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Firms lack strategy to develop globally competent leaders

The importance of globally competent leaders is recognized by the vast majority of organizations, but few have a strategy to provide the training needed to compete globally, according to a new study by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Human Capital Institute.

Their findings are reported in “Compete and Connect: Developing Globally Competent Leaders,” which examines how organizations develop global competence in their workforce. It is based on a survey of more than 300 HR and training and development professionals.

“A globally competent individual has the right attitude, knowledge, skills and functional business expertise to effectively work within and across cultures,” said David Roberts, a UNC Kenan-Flagler professor who teaches about effecting organizational change to achieve strategic goals for UNC Executive Development.

When asked about the qualities most important for leaders to work effectively in a global business environment, the top answers are:

  • Multicultural sensitivity and awareness (57 percent)
  • Ability to communicate effectively (49 percent)
  • Strategic thinking (47 percent)
  • Leadership and the ability to influence others (45 percent)
  • Respect for differences (44 percent)
  • Ethics and integrity (42 percent)
  • Flexibility and willingness to change (41 percent)
  • Adaptability in new environments (40 percent)
  • Collaborative (37 percent)
  • Decision-making ability (36 percent)

Over 60 percent say the need to develop global competence is an urgent and 92 percent say it can be developed through training.

Unfortunately, global leadership development at most organizations is in a poor state:

  • 38 percent state their organizations are underdeveloped in multicultural sensitivity
  • 43 percent agree that their high-potentials managers are able to meet future business needs.
  • 35 percent say their organizations have a strong leadership pipeline
  • 24 percent say that senior leaders are satisfied with their current bench strength
  • 52 percent of organizations with global operations struggle to recruit talent for global leadership positions

The top two most popular ways organizations develop global competence are passive: international travel and encouraging networking outside of the organization.

Most organizations aren’t taking a proactive or hands-on approach, but the most effective methods are deliberate and experiential.

“They need to do much more than send individuals on business trips – they need a complete top-to-bottom training strategy. That kind of investment gives both organizations and individuals a competitive advantage,” Roberts said.