The Top 10 Skills of Global Leadership

Leadership in the global era

What is “global leadership?” 

While there is no formal definition yet, ChatGPT offers this perspective: 

Global leadership refers to the ability to navigate and influence across different cultures, countries, and organizations in a way that promotes positive change on a global scale. It involves understanding and addressing complex global challenges, such as climate change, poverty, and political conflicts, while fostering collaboration and cooperation among diverse stakeholders. Global leaders possess qualities such as open-mindedness, cultural intelligence, empathy, and strategic thinking. They leverage their knowledge, skills, and networks to inspire and empower others to work toward a shared vision of a better world.

I would add that global leaders are willing to forge ahead into the unknown; they’re willing to take risks while being agile and humble; and they’re in a constant state of applying wisdom and learning. Most importantly, they’re willing to take others along on this learning journey. 

Global leadership has been primarily focused on the external influencers of business growth—global-local markets, consumers, customs, regulations, and politics that influence new business. Meanwhile, domestic business culture has been evolving: There has been a groundswell to focus on the employee experience and human-centered approaches to growth and culture. 

As we’re now firmly in a global era of business, it’s time for global leaders to add cultivating global culture to their dossier. 

So, what are the top skills necessary for effectively leading and developing culture in the global era? While knowledge-based skills like strategic thinking are important, this list also highlights the “soft” skills crucial to succeed in today’s global workplace—characteristics like empathy, trust-building, and emotional intelligence.

The Top 10 Skills for Leading People and Culture in the Global Era

1. A clear vision for goals and a shared purpose: An important objective for any leader is to identify goals, communicate them clearly, and disseminate them effectively. Employees are more engaged, united, and productive when goals are clearly communicated and when they believe in a shared purpose for their work. This becomes even more imperative for global leaders striving to create an engaged global culture. 

2. Ability to foster talent: Recruiting, fostering, and retaining talent is essential when building any company—domestically or globally. Talent that is recognized, nurtured, and valued is a pivotal element of a human-centered organization and culture, and supports the bottom line (turnover is proven to be a financial drain). Global leaders and HR teams need to recruit local talent to help engage and support the communities where they’re based, but they also need to foster internal and worldwide talent to encourage cultural intelligence and a global mindset. Today, as the labor shortages continue, it’s become increasingly important to identify talent from within the company.   

3. Innovative thinking: Global expansion requires innovative thinking to achieve success in new markets and when building and adapting business culture. Frameworks, such as human-centered design or Design Thinking, can help you foster innovation. This method encourages collaboration among local and global teams as they ideate to evolve products and develop new ones and to help elevate and connect cultures.  

4. Adaptability and agility: When venturing into the global marketplace, businesses will usually have set goals in mind and a preconceived path to achieving those goals. The power of being an agile leader is knowing that business—like life—is unpredictable, especially when venturing into new and untested territories. An agile leader understands that overcoming obstacles requires adaptability to find alternate paths to your company’s goals. Pat Wadors, chief people officer at UKG, illustrates this point well. “The agile leader knows that they are on the right mountain (their goal), but the path to climb that mountain might change along the way,” explains Wadors. 

5. Accountability: There is almost nothing more detrimental to business success than an unaccountable leader. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition of accountability is the “obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.” In today’s workplace, accountability in leadership begins with knowing how to serve your team well for their shared goals, and with authenticity, vulnerability, and transparency. The success of an individual, a workstream, a team, or an organization is directly proportional to a leader who takes responsibility for their actions. Only when we are accountable as leaders—admit to mistakes and fallibility—do we make room to learn, evolve and grow for our people.

6. Emotional intelligence: Dr. Jarik Conrad, executive director of The UKG Workforce Institute, describes emotional intelligence as “understanding how emotions influence (and often cloud) your thinking and being able to adjust your behavior accordingly, as well as reading and responding to people well.” It is also about the effort made and the ability to see varying perspectives. Leaders need to listen to those with different opinions and backgrounds in order to grasp the greater landscape of people and ideas that make up their business culture. 

7. Active, deep listening skills: It takes a capable, confident leader to actively listen for opportunities coming from others versus silencing or naysaying. According to Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place To Work, listening is the number one high-trust leadership behavior. This is because employees can easily recognize when leaders are actually listening to them, and this leads to greater trust and a more engaged workforce. “True listening requires humility, vulnerability, and empathy.” People tend to think of listening as reactive, but really it “should be proactive.” Global leaders should seek opportunities and make themselves available to listen to their employees and teams that span across oceans and borders. For example, a global leader needs to hear if goals are being clearly defined at every level or whether or not the company culture is creating a sense of belonging and engagement. Active listening leads to learning what is being missed and what opportunities are waiting in the wings.  

8. Cultural intelligence & DEI&B training: We know the importance of DEI&B to culture and in creating a workplace that is inclusive, embraces diversity, and fosters belonging for all. “Creating a culture of trust and belonging is about taking action every day to build an environment where all your people can bring their whole selves to work, feel uniquely supported, and have opportunities to grow and thrive,” says Erika Sandoval, senior partner of the Strategic Advisory Group at UKG, who has worked with multinational organizations around the world. “From a global perspective, this means that effective leaders need to understand how to leverage multicultural perspectives, provide a voice to international and multicultural populations, and foster cross-cultural interactions in their organizations that extend beyond a U.S.-focused lens.” 

When leaders are building a global business culture, they must also proactively grow their cultural intelligence, and make the effort to study and interact with local communities to ensure that sense of inclusion and belonging. They must learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they navigate new situations, and to grow and evolve as their new community and business requires.

9. A growth mindset: Taking a company global comes with risk. Expanding a business globally requires advance planning, but leadership also needs to be able to adapt to change once on the ground. That is why leaders who are or want to go global must have a growth mindset. They need to be able to see mistakes or the need for change as an opportunity to grow and learn, and failure or obstacles as springboards to success. They also need to be able to embrace new tools and advancements, such as artificial intelligence.  

10. (Last, and perhaps most obvious,) a global mindset: When we cross borders we tend to consider that customs, culture, and language may change but we don’t always hold in mind that talent development, technology, operations, processes, health benefits, payroll, and compliance often look different as well. As we grow into a global community, it is vital for all businesses to hold this at the forefront of learning to meet their employees in a place that fosters growth.

How HR can take the lead when expanding business in the global era

This is not only the global era, but the era of prioritizing company culture and creating the human-centered organization as well. And it is Human Resources (HR) that has been at the center of this evolution, as the Golden Age of HR came into full effect over the past five years. It is HR professionals who have been navigating the needs of the remote and hybrid workplace while grappling to recruit, retain and develop talent in the wake of disrupted workforces and the intense ebb and flows of talent drought. 

They are using their experience and wisdom to aid in the development of HCM software and frameworks that are more employee-centric. It is a natural progression that as global companies prioritize culture when developing new business, successfully positioned companies will place HR teams on the frontlines when expanding globally. (Therefore, treat your HR team well!) 

On those frontlines, HR teams must be empowered to identify and recruit leaders on a global scale. This naturally starts with agency in team building: identifying, recruiting, and developing talent locally in addition to connecting the right global talent—both in person and remotely. HR teams also need the opportunity to learn about local cultures, customs and laws to integrate into global HCM frameworks, but their primary focus will always be unifying a global culture for all. 

Leaders can look to HR to help develop a holistic, cohesive framework that unites employees worldwide under the global brand, creating a global workforce community. 

Global leadership addressing payroll 

Until fairly recently, most global companies processed their payroll locally and manually, as the differences in compliance, taxes, regulations, and methods of delivery were too diverse to be centralized. However, keeping payroll at the local level has not spared global companies from mistakes, fines, or delayed wages, which have hurt company reputations on the local and global level and negatively affected their bottom line. It’s time to evolve our payroll systems. 

The advancement of payroll technology and the launch of platforms, such as UKG One View, make the option of global payroll a reality for all businesses. Investing in global payroll is another way businesses are putting the employee experience first. Prioritizing payroll acknowledges that it is actually “at the heart of” a company’s “entire operation.” Companies with a reputation for strong global payroll may also find it easier to attract and hold on to the best employees. A global platform ensures that wages are delivered on time to all employees and are taxed properly by region. It will also help the business’s bottom line by assuring local laws and compliance rules are followed correctly. 

Global payroll is also another example of why HR teams should take the lead when companies go global. As payroll platforms look to a future where payroll is integrated with HCM, HR and payroll will become intrinsically linked. This collaboration will also help to further advance culture, by helping to improve the employee experience with greater wage security, employee data security and autonomy. 

A true global business era

Global business has been a buzzword for decades—so why are we saying that we are now finally immersed in that era? Because it is only in the last several years that all of the necessary components have been identified and gone into implementation stages. The changes to workforce and leadership priorities in a post-pandemic world and the normalization of a hybrid and remote work landscape are crucial pieces of a true global business era. The rise of social media as a global force that creates worldwide connections in people’s daily lives is another key ingredient. We needed to develop the technologies that could support advanced payroll and HCM platforms and enable HR teams and other leaders to create the best employee experience into those platforms. 

The most important piece to fall into place over the past decade was the evolution of leadership and business culture that focuses on the human-centered organization. This evolution was necessary to nurture true global leaders who can understand and bring all these pieces together to create thriving global business cultures. 

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