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Global Mobility Requires Intercultural Competency

Updated: May 23, 2023

Global Competencies Development, Part 1 of 2

Key competencies and meta-competencies for successful global leaders must prioritize both Inter-Cultural Intelligence and People Skills.

Each year, PricewaterhouseCoopers publishes a fascinating research report on the global movement of labor, "the future of work" as it were. When they surveyed the university graduates and college graduates that are currently in university and college, across the world, 70% of those anticipate some sort of overseas placement during their career. Such a high percentage is unprecedented, and it puts the theme of global leadership even higher on the agenda for consideration.

Global mobility is a tremendous asset—provided the globally mobile have also developed substantial intercultural competencies.

According to Forbes magazine, global mobility is a win-win for both the employee and the employer. In a 2013 article, a global talent management expert wrote,

But while university and advanced education may prepare students to meet today’s challenges, [they will] need real-world experience to advance their skills to thrive in a global economy and meet requirements of the future…. Professionals need to consider the skills they will need for the future to succeed. In a global business environment, cross-cultural proficiency—the kind gained through globe-trotting assignment—is at a premium. — Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith

The majority of global leadership competency frameworks that most Human Resources and Organizational Effectiveness departments seem to value most highly and endorse most avidly are outdated—typically more than 15-20 years old—and they address only a fraction of the competencies that global leaders hold in high esteem and high demand.

Leadership is a context-sensitive exercise that must be culturally adapted to its environment. Global leaders need to cultivate an ability to assess not only the evident, immediate context of the situation, but also the meta-context, all the cultural dynamics that are in play.

Historically, however, there have been limitations on the training and knowledgebase access that would best support global leaders in developing the competencies that are most important to their success.

Here's a challenge: Gather a group of accomplished global leaders and facilitate a brainstorming session. Ask them to list the competencies that they feel have been non-negotiable stepping stones to their success in global leadership. Then simply ask them to cross-reference this list with a list of competencies their organizations' HR/OE departments prioritize and provide training for. It is likely you will find a great discrepancy between the competencies HR/OE leaders typically champion versus the competencies global leaders themselves insist are actually beneficial, even crucial.

To give two examples: There is a glaring shortfall of HR/OE investment into both intrapersonal skills and Inter-Cultural Intelligence. Unfortunately, chronic tunnel-vision emphasis on old-school leadership development to the exclusion of more recent finds can set entire organizations back years (and potentially set them back monetarily, too). Senior managers miss out on the opportunity to gain a head-start on developing global leadership competencies that would give them credibility and a competitive edge in a worldwide theater.

Emotional Intelligence, mastering fear, self-awareness, managing conflict and incompatibilities, and being able to read others' behaviors and intentions—these are all competencies that can be developed and that are needful for successful global leadership roles.

Not just tacking on a few more skills

Dr. Stephen H. Rhinesmith, author of A Manager's Guide to Globalization, believes that to develop an effective global strategy and structure, and then to align and execute that strategy and structure through an appropriate corporate culture, we must conscientiously strive to develop global leadership competencies—intentionally cultivating a whole new way of looking at the world. Rhinesmith’s work focuses on how to navigate complexity, diversity, and uncertainty in varying economic and cultural environments.

A mindset is a way of being, not a set of skills. It is an orientation to the world that allows you to see certain things that others do not see. A 'global' mindset means that we scan the world from a broad perspective, always looking for unexpected trends and opportunities to achieve our personal, professional, or organizational objectives. — Stephen H. Rhinesmith

The Kozai Group’s Global Competencies Inventory (GCI) framework represents a beautiful overview of the competencies that are essential for global leaders. This GCI gives a foundational approach for the development that managers must seek proactively if they are serious about becoming successful global leaders.

Created in 2000, Kozai's GCI gauges Inter-Cultural Intelligence and People Skills across three categories: Perception Management, Relationship Management, and Self Management.

Perception Management includes areas such as non-judgementalism, tolerance of ambiguity, and cosmopolitanism. PM examines the way people think about others who don’t share their cultural norms, and how people behave toward others from different cultural paradigms. (PM would embrace the meta-competency of managing fear, overcoming internal and external obstacles to deal with issues courageously, swiftly, and accurately in spite of unfamiliar or uncomfortable circumstances.)

Relationship Management covers interpersonal engagements, self-awareness, and behavioral flexibility. The development of positive relationships in an intercultural environment is a critical aspect of effective performance in working globally and this area assesses our orientation toward the importance of relationships, attentiveness toward others’ interpersonal attributes that help nurture and maintain relationships, and awareness of our self-concept and the impact our behavior has on others. (As such, RM overlaps two meta-competencies—self-awareness, and the ability to identify potential commonalities and incompatibilities among colleagues or clients in multicultural contexts.)

Self Management includes areas such as self-confidence, emotional resilience, and stress management. To be effective in a global context, we must be able to understand and adapt to the foreign environment and its people, yet be able to maintain a stable sense of self in order to remain mentally and emotionally healthy, so this area assesses our strength of identity and belief in, and tendency to care for, the "self." (Like RM, SM overlaps the two meta-competencies of self-awareness, and a deep understanding of differences and similarities within a multicultural team. Someone who has developed these meta-competencies can help those they lead shore up weaknesses, capitalize on strengths, and navigate conflict to a satisfactory point of resolution.)

How can we cultivate Inter-Cultural Intelligence and advance the development of People Skills in global leaders?

Part 2 of this 2-part article will explore this question in detail. If you personally desire to become that talent who is globally mobile and poised for globally competent leadership, or if you are a decision-making leader in your organization and want to shift focus toward an intercultural perspective—contact us about developing the global competencies and meta-competencies that are imperative to the success of today’s global manager.


Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.



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