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Developing the Global Leader – Transitioning Leaders and Their Organizations to a Global Environment

Entering the 21st century we find a time of unprecedented globalization of business and economies. The advent of the Internet and other technologies are linking individuals across cultures and creating collaborations unheard of in centuries past. Through this reality, leaders must understand the impact a globalized economy brings to the doors of their business. Accessibility of information and goods via the Internet opens doors for nearly every business to compete globally. As the global economy arrives and leaders step forward into the global arena, they must understand geography, language, customs, values, ethics, varying laws and national psychologies will all determine their success within the global marketplace. Leaders and their organizations must learn to move beyond their worldview and open themselves to the complexities of cultures, geography, laws, customers and languages that await them.

Leaders who take the time to become culturally literate will best develop relationships that positively impact their organization. Developing relationships is essential to the success of any leader who seeks to operate in the global context. Developing relationships builds respect, trust, and creates understanding. Developing relationships of trust creates freedom amongst the followers to self-initiate solutions to problems without delay or confusion.

Cultural Barriers

Barriers to success exist in nearly any business environment. Operating within a global context adds new layers and challenges related to languages, customs, values, traditions and laws. Challenging these barriers will certainly create friction and will ultimate affect our ability to listen and understand the viewpoints on those we lead. Lack of understanding creates frustration, mistakes and deters trust and relationship building between the leader and their followers.

While English is considered the global language of business, differing language still creates barriers to effective leadership within the global context. Language as part of the human experience symbolically links individuals to assumptions, rules for interaction, and even expectations. When a leader shows effort to understand and speak the local language, they develop deeper connections and relationships with their followers. Learning the language displays a good faith effort to embrace the culture and engage the followers at a deeper level. When a leader removes any possibility of perceived arrogance, they open themselves up to honest dialogue and appreciation by their followers.

Learning local customs and language is helpful; however there is no easy fix to these barriers. Jay Galbraith, in his book Designing the Global Corporation, explains that the leader must live in the context of structural indeterminacy which states that “no single structure is the answer when dealing with complex business models that must respond to cross-border business opportunities, demands for local citizenship, and cross-border purchasing or efficiencies.” Add to this any attempt to force entry into a culture without adherence to their local customs, languages, and so forth will limit the ability to operate within the context of that environment.

Organizational Adaptations – Competing globally

Much can be said for the individuals who attempt to understand and seek greater familiarity within a given culture. This is accomplished through an ability to create emotional connections with followers. Emotional connection is best achieved through sincere interest in the local language, customs, food and other cultural attributes as well as skillfully listening and responding to needs. For example, time is more fluid in the Latin culture with punctuality more forgiving than their American counterparts. Arriving early within a Latin culture is considered rude and when leaders understand this cultural difference, they are better able to assimilate into the culture and less likely to offend. Food is also a great way to level barriers as it is. Food levels barriers because each culture holds great pride in their food and enjoying a meal with members of your host country builds relationships and much deeper level.

To compete globally, leaders must learn to effectively adapt to the cultures they operate within. Doing so builds trust and a lasting loyalty. Adaptation occurs through a leader’s curiosity and desire to not only learn but embrace the culture. While we are all humans on one planet, there is such complexity that we must learn new ways to observe and interact with the environment form which we operate. The human condition appears to be sublimated to our ability to desire and achieve relationships with others. It is through this relationship that we build understanding, mutual respect and trust.


Leading in a global context is a complex matter rooted in an ability to understand and connect with the culture and its people. When we connect with individuals within a given culture, we improve the quality of our decisions by developing close relationships and loyalty with the people. Leaders are better able to develop and avoid unnecessary risk and emotionally connect with the people for whom you lead. Unfortunately emotional connectedness requires more than effective listening skills and language. Leading in a global context requires understanding of not just the people but the context of their worldview, customs, local conditions and laws.

To develop as a global leader requires humility, inquisitiveness and the earnest desire to build honest connections with those who serve the organization in foreign places. At the end of the day, the successful global leader is more interested in building rapport long before they consider the bottom line. Successful global leaders understand that quality relationships are developed over a longer period of time.


Philip A Foster, MA is Founder/CEO of Maximum Change Inc. Elevating leaders and their organizations to the next level since 2005. Master Certified Coach, Philip A Foster, MA and his associates facilitate effective positive change by helping organizations, leaders and individuals in high demand — design and implement strategies that maximize focus and deliver results. Specializing in Organization and Strategic Leadership.

Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Skype: philip.a.foster | 615-216-5667

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