7 Skills for Global Leaders

Global business is nothing new. The Dutch East India Company and the Canton System of trade between the U.S. and China are historical examples of global business in action.

But while global business is not new to the 21st century, the scope is unprecedented.

The business conducted between countries today is far beyond anything in world history. Technology and the internet have smashed geopolitical barriers. That’s made the ability to operate globally critical for success in today’s economy.

This acute need has led to a global leadership gap. According to a 2018 global leadership report by DDI, The Conference Board and EY, 64% of C-level executives surveyed worldwide found that developing the next generation of leaders was their biggest concern. In the report, less than one-third of HR professionals stated that their organizations had a high level of leadership.

Here are seven skills current and aspiring global leaders should cultivate to fill the leadership gap.


Global leaders cannot become successful in cross-cultural work without first understanding the skill set they are starting with – their values, attitudes, biases, culture, leadership style and personal attributes. This type of deep self-awareness is needed to help a leader understand the deep-seated beliefs of others, which can open up more opportunities for business success.

Cultural Knowledge

It’s essential to understand not only the culture of other places but also the way that culture influences how business is conducted. Some experience overseas before taking on a global leadership role is helpful. Areas where you need to gain knowledge include cultural history, religions, beliefs, political systems, values and social rules and norms. This is an area that sometimes gets skipped over, but it’s an integral part of business strategy.

Managing Relationships

In the United States, both business leaders and workers tend to focus on a task-oriented approach to business. People are valued based on how well they accomplish tasks (and whether they do it on time and within budget). Global leaders need to adjust their thinking to a more relationship-oriented approach to business. Many places in the world base trust on relationships rather than tasks. What’s considered being lazy in the U.S. (getting together with co-workers and talking over a long coffee break) might be part of the workday in other parts of the world. Another issue is that businesspeople in many countries keep business deals within a circle of relatives and close friends.

Even the nature of what it means to be a “friend” can differ in different countries, many of which develop very, very deep relationships with friends. Global leaders must understand these nuances and know how to cultivate the right relationships when culturally appropriate.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Global leaders must adapt quickly. Dealing in global business is not like dealing with one supplier in Indiana and another in Texas. Leaders must develop flexibility in how they approach situations in different countries based on the local culture. This includes both their personal approach and the systems they put into place. What has worked for years in the U.S. might not work at all in parts of Europe or Asia.

Communicate Effectively

When it comes to global leadership, communication skills must be “refined to a higher level of sophistication,” Paul Abbot, EVP for American Express’ Global Commercial Payments, told Harvard Business Review. “If you don’t set the tone right from the top, nothing will ever happen.” This includes all forms of communication: in-person, via technology, on the telephone and in writing. Presentation skills need to be expert-level.

Global leader must also prepare for differences that can prove bewildering. For example, Harvard Business Review states that men in many markets are expected to deliver conclusions directly, while women are expected to guide listeners to a conclusion. Men in Hong Kong, China, India and Singapore take command of a room, while women in Japan, Brazil and Russia take command by facilitating dialogue between others.


Global leaders won’t succeed without developing a curiosity for other cultures and ways to do business in other parts of the world. It’s challenging enough to keep up with the evolution of culture and business in the United States. Without a commitment to learning, people will quickly fall behind in the rapidly changing global marketplace.


It’s important to manage a culturally diverse situation by balancing your own perspective against that of the other person’s point of view. This requires all the attributes listed above, just to achieve that balance. Doing so can lead to the ability to see the world through the viewpoint of someone from a different culture, which is one of the best strengths a global leader can have. It’s also critical for building and maintaining effective teams created with international employees.

These are some of the skills needed to succeed as a global leader. Developing these skills is part of Florida Tech’s Master’s in Organizational Leadership online program. Featuring courses such as Leadership in a Global Context and Leading Diverse Teams, this program provides the critical competencies needed to help you excel as a global leader. Learn more about the program here.

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