A Glance at Global Leadership

June 10, 2015 Rosetta Stone Enterprise and Education

SHRM 2015 global business experts blog series - web


No one needs to argue that we live in a complex world and we face many challenges doing business globally. Your business’ success or failure often depend on how well your leaders perform.

  • Do they possess the flexibility to lead?
  • Do they have the humility to learn?
  • Do they have the fluency to move around the world with ease?
  • Is your internal leadership development program equipped to raise the competency of your leaders in order to help your business navigate successfully around the world in this turbulent time?

After years of supporting businesses and their leaders to succeed in global business, we have gathered 7 key Global Leadership Competencies. One of them is The Ability to Manage Ambiguity.

50 SHADES OF GREY: With so many moving parts doing business globally, things seldom turn out either black or white. Leaders need to be able to navigate in the “grey” area. Local business law and practices, government regulations and procedures, political stability, labor pool, supplier loyalty, international currency fluctuation, just name a few of these moving parts. When the business landscape lacks clarity and there seems to be no straightforward answer or path, it can cause anxiety and stress because there is no surefire playbook in the global business arena.. Leaders often must make decisions based on less than complete or less than accurate data. Mature leaders are better skilled in managing these anxiety and stress in order to mitigate risks, big and small. Do you have a way to test the maturity level of your leaders?

SEEING CULTURES BEYOND BEING A TOURIST: Another factor that contributes to the ‘grey” landscape is cultural differences. Don’t they all speak English? When we do business around the world, we often assume since everyone is speaking English and it is supposed to be the language adopted by the global business world, then we should be able to understand each other. However, language is more than the words we use in writing or orally. We often attach different meanings to the same words we use, based on the cultures we are raised in. When someone says “yes”, do we take it to mean they agree or understand? It depends on what cultural lens we use to look at this simple act. In some cultures, “yes” just means that they “heard” what we said. Many business transactions get bogged down because of this basic cross-cultural misunderstanding. However, we continue to operate around the globe using and trusting our own lens without examining the cultural impact.

Too many leaders travel to a foreign country and stay for a few days to a few weeks. Without challenging their own cultural assumptions, their understanding of the local context seldom get beyond what tourists see and experience through foods, festivities or sights. When they make business decisions as an “outsider”, how would they explain the gap between their strategic plans versus the local business result?

Many businesses think translating business documents in local language will solve the problem of communication. However, the challenge is that not all content in one language can be fully translated to another language without losing some essential meaning. On the other hand, United States and many other countries also have laws that only acknowledge and accept contracts in the original language. So how would we know if our business partners are on the same page with us? Do your global leaders have the ability to manage the language ambiguity?

In order to help your business succeed globally, as a professional in Human Resource Development, you have a crucial role to champion the change effort to bring your leaders into the new century.

I wish you the best.

And if you are attending the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas, be sure to join me in my concurrent session entitled “Becoming a Competent Global Leader” at 2:15pm on Tuesday June 30.

Celia Young - SHRM - headshot

Celia Cheng-Ying Young, President of Celia Young & Associates, Inc.

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