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<i>Dear Workforce</i> How Do We Develop Leaders Comfortable in Many Cultures

April 8, 2005
Dear Curious:

The first questions to ask as you embark on leadership-development initiatives across borders are:
  • What processes and activities drive value in your organization?
  • How do leaders affect those processes and activities?
Answer those questions and you will learn the roles of leaders in your organization. Such knowledge helps you derive your company- and geography-specific leadership requirements. For example, if your organization's primary strategy is organic sales growth, and the key driver of growth is entering new markets, you will want leaders who are capable of navigating through ambiguity and can thrive in a variety of cultures.
Undoubtedly, what your leaders need to do will vary by geography. In addition, your organization may have a culture that is more country- or region-specific than company-specific. Therefore, you'll have to identify two sets of leadership characteristics: those driven by the local needs of the business and those that have to be common across the entire company. Keep in mind that if you plan to relocate people for development or business reasons, it's critical to have some common leadership characteristics that serve as a compass for leaders to guide their behavior in any area of the world.
Defining these leadership characteristics identifies potential candidates for your leadership-development program. A focused leadership-development initiative that invests in the right roles at the right time yields the greatest return. For instance, in the case of expanding into new markets, value is created by leaders who make inroads into these potential areas of new sales. Equip leaders who are already successful in existing markets with new skills, such as the tenacity necessary to get things done in a different culture and different language. This makes them more valuable to the business and leverages their core competencies internationally, where the real growth occurs.
As with any leadership-development initiative, the design of the program includes new assignments, coaching, mentoring, training and more. However, these design components are best applied selectively, as opposed to a "peanut butter" approach that spreads them evenly across all participants. Define development needs according to the strategy and the competency gaps of your leaders or the leadership population.
Back to the example of breaking into new markets, you might want to focus on a specific program for leaders in existing markets to:
  1. Identify individuals who could be effective in an international work setting
  2. Broaden their skill sets with a training component that increases cultural knowledge and sensitivity
  3. Provide temporary project assignments that require participants to practice getting things done in a new environment
Unlike traditional leadership development, this approach puts a laser-like focus on anticipating your business leadership needs, as well as on ensuring that the organization uses its resources globally. As the strategy changes and evolves, so will development requirements. In the meantime, the organization is developing a cadre of leaders capable of taking on global challenges.
SOURCE: Carol Henriques, principal, Capital H Group, Chicago, April 21, 2004.
LEARN MORE:A Sample Leadership Strategy.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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