Friday, November 2, 2012

Global Leadership: Developing Leaders who can balance Global and Local

Leaders in global enterprises often find themselves in the middle....caught between global initiatives that often involve standardization....and local customized practices that work in a specific country or line of business.  Some of my earliest blogs covered several dimensions of the globalization, standardization, customization dilemmas leaders face.  The blogs of 13, 14, 15, 16, 20 and 21 March all explore the challenges in some detail.  If you haven't had a chance to read those, it might be worthwhile to spend a few minutes doing so. 

In this blog I intend to address how it is leaders develop the skills to deal with those dilemmas.  At the heart of it is the leader must be able to both amplify messages going up the hierarchy and rationalize messages coming down the hierarchy.  By that I mean that leader in the middle...somewhere between the field and the corporate center.... needs to be an articulate spokesman to the corporate for the challenges of local implementation AND an articulate spokesman of the corporate benefits of standardization.

So how does the leader develop the ability to sort out the natural resistance to change from legitimate concerns?  How does she acquire the ability to understand and articulate the business case for standardization?  I think the key issue is credibility with both audiences and the way that credibility is established is by service at both levels.  The leader needs to be able to say "I've been in the trenches like you...I know what it's like"  One of the most effective leaders I saw in Shell was an expert at this.  When he talked of the challenges in a refinery, everyone in the audience knew he'd been there... at 2 in the morning with a difficult, dangerous task in front of him.  You could see smiles and nods..."this guy gets it''.  Likewise, that leader in the middle needs to understand the pressures, challenges and politics of life in the corporate center.  It's all too easy to throw rocks at initiatives that are only remotely beneficial at the local level.

I believe the only real way to develop these skills is by assignments at multiple levels in the organization.  Professional development should start at the lowest levels of the organization whether it is a platoon leader in the Army, an HR manager in a refinery or a petroleum engineer in Oman.  Once leadership potential is identified then assignments should include both corporate center and field exposure and increasing levels. Stated another way, if you start out in the corporate center, you never develop a real understanding of the challenges in the field; if you spend all your time in the field you never really understand the unique and necessary challenges of the corporate center.  For those who would like to take a and meetings and increasingly sophisticated technology solutions don't cut's insufficient to bridge the gap.

My summary is a global company needs talent management processes that take into account an individuals background, their potential as a leader and ensures exposure at multiple levels for those destined to lead in the organization.  In addition, those aspiring to leadership roles need to understand there are mobility requirements that come with increased responsibility.  If one is to progress in the organization it's likely to demand more frequent movement of the household and the challenges that can create to family life.

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