How in the World Do You Develop Global Leaders?

Organizations and L&D professionals need to take steps in several key areas to deliver essential global leadership competency skills at an increasingly rapid pace.

Many companies have a global footprint around the world and even have production facilities in a variety of countries they trade with. However, having a global footprint in a country is far different than actually having boots on the ground or leaders who know the marketplace so well you would think they were local. Global leadership development research reveals companies have poor grades in the area of developing their leaders to become global leaders, which, in turn, correlates with less-than-stellar business performance.

In a joint 2012 study conducted by American Management Association, Institute for Corporate Productivity, and Training magazine, the term, “global leadership development,” was defined as: “activities that help leaders develop a set of competencies that are critical to the business success of organizations competing in a global marketplace. A global leadership program/curriculum tends to focus on competencies specifically for global leaders as opposed to leaders operating in a single country and dealing with a single national market.”

Our concern as Learning and Development (L&D) professionals is creating a sustainable plan for making global leadership development happen.

Consider the following list of key areas for global leadership development.


First, corporate senior leadership must be able to give the business vision and strategy for achieving the desired global pre-eminence they seek in their respective industry. The C-suite can give insights for developing global leaders while acting as exemplars, teachers, and mentors for the up-and-coming leaders who will be taking the business overseas. Senior leaders must provide the core focus areas needed to win in the global marketplace.

Global leaders currently are in high demand. But the fact is, few companies are doing an effective job of identifying, preparing, and maintaining the skills people need in the global marketplace. Technology continues to connect us around the world and thereby increases the demand for better educated and more culturally literate and sensitive business leaders.


Several years ago, I lived in various cities across Flemish-speaking Belgium. I attempted learning the Dutch-equivalent language before leaving North America, but nothing could make up for the full immersion experience after arriving in Antwerp. The reality of hearing the speed and dialect of the Belgians I conversed with was nowhere near the classroom experience I had back home.

Developing global business leaders requires a similar immersion into the real world of the local businesses either directly or by remote learning through technology. Leaders must understand the cultural ways of conducting business. Companies can draw upon local resources from each country where they are present to provide curriculum content, learning resources, and even mentoring wherever possible.


Developing global leaders requires finding the right people right from the beginning. They must have certain innate abilities such as respect, integrity, good communication skills, transparency, and open-mindedness, and be a team player. Diversity skills are not just about dealing with ethnicity and cultural differences. A good leader needs facilitation skills to lead virtual teams and a strong ability to collaborate with the diverse thinking and learning styles of a global business team.

There is no better global leadership training than directing a project team with members from several countries. Leader progress should be measured by the success of the mutual interactions, positive perceptions of team members, and ability to influence a desired outcome, as well as the bottom-line results of the business project.


For the long-term success of any organization, a set of global leadership competencies is needed. Leaders must evaluate the future leadership roles within the global context and then identify the skills needed for these roles. It then will be easier to determine the abilities of potential candidates and what the talent pool looks like with the demand for upcoming global leaders.

By creating a global leadership competency model, you will be ahead of the game with your learning and development plans. Having a global leadership competency framework will guide you with the design and development of your learning objectives, content, and programs to teach or deliver through all the learning vehicles available.

Many of the competency skills identified as essential for global leaders are not ethnic or culturally based. It is having a global focus on typical leadership skill areas such as change management, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, influence, strategy, and execution.


Companies are relying less and less on specific, customized global leadership learning content tailored to regions or countries. However, what can never be forgotten is the importance and increasing demand for global leaders to learn the language skills of the country they are serving or living in.

Consider how Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, used his proficiency in Mandarin last year at Tsinghua University when answering audience members’ questions. The positive impact reverberated around the world and possibly could influence Beijing’s decision to lift the ban on the popular social media site. Good language skills help demonstrate a leader’s desire to be seen as a global leader in the eyes of the respective country’s employees and their customers.

Improving global leadership development requires L&D professionals to take the necessary steps to deliver essential competency skills at an increasingly fast pace as the world becomes smaller through international trade agreements. As ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact or visit

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at: or visit: