More and more companies find themselves transferring employees to international postings around the world. Here’s what the most successful global leaders have in common – and how you can support employees in new global roles.

Globalization is now a fact of life in the business world. Many of us frequently travel internationally for business, juggle scheduling conference calls across time zones, and move abroad for temporary (or permanent) postings. Those who relocate internationally for work can face a number of cultural and logistical challenges as they settle in, and may have to adopt a new leadership style in order to acclimate to their new work environment. Even those of us who stay in our home cities still have to adapt to working on global teams.

So how do you build global leadership capacity, loyalty and competitiveness in this increasingly interconnected world?

Translating leaders

In the early days of globalization, poor leadership could go unnoticed. Communication was not what it is today, and glitches were expected. Today, poor leadership resonates across oceans in minutes, and hinders the ability of a company to retain employees and connect with global markets. Is your company not yet ‘international?’ Just wait. Companies are becoming global overnight through acquisitions and joint ventures. Many leaders are ill-prepared for the challenges of leading in these new environments and, as a result, make costly mistakes.

Often companies assume that a top leader in their domestic country will be a top talent leader anywhere in the world. Research has repeatedly shown this to be untrue.

How do you ensure you are putting the right leaders in global roles to build your brand? And what are their defining characteristics? These were the fundamental questions we set out to answer in our research (see overleaf).

Nazneen Razi, Rob Cooke, Peter Barge and I wanted to determine what made a global leader successful, and how to nurture these attributes. Let’s face it, global leadership is a complex job, there’s a high degree of uncertainty in any scenario.

Five identifiers

We discovered five behavioural dimensions of successful global leaders – whom we call transglobal leaders – because they can operate with ease and grace anywhere in  the world.The five behavioural dimensions are:

1. Uncertainty resilience
Dealing with complexity and difference
These leaders can function very effectively in highly unclear situations and do not become paralysed. They even enjoy seeking out diverse perspectives.

2. Team connectivity
Integrating across boundaries
They focus on the success of the teams and not necessarily on their own hierarchy. They create innovation teams, support the teams, and disband them when the goal is accomplished.

3. Pragmatic flexibility
Adapting to other cultures
These leaders will carefully expand their cultural values to get the job done. They operate with high integrity while respecting local societal needs.

4. Perceptive responsiveness
Acting on intuition and fact
They anticipate the changing needs of customers and other key stakeholders. They’re attuned to the differences between people, and value those differences rather than trying to impose a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

5. Talent orientation
Achieving results through others
These leaders see their role as personally focused on the development of others. They understand that the organization’s success ultimately rests with the talent they develop over time.

The leaders who demonstrated these behavioural dimensions built strong, growing organizations in varied locations around the world. Impressive indeed.

Five steps

First, before assigning a leader to a global role – whether leading an offshore team or relocating to a new country – conduct a thorough assessment of their capabilities against the Transglobal Leadership Dimensions. This resource, and other tools and insights, can be found in our book, Winning with Transglobal Leadership: How to Find and Develop Top Global Talent to Build World-Class Organizations.

Step 1: Coach appropriately

Numerous Fortune 500 companies are using the Transglobal Leadership (TGL) Assessment Survey to get a pulse on strengths and development areas for those being considered for global assignments. The results will create a framework for open discussion, and help you determine if the role is right for them. And if it is, provide coaching to help them:

Develop a personal action plan for success. Remember no one will embody all these dimensions to their fullest, but an understanding of strengths will also identify gaps to work on. If feasible, conduct a two- or three-day development experience where these new global leaders can work through some of the issues and challenges together. This is a very powerful exercise to learn how they will react as they encounter new ways of thinking and working.

Provide a group of peer coaches to help them work through the challenges they’ll undoubtedly experience in the first 90 days of their new assignments. Usually these peer-coaching groups are supported by a master coach who can guide the discussions

Check in at the 90- and 120-day marks to make sure they are on track for success. As part of their assignment, ensure they develop a local successor to take their role when their ‘tour of duty’ is up

Be sure to track the experiences and lessons from these leaders, as you continue to build your training and shape your global presence

Step 2: Assess families

Conduct a similar assessment of the employee’s significant other. Often, the partners and family members are ill-equipped to deal with the isolation of a global assignment. This is one of the most frequent causes of a leader ‘flaming out’ on the assignment, according to industry mobility experts and search firms. Our experience has shown that about 25% of the reported failed global assignments are due to domestic issues. The head of one company’s global sales office wanted to move offshore to be closer to key global customers. I was coaching this leader at the time and exploring the options and challenges for him and his family. He assured me that his wife was excited about a global move. But, when I looked deeper into the situation, I found that his wife had never moved out of the neighbourhood where she grew up. Needless to say, neither of them was prepared to relocate. Had we not explored this issue and taken proactive steps, the company would probably have had another disaster on its hands.

Step 3: Expand talent

Develop a pipeline of talent around the world. Make it your business to know local talent and identify those that have the aptitude for a global role. Once the group is identified, you can do a formal assessment like the TGL Survey to help solidify strengths and growth areas.

Step 4: Improve homecomings

Have a clear repatriation plan for those who took on offshore roles or led global teams from their home country. Retention rates for great global talent are low. The reason often cited is that the skills they learned are not valued by the company – they get stuck in jobs in their home country that do not leverage their considerable global experience.

Here are some things you should do to leverage their expertise:

Use transglobal leaders as mentors to your pipeline of aspiring global leaders. Put them on special teams to assess talent in emerging global arenas where you want to expand your footprint. Gain an honest perspective from them of how your company is seen in the eyes of offshore employees and take some action. Typically, offshore employees feel less valued and empowered than those who hail from the home company headquarters

Step 5: Understand cultures

Is your culture open to new ideas? Are you? Having an inclusive culture is essential to capturing the intellectual value of your workforce, no matter where they are in the world. Here’s where you start:

Know where you are creating roadblocks to inclusive thoughts and innovative ideas. Do not assume your current culture is open.

Get the facts
Create a roadmap to transform your culture if your assessment is not what you hoped it would be
Leverage your transglobal leaders to help create a more inclusive culture

If you follow these steps you will build a strong global mindset into the DNA of your company.

— Dr Linda Sharkey is a Duke CE network educator, keynote speaker, and specializes in leadership development, coaching, and cultural transformation.

An adapted version of this article also appeared on the Dialogue Review website