The Importance of Leadership Development Across Borders


Globalization has offered tremendous opportunities to businesses across the world. Some of the opportunities include access to a large pool of workforce, foreign market, and liberalization of trade across international boundaries. While globalization provides benefits to organizations, it presents challenges in leading diverse teams in global businesses. Often, the challenges include managing cultural diversity, fostering direction, nurturing alignment, and inspiring commitment of team members. In response to these challenges, organizations have developed various approaches to enhance the capacity of employees to function in global leadership roles.

While a few firms have formal leadership development programs, many global organizations have little understanding of the meaning and critical roles leadership development plays in managing and leading successful global businesses. Consequently, there is a global leadership gap. According to a study of 900 multinational organizations in 48 countries, 52 percent were planning to expand their operations within the next few years, but only 16 percent reported having enough ready global leaders to fill their critical roles. This article focuses on helping readers understand leadership development and its importance in leading across borders.

Leadership development plays significant roles in directing organizational vision, creating an alignment of strategies, and inspiring commitment from stakeholders. These leadership roles become more challenging when leaders and their teams transition into new and unfamiliar national borders and territories. Often, the unfamiliar environmental context results in leadership ineffectiveness. Ironically, this result is not caused by a lack of content and skill in a leader but by failure to adapt to the new leadership context. Yet, adaptation requires a new set of leadership skills.

Leadership development across borders is important in several ways. First, it develops a global leadership culture. Two, it nurtures leaders and teams with a global mindset. Three, it facilitates the development of culturally competent leaders. Furthermore, multinational organizations find that it is important to engage in leadership development as part of succession planning.

Leading across borders is usually challenging whether it is a global business or a multicultural team of missionaries partnering for missions abroad. This challenge arises because of the interplay of leadership, teams, and cultures. While leadership has different connotations in different cultures, different cultures attach different meanings and values to team-building. For instance, asking people to describe the qualities of a good leader is a way of asking them to describe their culture. Scholars assert that leadership behaviors that do not take collective expectations of followers into account are basically dysfunctional. Thus, a lack of cultural awareness breeds frustration and undermines leadership effectiveness across borders. This situation is largely mitigated by leadership development programs that teach, coach, and mentor managers on cross-cultural competencies. For example, prior to hiring the services of a management consulting firm in May 2017, a high school in Nigeria had experienced a lack of cohesion in the senior leadership team. The human resource manager had misdiagnosed the situation and concluded a total replacement of the entire leadership team. Upon further diagnosis and individual self-assessments, the management consulting company found the school had a culturally diverse leadership team. The principal is a White South African; the vice principal (student affairs) is British; the vice principal (academics) is Indian; and the school administrator, a Nigerian. Furthermore, a result of the self-assessment showed these school leaders had low scores on cross-cultural competencies such as cultural intelligence, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. Equipped with this information, a three-day leadership development workshop was specifically organized which helped to address the team’s challenges.

To be continued.

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