We’ve discussed distance in relation to a global leadership development program, but let’s take the discussion a little deeper. When training for leadership across cultures, it’s necessary to be mindful of the fact that the concept and definitions of leadership may be different across cultures. And before we proceed, let’s define a “culture”. In the sense of training and development, a culture is the attitudes, experience, and work styles of any like group of people. For example, your organization may be located only in one geographical location but may have various cultures in existence. That’s why a discussion of global leadership development can apply to any organization, regardless of geographic factors.
Along these lines, be aware that there are differences in cultures not only within one geographic location but also in varied geographic locations-even within the same country. For example, work styles and attitudes are different in South Florida than they are in the Mid-Southern states, and so on. Of course, world cultures may be completely different, even if everyone works for the same organization. All of these factors will contribute to the definition of leadership and therefore into the definition of your leadership development program.
The first step in defining leadership within the organization is to go to the very top, such as the executive team or the training department’s executive sponsor. These groups typically can create a profile of a leader within your organization. What traits, attitudes, and education create that profile? If a person wants to be a part of the succession plan, how can he or she create a self-development plan to get there? Does the organization believe that leadership can appear at all levels, and in all forms, such as high-professional and high-potential leaders? Once this general profile is created, you can move on to the definition of leadership across the cultures that exist in your organization.
The next step in the definition of leadership is to take the overall leadership profile and “test” it on the leaders of other parts of the organization. If you haven’t defined the “other parts” of the organization, do that first. For example, is the organization divided into business units that spread across geography, or is each geographical location a division unto itself, with its own business units? Once you have that frame to work with, you can go to existing leaders and ask them how the overall organization’s definition of leadership fits in with their culture. Those leaders may want to add characteristics that accurately reflect their culture, however, try not to subtract any characteristics that already exist. If the profile that you’ve already created doesn’t mesh well with other leaders’ definitions, then you may have more than a training issue at hand.
Another way to get a good view of leadership around your organization is to do some assessment and research yourself. For example, if your organization has operations in Asia, it’s probably a good idea to do some general research on business attitudes in the particular country or countries you’re working with. If you already have contacts in the business units across the organization, use those contacts to discover what attitudes currently exist in the business units. Once you have your profiles pulled together, you’ll be able to figure out the basis for the definition of leadership at your organization. In addition, you’ll have a leadership definition that will work across the cultures that exist, even if you have to add to that leadership profile.
As you are creating your organization’s definition of leadership, remember that you are starting a global program that should have a long-term reach. Try not to begin building the leadership development program until you have solidified your organization’s definitions of leadership across cultures. Obviously the definition of leadership will change as the organization changes priorities and goals. With that in mind, ensure that each leadership definition creates a profile of a person who can help the organization meet its overall mission. Once you have these definitions, you have overcome one of the major challenges to global leadership development.