11 Traits of Successful Global Leaders

Morgan McCall conducted a study of 838 managers working in 6 different international corporations and successfully identified 11 key characteristics possessed by these managers in an attempt to predict success within global business (Clawson, 2012). The 11 characteristics identified as indicators of success were: Overseas experience, deep self-awareness, culturally diverse, humility, lifelong learning & curiosity, honesty, globally strategic, patiently impatient, well spoken, good negotiators, human, and presence.

Overseas experience is beneficial to the global leader as it provides a fuller frame of reference concerning global issues and context within different areas of the world. This fuller and more accurate perspective of the climate in which the organization is doing business will lead to greater successes in business, decision0making, and relationships (Clawson, 2012).

Deep self-awareness gives the individual the ability to understand themselves so that they may understand their differences compared to individuals from different regions or cultures. Clawson (2012) states; “Unless an individual understands his or her own VABE’s (values, assumptions, beliefs, & emotions) deeply enough to know when others will differ with them on those issues, the individual won’t be able to see and, therefore, adapt to and tolerate or embrace the deep-seated beliefs of other” (pp. 189-190).

Culturally diverse traits, unlike “overseas experience”, can be taught beforehand although both generate the same benefits. Living abroad allows the individual to immerse themselves in a culture while cultural diversity can be studied from a central point (Clawson, 2012). Cultural diversity topics the potential global leader should study before embarking on a business journey include local customs, etiquette, and cuisine.

Humility is imperative to the global leader. The global leader must realize that although a culture is different, their different processes and ideas about solving problems are just as valid as the ones of which the leader is familiar. Humility is the underlying engagement in learning with genuine interest how others do things (Clawson, 2012).

Lifelong learning and curiosity is related to humility in that the global leader knows that they do not know everything. There is always ample opportunity to continue to learn and utilize information gained to maintain an upward trajectory concerning overall knowledge, effectiveness, and worldly awareness.

Honesty is a foundational value held by all great leaders. Global leaders must follow through on their promises and deliver what they say they will, anything short of that and their reputation will be tarnished and they will not be trusted within the international business community (Clawson, 2012).

Globally strategic thinking is vital for the global leader. The global leader must use his or her global perspective and economic understanding to see how actions in one part of the world can affect another. In the world of international business many macroeconomic and political factors must be considered in any large business decision (Clawson, 2012). By thinking in a globally strategic fashion the global leader will make well thought out decisions and recommendations going forward.

Patiently impatient is a trait that the global executive must possess for both ultimate success and their own sanity. The global leader must make their point, seal the deal, and then let local industry/processes/organizations take over the plan from there (Clawson, 2012). The global leader must be in a hurry (impatient) to accomplish his or her goals but must also be patient and observant of the regions culture, infrastructure, and procedures, all of which may slow down progress.

Well spoken leaders tend to be the most successful. Well spoken does not necessarily mean speaking the native language (although helpful) but also refers to directness (Clawson, 2012). Whether or not the global leader speaks multiple languages, he or she must be direct and clear when stating objectives to avoid unnecessary confusion or unintended consequences when conducting business abroad.

Good negotiators are successful on the global stage. In many countries prices for everyday items are not ‘set’ like they are in the United States and are negotiated by individuals from a young age (Clawson, 2012). A successful global leader will have knowledge about this custom and be very well versed in negotiations when approaching the  table with perhaps far more experiences negotiators from other countries.

Human may be an odd characteristic but in McCall’s study refers to a global “sense of belonging” or the idea that “we are more alike than we are different” (Clawson, 2012). The global leader will be human, in reference to how they approach potential business deals, executives, or organizations. Having the “we are not so different” mindset can put both parties at ease when trying to reach an agreement.

Presence or charisma are traits of the successful global leader (Clawson, 2012). It is beneficial to the potential leader to cultivate certain beneficial mannerisms, overall confidence, and comfort under pressure. The most successful global leaders command the attention and respect of everyone in the room by their presence alone. Clawson (2012) states; “We may not like to believe that size, dress, speech, energy, and interest in others make a difference — but they do” (p. 193).

All of these traits and many more make up a successful global leader. Global leaders are most often high-energy people who are determined to make things happen internationally. Which to successfully accomplish that feat  will upon development of these 11 characteristics. For those of us not involved in international leadership these characteristics would be equally as valuable in domestic affairs.

Clawson, J. G. (2012). Level three Leadership: Getting below the surface (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.


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