Essential skills for global leadership
A new, globalised business environment requires a new, globalised leader, so what qualities will contribute?
‘Leadership’ can be extremely difficult to define and the definition will vary under different circumstances.
One of those varying circumstances is time - a leader from 50 years ago, running a local manufacturing operation, for instance, would have required a very different set of skills to those needed in today’s global business environment.
The catch-cry for today’s c-suite execs is ‘global leadership’. But what exactly does that mean? And how does an employer recognise it?
“The overarching goal with the new approach to leadership is to not focus on how an individual can become a better leader, but instead to ensure that the common good of an organisation, for example, is at the fore of leadership,” says Chrystie Watson, Manager of College Operations at the College of Business, Law & Governance within James Cook University, which offers an ‘MBA Global’ degree.
“We need to see the narrative around leadership changing so we’re moving away from the sensationalisation of ‘heroic, charismatic leadership’, and towards an understanding of leadership as a collective sense of accountability and responsibility to serve the common good of the society, the community or the organisation.”
‘Distributed leadership’ is key
Chrystie is currently conducting research around the topic of ‘distributed leadership’ which, she says, is very important in a global context. Distributed leadership is the collective sharing of responsibility and accountability, based on the contributions people in the organisation can make to decision making.
“I'm exploring how distributed leadership might present an alternative perspective where leadership is enacted throughout organisations, regardless of what traits or formal positions people hold,” she explained. “It’s based on what contribution they can make through their own experiences or interests, and it engenders a greater engagement and ownership of what’s happening in the organisation.”
We find hierarchies and their top-down decisions can be disempowering for people.
The major challenge, of course, is that the old, hierarchical structures become less important. At the same time, the new generation of global leaders will enjoy all of the benefits of a committed, engaged and empowered workforce.
Rather than waiting to be told what they should be doing and feeling no real engagement or ownership in their roles, staff at all levels and in all regions will be empowered by global leaders to make decisions, question processes, find their own ways around challenges and, most importantly, innovate.
“We find hierarchies and their top-down decisions can be disempowering for people,” said Chrystie.
“Staff can feel as if they’re just coming in to collect a paycheque while they wait for the next decision to be made. From a leadership perspective, there’s a lot that can be done in that space to engender greater involvement and engagement from the staff.”
Stoicism and leadership
Chrystie’s work borrows from the ancient Greek concept of stoicism - or living a life of virtue by making contributions that support the common good rather than boosting self-interest.
How exactly is this achieved? It’s all about creating opportunities for current and potential leaders to engage in transformational learning experiences that provide them with the opportunities to develop an awareness of decision-making for the common good, revealed Chrystie.
You have to consider other perspectives while developing greater self-awareness in order to move forward with projects.
“Your ethical framework might differ from mine, and you might be in a room with 20 other people who all interpret things differently. This is even more prevalent in a global context where different cultural beliefs are at play,” she explained.
“However, the more experiences we are exposed to and the more we are encouraged to consider multiple views, the more we have to practice regulating our own emotional responses in order to achieve a suitable outcome.
“It’s really about creating experiences and being exposed to situations where you have to consider other perspectives while developing greater self-awareness in order to move forward with projects.”
And, of course, that’s where the ‘global’ nature of this form of leadership comes to the fore. Imagine the varying opinions, ideas and values in a room containing staff from Australia, China, America, France, India and more.
We have shifted to there not being a difference between local and global leadership, and now we need a narrative around leadership which is more reflective of that environment.
A ‘global leader’, whether they have such a cultural mix in their workforce or not, will be prepared to encourage the voicing of all opinions before encouraging a collective consideration of what the appropriate way forward will be.
Such leadership is important in all businesses in today’s environment, believes Chrystie, not just in those that operate globally.
“You might look at a small business in a rural community and think the decisions they make are not going to impact around the world,” she said. “But now, with social media and all of the connectivity, little decisions and little innovations can travel across the world in a matter of minutes.
“We’re always in a global environment. Even as we have this conversation right now, we are in Australia, but this story is intended for members, based all around the world, of a chartered accounting institute based in Scotland.
“We have shifted to there not being a difference between local and global leadership, and now we need a narrative around leadership which is more reflective of that environment.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.