Last updated 4 January 2017

The Makings of a Great Global Leader


Global organisations face a talent paradox. On one hand, they are globalising operations to take advantage of opportunities such as revenue and cost-efficient talent pools in emerging markets. On another, these companies struggle to develop a base of talent capable of successfully leading these global operations.

Global corporations often underestimate the new challenges faced by their leaders transitioning from single-country to global roles. These include a loss of direct authority while confronted with a sharp increase in the breadth of responsibilities and number of stakeholders. So, while it is key to develop domestic leaders to be global-ready, it is equally critical for internal recruiters to debunk some misconceptions of what makes a great global leader.

According to the 2011 CLC HR Global Leadership Survey that surveyed over 11,000 leaders globally, the performance of a great global leader typically depends more on their aspirations, experience, competencies than on their backgrounds. This means an individual’s language capabilities, nationality and international experiences matter little to the probability of them being a great global leader.



To understand how to find and develop talents, CLC Human Resources identified some key traits of a great global leader:

#1: Great global leaders aspire to lead, not to be global

As the best global leaders are driven by leadership aspirations, not global aspirations, the pool of potential global leaders is not confined to those already in global roles. Top organisations often carve out time in leadership meetings to uncover and share the aspirations of high-performing staff for greater transparency in the global talent pool. 

#2: Great global leaders are global wherever they are

While mutual trust is important, to get high performance from a global team, it is more important that the team trusts its leadership than the leadership trusts the team. This means globally effective leaders are those who can proactively build remote team trust and capabilities, usually by assigning their teams to challenge high-value opportunities while accelerating their development. 

#3: Great global leaders prioritise a “one team” culture

Effective global leaders build teams that are not only culturally sensitive but have a “one team” culture shared by staff across multiple geographies. These leaders align leadership goals across markets to cement collaboration and highlight common ground. They also deliver consistent messages by running “follow-the-sun” town halls where all staff can interact virtually with the senior leadership within 24 to 48 hours when key announcements are made. More on how to drive communication, engagement and inclusivity here. 

#4: Great global leaders influence through information, not charisma

It is hard to depend on innate charisma when a global leader is located remotely so a leader’s ability to influence through personal appeal or direct authority is limited. Great global leaders exploit information networks and global resources to build emotional connections with their remote teams. 

For instance, great global leaders use their visits to global offices not only to spend time with their clients but also with their employees and business counterparts. They then share their insights and lessons learned through a multi-channel distribution strategy to make the stories viral and extend their personal influence to remote teams. These leaders are often supported by communications teams who design stories that relay the desired message on behalf of a global leader while reducing dependence on the individual’s storytelling abilities.


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