Best Practices: The Crisis in the Global Leadership Pipeline

The key to building a global leadership pipeline is close cooperation between the Training director, the corporate Mobility group, and the cross-cultural consulting organization.

By Neal Goodman, Ph.D., President, Global Dynamics, Inc.

Baby Boomers with global business expertise are retiring, and many organizations are hoping to replace them with talented Asian leaders to help them succeed in emerging markets in Asia. Yet few of the leadership programs in Asian universities are teaching skills such as vision, creativity, and risk-taking that are at the core of many organizations.

Before describing one process that has proven be a successful way for Training departments to build their global leadership pipeline, we begin with an actual story of a mid-career, high-potential Chinese marketing manager who had been selected to come to the Chicago headquarters of a corporation to “learn the ropes.” Unfortunately, the ropes were more like a noose. The goal of the program was for high-potential Asian leaders to come to the U.S. for a six- to 12-month assignment. During this time, they were to learn processes and procedures practiced at headquarters, which they could take back to Asia, where they would take on more leadership responsibilities. Eventually, they might return to corporate headquarters to be a member of a more global senior leadership team.

The person selected for this assignment had never been to outside China, and his English was poor. The HR department asked someone in Training and Development to help the person out. When asked what he needed, the Chinese manager simply looked down. “How can I help you?” asked the U.S. HR manager.

“I do not know how to ask,” he replied.

When he met his new manager, the manager asked him what he had hoped to accomplish in the six-month assignment. He replied, “Whatever you would like.” The six months were frustrating for all, and the Training department was seen as a liability instead of a helpful resource.

Fast-forward two years at the same company: After the debacle of the first assignee, one of the directors of Training was asked to help develop a program that would improve the global leadership pipeline program’s success rate. She realized the problem was a result of failed expectations, preparation of all participants, training, and follow-through. The company partnered with a global cross-cultural training organization that had trainers throughout Asia and the U.S. Together, they created an alignment program that has been recognized as one of the most effective global leadership development programs in multinational corporations. Working together with the Mobility office, the consultant and the Training director created a program with the following components:

  1. Interview the assignee and their sending manager in Asia to identify the perceived expectations of the sending manager and the metrics against which success would be measured. What would the assignee need to learn, what skills needed to be developed, what would be the most valuable areas that would improve the local organization upon the return of the assignee? The consultant/coach helped draw up a plan, including metrics to which the assignee and their manager agreed. The plan was shared with the consultant/coach in the host country (the U.S.).
  2. The assignee and their family received an in-depth cross-cultural immersion program about living and working in their new country. This was preceded by an orientation program set up in coordination with the Mobility team, which focused on Social Security, driving, shopping, etc.
  3. The host country manager was given a cross-cultural briefing on the home culture of the assignee so she would better understand possible unseen barriers that may affect her management of the assignee.
  4. The host country coach held an alignment meeting with the assignee and the host country manager to discuss goals, timelines, and measures of success. At the meeting, the plans agreed to back in the home country were reviewed, and if there were any changes to be made, these were to be communicated immediately to the home country manager via a conference call and written follow-up. As a result of this alignment meeting, there was a clear understanding of the goals and metrics for success of the assignment.
  5. The coach next arranged an alignment meeting between the new assignee and their host country team members. The goal for this meeting was to cover any cross-cultural differences that may affect the team and to discuss how the team would work together in order for the assignee to meet his objectives and to help the team.
  6. The assignee and coach held several coaching sessions during the assignment, including a final session focusing on repatriation and how the full experience would be leveraged when the assignee returned home.

The key to this successful training program was the close cooperation between the Training director, the corporate Mobility group, and the cross-cultural consulting organization. After just one year and 20 assignees, five of the candidates are being considered for promotions and assignments in other locations, including headquarters. Next year, they will expand the program to 35 participants.

If you have a similar story or other best practice to share with me, please send it to me at

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.