A common misconception about globalization is that it is a relatively new phenomenon, when in fact globalization has been around since the ancient Greeks and increased during the Roman Empire that led to the Silk Road. Connecting China to Rome, people were able to exchange unique metals, food, tools, and of course silk. This also started the trade of languages, cultures, philosophies, and science across the world. This model continued to expand, prodded on by the rise of the Medici Family’s banking and trade acumen to further facilitate trade. With the rise of status and wealth, a premium was placed on exploration later leading to the Columbus discovery of the Americas. This led to the continuing trend of today’s fluent marketplaces where corporations aim to transcend nationalities to consider themselves as world providers.
Being a global provider or expanding into a world merchant, new challenges arise that can sink the initiative if handled poorly. Pertinent to expansion is the application of global leaders that can not only guide the transition but can culturally adapt themselves and the business to the new market. As old as globalization is, it is shocking to realize how underrepresented the study of global leadership is. Pioneers in the study, Joyce Osland, Allan Bird, and Mark Mendenhall, have outlined the framework of the global leadership model that identify the core competencies around business acumen, relationship building, and managing themselves. Revolving throughout all of these knowledge areas is the ability of a leader to be comfortable in an ambiguous environment and to expertly guide people through highly complex situations.
Advances in transportation and communication have greatly exposed businesses to growth opportunities throughout the world yet the expansion has been so quick that the development of capable global leaders has lagged. With these opportunities come complex challenges which have found that thirty percent of United States corporations believe that they have failed to capitalize on those opportunities because they do not believe that they have enough capable managers to execute those global strategies. McKinsey surveyed over five-hundred executives on human capital priorities and found that two-thirds identified leadership development on a global scale was their number one priority. A number of organizations are proactively addressing these gaps by diversifying their senior leadership teams, emphasizing values over policy, deemphasizing hierarchy over organizational flattening, and expanding leadership development outside of the domestic headquarters.
If leadership is challenging, then global leadership is perplexing. Studies have found that there were a number of criteria that make global leadership so difficult beginning with communications. While communication is difficult enough between two homogeneous people, when you incorporate a large number of interacting variables from language and context to ambiguity and cultural perspectives that minute alterations can enable disproportionate effects of complexity.
Coupled with technological advances, generational shifts that violate previously held taboos, and an informational overload paired with a continual flux of organizational change, global leadership is becoming one of the most complex sciences that is affecting mankind.
Coupled with global leadership is leading in a remote or virtual environment. During the previous twenty years, the world has seen an exponential growth in the location diversity of organizations. This is the employee telecommuting from their home location using technological advances to work from anywhere, the manufacturing of products in a different country to lower product costs, and the expansion of remote teams attempting to penetrate new markets trying to turn a domestic company into a global one. While this has changed the dynamic of the work environment and how work gets accomplished, it does not change the focus from work needing to get accomplished. This spatial separation of virtual teams and telecommuting combined with global work environments create a number of challenges to include alignment of priorities, accountability of goal accomplishment, and team cohesion. There are two key factors when evaluating remote or virtual positions that are shifting from a focus on time to a focus on results. The second key is the recognition that remote employees and teams need additional leadership time, support, and attention based on their lack of availability.
Researchers point out that any organization that is in this predicament of being spread apart is dependent upon alignment to achieve any level of future success. Using alignment in a broad sense, but if that company is in Asia, Europe, Africa, or the Americas, every team member has to understand the vision and be actively working towards the same goals, metrics, and budgets. This includes how operations are executed, how support is elicited, and how the regions support each other.
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