5 essential leadership skills for thriving in a global market

Samantha Caine

Blog post by Samantha Caine

Samantha Caine, is the Client Services Director at Business Linked Teams and has over 20 years experience working as a strategic training and recruitment expert for a variety of international businesses. She works with organisations to develop interactive, training solutions and oversees the implementation of global sales and leadership programmes that are aligned with leading edge thinking from across the world


23rd July 2019

Whether we like it or not, global political upheaval is having a noticeable impact on the way we do business. From Brexit to the trade wars between US and China, the global business landscape is changing. 

It’s evident in the recent headlines that global businesses are weighing up different options to remain agile. From manufacturers moving facilities to countries that are more economically viable, to concern over the impact changing rules around free movement on the sector’s growing skills gap, it’s clear that we are entering an era of uncertainty.

One thing is for certain – businesses will require strong leadership to ensure resilience in the face of uncertainty. There are many skills that leaders need in order to be effective. These are the top five skills that are particularly relevant to leaders operating in a global market place: 

1.  Communicate Value

Whether it be with team members, project stakeholders or customers, the global leaders of tomorrow need to be able to identify and sell the value of what they are doing. They need to be able to move beyond merely expressing what is going to happen to communicating in a way that takes full account of where the other party is, what the impact of the situation is going to be and how it will add to that person’s life, job, project or business. These abilities could almost be described as ‘commercial’ attributes. Put simply, it’s about selling the benefit in a way that is instantly beneficial to the other party.

2.  Lead People Through Change

Constant change is now a given. There is no way of stopping it and all the research would suggest that change is only going to become more intense. Leaders will need to be able to use a range of people management skills to coach and manage their teams to handle all types change. Some of that change they will be driving but more often than not, it will be change that they are simply having to respond to. It’s essential that leaders maintain the operational activity of their team whilst embracing the changes that they will inevitably experience.

3.  Place the Customer at the Centre of the Business Process

Businesses across the world are looking for ways to differentiate themselves so that customers choose them. There has been a growing realisation that this can no longer be solely the responsibility of the sales function. Successful businesses of the future are reworking their entire business process by placing the customer at the centre of all activity, not just sales activity. In reality, what this means is that leaders in every function, not just customer facing functions, will need to be able to align their strategy, business objectives and team workload to reflect what the customer wants.

4.  Work with Local Cultures

In a global operating environment, there is always a push towards harmonisation of processes, of values and of ways of working. In many ways this is a good thing but there is always the risk that harmonisation goes too far, to the point of diluting local understanding and the ability of businesses to flex to match local operating environment. The leaders of tomorrow need to be skilled in transferring global expertise to a local workplace. They need to be able to translate approaches and values to whichever environments they find themselves in.

5.  Embrace Digitalisation

The speed of digitalisation is constantly increasing. What was new yesterday will be out of date tomorrow and yet it can’t be escaped. Whether technologically driven or not, leaders in a global market place will need to learn both how to embrace technological change that is imposed on them and even more so, how to leverage technology in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Instilling These Behaviours in Your Leaders

A leadership development programme is the most effective way to instil these skills within future leadership. But what makes an effective leadership programme? It should centre around these four steps:

1.  Build the Programme Around Your Business Strategy

The single most important driver behind your leadership training programme should be your business strategy. Businesses will only succeed and grow if they have the best leaders with the right skills and capabilities that make them able to implement it.

In practical terms this means that the content of any leadership development programme should be directly linked to what Leaders need to deliver for their business. For example, if your business strategy is about long-term innovation, you may want to ask whether your leaders are able to innovate themselves? And then you may want to consider whether that’s the most important thing or is it more important that they have the skills and processes to inspire and enable their teams to be innovative? Do they understand the organisational culture that’s required to foster an innovative environment and can they create that for their teams?

Being able to recognise and identify what skills Leaders actually need in order to implement business strategy isn’t always obvious. It’s key to remember that no Leader can implement a strategy themselves – it’s about identifying what skills they need in order to enable others to do it.

2.  Tailor Everything to the Business Environment          

Generic leadership programmes are everywhere in every format, and fundamentally the content is the same from one to the other. The key to a truly successful leadership training programme is tailoring the content and applying it to the business’ own operating environment, customers, products and processes.

For example, when you are training leaders how to coach, don’t just cover a generic coaching model; show them how it fits in the context of your business’s performance management process and give participants the opportunity to try out coaching within the very same framework. Challenge yourself to make sure that as well as the theoretical coaching steps that they need to go through, leaders know where to find development opportunities for their people in your organisation, so they understand how their coaching efforts contribute to the overall succession plan for the business. 

In the same example, even when it comes to developing activities, make sure your role plays are reflective of the jobs and people that they will have to coach to make sure that all of the learning opportunities are relevant and reflect the real world.

3.  Gain Support from Your Best People

One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make is to overlook the vast wealth of leadership expertise that they already have within the organisation. No one knows your people, processes, products, customers and challenges better than the people that are dealing with them on a daily basis and their expertise should be leveraged for the benefit of others.

For sure, you may not have expert leadership trainers and facilitators within your ranks but you do have very specialist stories and experiences that can be integrated within your leadership training. The very best leadership programmes are a seamless collaboration between external leadership trainers and internal experts who can help to bring content alive and to position it in the context of jobs that the leaders do today and will need to do in the future.

4.  Remember Development is a Journey

When developing a leadership training programme, it’s all too easy to get swept up with the content and the practicalities. It’s often a high profile project, with senior management’s eyes on it, so questions about guest speakers and impressive locations find themselves towards the top of the agenda as those responsible for developing the training seek to make an impact.

The trouble with this approach is that the essence of why there is a leadership training programme in the first place is lost. Developers forget that this is not about an exciting event and great photos and feedback reports at the end of the event. Any leadership training programme (and by that we mean face to face workshop), is simply part of a much longer leadership development journey and it’s essential it has a long-term impact. 

No one attends a training programme and becomes a great leader overnight - training programmes are simply interventions along the way and inputs of theory and practical skills that contribute to a leader’s toolbox. Your challenge in developing a truly effective programme is to make sure that the opportunities for development reach far beyond the limited amount of classroom time that you have allocated.

A successful leadership training solution should incorporate self-study, line manager coaching, peer support groups and regularly adjusted training plans. In essence, it’s about developing a programme that enables continuous leadership development, long after the trainer has packed up the flipchart and gone home.

By implementing an effective leadership development programme, businesses can ensure value is communicated, change is embraced, customers are placed at the centre of business processes, local cultures are understood and digitalisation is embraced. All of this will ensure resilient leadership in an uncertain future.