Global Leadership Competencies

What characteristics define an effective leader in today’s dynamic global business environment? International companies look for individuals with the right combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities useful in conducting business toward achieving company goals. This combination is referred to as global leadership competencies. By using a competency-based approach, multinational enterprises are better equipped to meet current and future global challenges.

Essential Competencies

What are essential competencies? To be sure, the academic literature has produced a surplus of them, many of which overlap and build on domestic ones. On the whole, academics and practitioners both recognize global leadership competencies within three core categories:

  1. business and organizational acumen
  2. managing people and relationships;
  3. managing one’s self

Composite competencies delineated from the first category include vision and strategic thinking as well as leading change; from the second category, cross-cultural skills and empowering others; and from the third category, character, resilience, and developing a global mindset.1 Thus, some key focal areas for achieving global competency include developing business strategy, cultural intelligence, and a global mindset.

Global strategy involves knowing how to create and capture value across borders. A strategic leader needs to understand how to align the firm’s strategy and structure, and how to deliver on the mission and vision to achieve a competitive advantage. Cultural intelligence includes relating to and working effectively in culturally diverse situations, and the ability to cross boundaries and prosper in multiple cultures, reflecting cultural agility. Cultural intelligence entails developing behavioral, motivational, and metacognitive abilities. A global mindset is found in a leader who recognizes “the need for global integration and local responsiveness and works to optimize this duality. The global mindset includes an appreciation for diversity as well as homogeneity and openness to learning from everywhere.”2

Developing Competencies

Can managers at any level develop their leadership competencies further? The answer is “yes!” Developing these competencies can be accomplished through formal learning (in-class programs) and experiential learning (accepting assignments abroad, or working on a global project with international colleagues). Proven and effective methods include expatriate assignments, mentoring and coaching, executive education, and traditional seminars and workshops. According to a survey of senior executives, 76 percent believe their companies need to develop global leadership competencies, but only 7 percent think they are doing so effectively.3 Given that many organizations are lagging in efforts to identify and prepare future leaders, incorporating programs that provide training in global leadership competencies is warranted.


Global leadership competencies should be honed and upgraded continuously to meet the needs of multinational enterprises. A competency-based approach can provide a framework for consideration of essential global leadership proficiency within the areas of business and organizational acumen (strategic thinking), managing people and relationships (cross-cultural skills), and managing one’s self (developing a global mindset), to advance global leadership within multinational firms.


  • Global leadership competencies represent the combined set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that constitute effective leadership within an organization.
  • Certain competencies are considered essential and involve strategic thinking, cultural intelligence, and a global mindset.
  • Developing competencies is possible at any level and should include a combination of formal, developmental, and experiential learning.

  1. Bird, A. 2018. Mapping the content domain of global leadership competencies. In M.E.

Mendenhall, J.S. Olsland, A. Bird, G.R. Oddou, M.J. Stevens, M. Maznevski, & G.K. Stahl (Eds.), Global leadership: Research, practice, and development, 3rd edition. 119–142. New York: Taylor & Francis.

  1. Pucik, V. 2006. Reframing global mindset: From thinking to acting. In W.H. Mobley & E.

Weldon (Eds.), Advances in global leadership, Volume 4: 83–100. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

  1. Ghemawat, P. 2012. Developing global leaders: Companies must cultivate leaders for global

markets. McKinsey Quarterly, 3: 100–109.



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