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Four tips for global executives

Practising global leadership is important, but difficult. A new survey offers four tips to help executives in the international marketplace.
How to be a succesful global leader? A new report points out, that some important factors are the ability to lead employees and execute strategy.

Af Liv Thøger, Danielle Bjerre Lyndgaard og Felix Stark mail

Danish growth and competitiveness depend on how Danish businesses do in the global marketplace in an international environment characterised by fierce competition.

This is one of the reasons that the Danish Industry Foundation has contributed almost DKK 6 million to the Global Leadership Academy project.

The project includes the publication of a report that indicates that a great need exists for improving the global leadership skills of Danish business executives. The report also points to a range of tools that can be used to generate improvement and good results.


“One of the most important factors affecting the ability of businesses to generate results worldwide is their ability to lead employees and execute strategy and thereby create results in a global context. Good leadership is vitally important,” says Mads Lebech, CEO of the Danish Industry Foundation.

See also: Danish executives lack global training

Global leaders left to fend for themselves

Many Danish business executives who participated in the survey feel that they have been given global management responsibilities without being offered development of the skills needed to succeed in a global leadership role.

They are in a way ‘self-made’ which may prove to be untenable in the long term and expensive in the short.

“The situation facing each global executive is very specific and businesses are finding it difficult to identify a formula for how best to develop the leadership skills of their global executives in a way that makes sense to each person individually,” says Flemming Poulfelt, professor at Copenhagen Business School and one of the main drivers behind the Global Leadership Academy.

Shortage of skills across time and space

The report indicates that global leaders often lack:

1. Basic leadership skills when it comes to leadership across business areas that may be competing with each other.

2. Skills to create synergies and take advantage of cultural differences.

3. Skills to lead employees who work in different time zones, spaces and geographical locations.

Some of the executives participating in the survey questioned the corporate programmes that some of them are offered as these programmes are often far too generic and do not take into account individual skills development requirements.

To try to address this challenge, the report introduces three different categories of global leader: the HQ Matrix Leader, the Globalist and the Classic Expatriate.

Mapping the need

The first category covers executives who work from headquarters in Denmark and take on a global role.

The second category covers executives who have responsibility for a subsidiary abroad and focus on language and cultural adaptation.

The third category covers executives who work outside Denmark and are responsible for bringing the company’s business activities together across national borders.

“These represent three types of global executive who face very different challenges. This is something businesses and their HR departments should be clear about when they plan measures designed to equip these leaders for their roles. It is also important to map the internal and external factors that affect the business when the need for development of executives is to be defined,” says Bente Toftkær, manager of the Management Development and Productivity Unit at the Confederation of Danish Industry.

Four tips for global executives

A summary of the results of the report can be encapsulated in four tips for businesses wanting to consolidate the skills of their global executives:

The first tip is to clarify to which of the three categories the executives belong. This generates reflection and a basis for discussion of skills and development requirements.

The second tip is that the executive who is to be equipped for his/her global role should discuss the skills required for that particular position with his/her superior.

The third tip is an extension of the second tip and is that the global executive should discuss how these skills are to be achieved in consultation with his/her superior and HR department.

The fourth and final tip is that the global executive, irrespective of the category to which he/she belongs, should find someone with global experience to use as a sounding board in order to ensure that lessons can be learnt from the situations and challenges faced by the executive.

“It sounds easier than it really is. If we had to say something very general, it would be that both time and resources need to be invested to create good global business executives. If this is done, there is a high probability that the investment will prove to be a very sound one,” says Bente Toftkær.

Read the report: 'Global leadership practice and development revisited' 

The three new global leadership types:

1: HQ Matrix leaders are characterised by:

Working in Danish headquarters (HQ) or equivalent

Dividing their time between tasks that are 80% global and 20% local

Main responsibilities include development and implementation of concepts from the HQ to the rest of the organisation

2: Classic Expatriates are characterised by:

Having responsibility for a single subsidiary outside Denmark with tasks that are 20% global and 80% local

Focusing on language ability and cultural adaptation

Their main tasks are setting up new processes, balancing an entrepreneurial spirit while still working according to group policies and processes, recruiting locally, onboarding expatriates and acting as a link between HQ and subsidiary.

3: The Globalist is characterised by:

Being located outside Denmark with responsibilities that entail both global group responsibilities and regional responsibilities of significant geographical scope where the distribution is 60% global and 40% local (regional).

Acting as ‘head’ of the group in the region and acting as the link between HQ and subsidiaries in the region.

Their main duties are about having a wide reach in their control and accountability for large geographical areas, fulfilling a variety of management roles while travelling frequently. Typical duties include due diligence and leadership tasks associated with mergers and acquisitions.

If we had to say something very general, it would be that both time and resources need to be invested to create good global business executives. If this is done, there is a high probability that the investment will prove to be a very sound one.
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PUBLISHED: 10/13/2016 LAST MODIFIED: 4/8/2017