The Harvard Business School's "Working Knowledge" blog has a good posting on the essential qualities required.
They count five:
- Good understanding of the global business context,
- A perspective that is simultaneously global and local,
- A bias for "non-dominant" thinking (i.e. outside HQ),
- A knack for cross-border partnering and,
- The ability to develop strong internal and external networks.
It's a good list.
It comes courtesy of Bill George, currently a professor of management and ethics at Harvard and formerly CEO of Medtronic.
But with apologies to Prof. George, who has probably forgotten more about globalization than I will ever know, I think it misses the single quality that underlies all the ones he lists.
The ability to see the world as others do, to feel what they feel, is the key to successful leadership. It's what enables business leaders to see beyond what customers say to what they really mean. It's what enables them to see beyond differences to what we have in common.
Empathy is hard-wired into all of us. Scientists have even found its biological seat in the neurons of our brain. But its natural range is relatively short. We have little trouble empathizing with members of our immediate family or close friends. But empathizing with people outside that tight circle is more problematic.
Learning to draw that circle larger is possible, however. Empathy can be developed and refined. That's the real secret to business success. And it's even more important when the ratio of difference to familiarity is high, as in global markets.