half times more likely to achieve their revenue targets compared to the worst.

That’s according to analysis by the Corporate Executive Board, which conducted 180-degree assessments of more than 12,000 global leaders — those leaders who have multi-geography and significant P&L responsibility and are one to three levels below the CEO — and aligned that data against performance feedback collected directly from participating companies.

Consider the implications of those findings: That could mean the difference between global success and failure.

While conventional wisdom says that the best global leaders are those who have a “global mindset” and are willing to relocate, that job description ultimately leads companies to hire the wrong person. In addition, two-thirds of the leaders who are most effective in global roles are unwilling to relocate, while those who are the least effective are the most willing to move. These two realities call into question the basic assumptions that most organizations use to determine the best candidates for global roles.

A key competency that distinguishes successful global leaders is the ability to influence others. In fact, the capacity to influence others is four times more important than having a “global mindset.” Influence becomes the key differentiator as leaders move from single- to multi-country roles due to a series of key shifts. They are more likely to work with people they don’t know; they have less knowledge of the markets they operate in; and they interact with 260 percent more people than they used to, making the ability to influence people without direct reporting relationships increasingly important.

So how can organizations improve the influencing capabilities of leaders? Here are some development strategies being adopted by global businesses:

Difference-Based Mentoring: The traditional approach to mentoring relationships focuses on finding mentors who have previously experienced the challenges that the mentee is about to go through. While there are certainly situations where this is valuable, the best organizations are building relationships between mentors and mentees who are in different functions, different business units and increasingly in different geographies. By working with a mentor who has had different life experiences than the mentee, they are able to give them new insights into how others work, which in turn improves their influencing capabilities.

Non-Obvious Development Moves: Going a step beyond building mentoring relationships, forward-thinking organizations have pursued global job rotations as a strategy to improve global leaders’ influencing skills. While these assignments are beneficial along several fronts, rotations that move leaders into different functions are actually more effective at building influencing skills than simply changing the location of the leader. These functional rotations are often easier to manage and avoid the costly expenses associated with international ex-pat assignments.

Future-Focused Experience Swaps: The most extreme approach taken by some organizations is to not only change the geography and the function of their leaders, but to go as far as to put them to work for another company. In industries such as oil and gas or technology, some organizations have partnered together to rotate leaders between their companies. This approach can be particularly effective as organizations are developing global leaders for future growth markets.

Brian Kropp is managing director of Corporate Executive Board. He can be reached at