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Defining Global-Leadership Competencies

Sunday, October 2, 2011
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There's a growing awareness -- some would say concern -- in HR circles and C-suites about just how ill-prepared organizations are when it comes to having leaders who can take them where they want to go globally.

Recent research from Mercer, entitled New Insights on Global Leadership Development, indicates few organizations are successful at identifying and developing global leaders.

"Global leadership in many organizations today is often a capstone assignment to a long and distinguished 'domestic career,' " says Colleen O'Neill, Mercer's New York-based global-talent-management leader for the Americas.

"Our research shows that this approach is flawed," she says. "Global leadership is not always the next level of leadership -- it's far more effective to cultivate the capabilities necessary to be a successful [global] leader earlier in an employee's career."

Many organizations are not mapping specific competencies for global leaders, according to Mercer's research, which involved an in-depth literature search and interviews with HR executives at 15 global companies.

"We were surprised," says O'Neill, "that companies we thought would be carrying out best practices as global leaders were actually lagging in global-talent strategies."

Global-leadership competencies, say O'Neill and other experts, need to be completely redefined to account for the unique skills -- and, more importantly, the unique combinations of skills -- that define true global leaders, not to be confused with local leaders who may be based throughout the world.

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"In all the studies we're seeing asking CEOs what they're most concerned about, they're saying 'global talent strategies,' " says O'Neill.

"Their boards are asking about this, yet the HR community has just been a little bit slow in setting those development opportunities up. Now, I think it's just becoming more important in HR circles."

Global leadership skills can be developed, O'Neill says, by creating expatriate experiences earlier in careers and adding more training programs on the way business is done in different countries and cultures. It's also important for new leaders to be able to foster innovation and develop other future global leaders.

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