Identifying the new leadership competencies
By Jan Kwint, Executive Director, Cubiks Group Limited
In the past, it was possible for major companies to follow narrow strategies designed to
achieve growth in just one country or possibly the wider immediate business region.
However, the ever increasing pace of globalisation means that those days are over.
Today, a company might sell products in The Netherlands that have been designed in
Italy, manufactured in Turkey and have the invoice sent out from Malaysia. We can buy
Volvo’s that were built in China and get technical support for our troublesome Internet
connection from staff based in India. As we have seen recently, a financial crisis in one
region can quickly spread to affect companies across the globe. Who would have
thought three years ago that we would see Dubai on the brink of bankruptcy?
As we move out of recession, it is likely that we will see further evidence of markets
converging on a global basis. So what are the implications for business leaders, and the
concept of leadership in general? What aspects of leadership have emerged as being
critical to business success and how can global organisations measure the leadership
competencies of key staff?
What are the emerging leadership differentiators
As globalisation increases, it will not be sufficient for leaders to just understand the legal
and economic landscape of the different territories in which their business operates.
They will also be required to demonstrate a deep appreciation of cultural diversity and
the implications of having a global workforce, global clients and global partnerships.
Leaders who can effectively understand, appreciate and motivate teams across multiple
cultures will be highly valued in any business. Employers should therefore make efforts
to harness the talents of managers that display open-mindedness, an orientation
towards learning new things and a desire to engage with the local culture.
In dynamic, constantly-evolving business environments, leaders need to display an
aptitude towards visionary thinking, and a capacity to anticipate or encourage future
trends. Management gurus often talk about the need for leaders to be spiritual and
altruistic with high emotional intelligence, and regularly cite President Obama as being a
role model. It is becoming increasingly important for leaders to be good storytellers,
using ‘Feed Forward’ techniques to paint their vision of the future and help employees
understand what life will be like when they get there. Through effective storytelling,
leaders can strengthen and bring real meaning to the values of their organisation.
Leaders should help managers to understand the value of being self-aware (360 degree
feedback can also play a critical role here) and provide opportunities for managers to
network with both peers and partner companies. By employing Feed Forward techniques
to focus on the future rather than the past, leaders can help colleagues to positively
appreciate the desired management behaviours that are needed to drive the
Restructuring and downsizing has led to a world in which the outsourcing of non-core
activities has becomes the norm. In such a world, companies need to be able to build
effective partnerships and strategic alliances. The ability to create successful alliances
and manage complex networks of relationships is likely to become an increasingly
important management skill. Leaders have to build for the long term and develop win-win
relationships with partners, suppliers, free-lancers and…employees!
As organisational structures become flatter and traditional reverence for authority
declines, it will be become more important for managers to lead through their network
than to lead through their position in a fixed hierarchy. If a leader decides to simply tell
their partners (and employees what to do), they may find that they soon have no
partners at all. Leaders need to be able to share leadership and feel comfortable
managing knowledge workers who will often know more than they do. Old models of
leadership will become less and less effective. Leaders need to share information and
seek the input of others. In addition, to retain the skills of knowledge workers from
Generation Y who are typically described as having little loyalty (other than to their own
personal development), leaders will need to be prepared to offer these people
challenges and opportunities. Sharing leadership will enable leaders to hire and retain
the best people.
All of this points to the following competencies emerging as important leadership
• Ability to regulate behaviour to fit the situation
• Tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity
In addition, effective leaders will need to display:
• Strong communication skills
• High levels of self-awareness and self-criticism
The latter two competencies are already well-established on the shopping list of
employers and have taken precedence over competencies such Analytical Skills and
Authority that were so favoured by the Baby-Boomer generation.
As an organisation, how do you assess these with your leaders?
As the pace of globalisation accelerates, and organisations seek to achieve successful
market penetration in far more territories than ever before, it is essential to put in place
leadership assessment tools and processes that will allow them to assess the leaders
wherever they do business.
However, it is important that international companies are sensitive to local conditions
and do not seek to impose rigid procedures and materials from the corporate centre as
this will only serve to alienate both candidates and local staff.
The most successful organisations will be flexible, considerate and use culturally
adapted tools that give all leaders equal opportunity to perform and show their potential.
It is right to ask whether businesses can continue relying on the Non-Executives Board
Executives to assess the company’s leaders through an annual evaluation form. The
ability to meet future competencies is rarely measured this way and the opinions of third
parties are seldom heard. Personality traits and related competencies (such as those
described above) are not often measured at Executive Level despite being known to be
good predictors of potential.
So what should employers operating in multiple territories do? Here are a few
Get it right first time
Invest time re-defining your current set of leadership competencies with the new trends
in mind. Check that that these qualities are relevant and essential for all the countries/
cultures in question. Once done, consider how these qualities can best be tested for in a
way that gives everyone an equal opportunity to perform.
For assessment, use culturally adapted materials
The way that personality is expressed in thought and behavior will be affected by
linguistic and cultural differences. Therefore it is highly desirable that you use
assessment materials that have been carefully translated, adapted and trialed by
Design Assessment Centres and interviews with multiple cultures in mind
Once you have established your core requirements, think about how your processes will
need to be designed or adapted for robustness to local market conditions. If working in
an international organisation, be sure to consult local staff.
If you are comfortable that all participants will be able to gain Internet access, and you
have culturally adapted tests, look for opportunities to introduce online assessments that
can safe time, money and significantly streamline the assessment process.
What does this require from you?
If you manage to embed new dimensions such as Cultural Diversity, Visionary Thinking,
Building Partnerships and Sharing Leadership into your leadership competency
framework and are able to assess your leaders against these factors then you will be
doing well. However, it is unlikely that your work will be over, particularly if you find that
your current group of leaders does not yet possess these competencies at the levels that
the business requires.
It is rarely easy to tell managers that their skills need developing and feedback along
these lines can often be perceived as being negative. Leaders have to feed forward and
help these managers orientate themselves for the future, providing mentoring and
development opportunities. Those who prefer to live in the past could quickly find that
their days at the top are numbered. Indeed, the world has changed!