Global Leadership Competencies


Theories and models of leadership are like snowflakes…

History of Leadership Thinking

At one time people believed that leaders were “born, not made”, that certain inherited personality traits made them naturally great. However, when researchers began seeking evidence of this, the belief quickly proved to be false.

Researchers then began to ask questions like: “What do leaders do?” (Hemphill & Coons, 1957). The thinking was that people can learn or be trained to become leaders. And research led to the identification of various categories of leadership behavior.

Fred Fiedler (1967) was one of the earliest researchers to investigate a situational approach to leadership. He showed that, to be most effective, leaders need to adapt their behavior to changing situations.

From the 1980’s onwards there have been many more studies into what interaction of traits, behaviors, situations, and so on, allows people to lead most effectively. Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus (1985), believed in “transformational leadership”, and developed the four I’s:

  1. Idealized Influence (leader as a a role model)
  2. Inspirational Motivation (generate team spirit, motivate, and provide meaning and challenge)
  3. Intellectual Stimulation (build creativity & innovation)
  4. Individual Consideration (leader as mentor)

Kouzes and Posner (1987) did extensive research into leadership and developed another model, their “five practices” are:

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enable Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart


Even though there are many minor differences between theories, or brands of leadership models, most share some common themes:

  • Everyone has leadership potential
  • The leader must have values and integrity
  • The leader is a steward or trustee of the organization
  • Leader must model the way forward
  • They influence through vision rather than power
  • Leaders use transformational language, and behavior
  • Leaders must be key participants in teams
  • Empowerment of followers is essential
  • Authority should be shared and distributed throughout an organization


Competency Models

Leadership competencies are leadership skills and behaviors that contribute to improved performance.  Competency-based models of leadership, while not completely free of criticism, do enable organizations to identify high potentials and develop their next generation of leaders.[i]

Basic Leadership Competencies

Researchers have identified essential leadership competencies that are consistent across organizations.  These are divided into three categories: leading the organization, leading the self and leading others in the organization (see below).[ii]

When selecting and developing leaders, one needs to consider the competencies that the individual currently possesses and those that need further development for success in a leadership role.

Leading the organization:

  • managing change
  • solving problems and making decisions
  • managing politics and influencing others
  • taking risks and innovating
  • setting vision and strategy
  • managing the work
  • enhancing business skills and knowledge
  • understanding and navigating the organization

Leading the self:

  • demonstrating ethics and integrity
  • displaying drive and purpose
  • exhibiting leadership stature
  • increasing your capacity to learn
  • managing yourself
  • increasing self-awareness
  • developing adaptability
  • communicating effectively
  • developing others
  • valuing diversity and difference
  • building and maintaining relationships
  • managing effective teams and work groups

Leading others:

  • communicating effectively
  • developing others
  • valuing diversity and difference
  • building and maintaining relationships
  • managing effective teams and work groups

Global Leadership Competencies

Developing successful global leaders provides a competitive advantage for multinational organizations.[iii]  Global leaders face unique challenges that require additional competencies: managing a diverse group of employees and business processes; adaptively approaching problems and challenges; adjusting to new values and cultures; and adapting to different types of business and personal pressures.[iv]


To address the unique challenges of global leaders, researchers have identified global leadership competencies that can contribute to success.  Among these global competencies,

  • Developing a global mindset
  • Cross-cultural communication skills
  • Respecting cultural diversity

are critical to success in the global environment.[v]

Morgan McCall and George Hollenback studied many successful global leaders and developed a list of common competencies specific to the global leader.[vi]

Global Executive Competencies

  • Open-minded and flexible in thought and tactics
  • Cultural interest and sensitivity
  • Able to deal with complexity
  • Resilient, resourceful, optimistic and energetic
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Stable personal life
  • Value-added technical or business skills


Do you have what it takes?

[i] Brownwell, J.  (2006, Fall).  Meeting the competency needs of global leaders:  A partnership approach.  Human Resources Management, 45(3), 309-336.

[ii] Adapted from McCauley, C.  (2006).  Developmental assignments:  Creating learning experiences without changing

[iii] Caligiui, P.  (2006).  Developing global leaders.  Human Resource Management Review, 16,  219-228.

[iv] Kramer, R.  (2005).  Developing global leaders:  Enhancing competencies and accelerating the expatriate experience.  New York:  The Conference Board.

[v] Rosen, R., Digh, R., Singer, M. & Phillips, C.  (2000).  Global literacies:  Lessons on business leadership and national cultures.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.

[vi] McCall, M., & Hollenbeck, G.  (2002).  Developing global executives:  The lessons of international experience.  Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Publishing.