Global Leadership Video

Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration, discusses 'The Five Barriers to Global Leadership'

Global leaders need to be able to manage people across barriers of distance, cultural differences, working through technology, across time zones and in highly complex matrix management and global organization structures.


Abridged transcript for those unable to view YouTube:

In leading global teams and organizations, there are some additional challenges to overcome. In our training on global leadership, we help people to overcome five major barriers.

The first is distance, and the fact that we are no longer face-to-face with colleagues we work with. This is probably the most intractable barrier. Human beings have evolved to operate face-to-face and lack of that “bandwidth” of communication – the ability to monitor non-verbal messages and have substantial face to face time together – has big implications for trust, collaboration and communication. We have to develop the skills to stay in touch through technology and to create new forms of collaboration that will work without the same depth of relationships we were used within the past.

The second is culture. When people begin to work internationally, this is usually the first barrier they notice. Culture is very explicit and easy to spot. If you are new to them, cultural differences can cause frustration and misunderstandings. An ability to work across cultures is essential for the true global leader – not just the ability to deal with other cultures, but to understand the impact of their own culture on the way they work and communicate. However, culture should not be seen as a separate topic – go on a two-day cross-cultural training and the job is done – but instead an understanding of culture should infuse everything else.

If you lead a global team you need to be able to present to an international audience, negotiate with people who have a different negotiating style from you, communicate with people who get their point across in different ways. etc etc… A true global leader is able to be flexible in order to lead people from other cultures, but also has a core of authenticity that enables them to be credible around the world.

Because culture is so explicit, global leaders often develop the capability for dealing with the most obvious differences quite quickly. In many organizations, working across cultures has been normal for decades now, and they have developed the skills to overcome this barrier. (You can find out more about our approach to this in our “Tools for cross-cultural success” video on our YouTube channel or website.)

The third barrier is technology. It may seem strange to consider this as a barrier as technologies also a critical enabler of global working. It would be hard to imagine leading a global team without the use of communication technology for example.

However, communicating through technology can cause misunderstandings and, though the technology does not force us to communicate ineffectively, it can make it easy for us to miss-communicate. An obvious example would be the mass of poor quality e-mails that people routinely receive. A focus on the technology can also leaders to underestimate the need for participation and involvement. If we run a boring webinar we may not be able to see that most participants are not engaged or doing something else.

With the mass of messages arriving daily through e-mail, instant messenger and other tools, the global leader needs to learn to master the technology otherwise it can drive them!

The fourth barrier is sheer complexity. Large organizations are very complex places and decisions have implications beyond the immediately obvious. In particular, complex organization structures such as a matrix, and the need to engage virtual networks to get things done, require a global leader to develop whole new skills of influence without authority, managing competing priorities and creating diverse networks and alliances. This can be frustrating to leaders who have been used to getting things done through position or hierarchical power.

The fifth barrier is created by time zones. Time zones are a permanent feature of global working. They are not going to go away, so we need to organize our work to reflect them. Failure to master working across time zones can lead to delay and frustration. You can see a separate video on our principles for working across time zones elsewhere on our YouTube channel.

By building the necessary skills, global leaders can overcome these barriers and turn them into advantages. Global teams bring a wealth of diverse perspectives and enable you to take advantage of global scale and local skills around the world. We can use time zones to generate 24-hour working on critical issues and problems, and learning from around the world to improve our products and processes.

For many organizations Global leadership is becoming “business as usual”. We just need to make sure our people have the skills to manage this reality.

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