What Helps Leaders to Be Effective on a Global Level…and What Doesn’t – Part I

Posted by WABC

By Jeremy Solomons

As business becomes more and more global, many organizations are asking themselves if an effective leader in one country or region can duplicate her or his success on a worldwide level?

For example, Lucia Mannone may have a proven track record in the southern European region, but is she still able to develop new client relationships, manage projects, and run teams in the very different markets of Latin America and East Asia? And if she can't, what is the best way to prepare her and other budding global leaders like her to be fully productive and effective in the future?

This is the first of three articles that will explore and explode some common myths around global leadership development and then come up with some alternative approaches that coaches can use to help all leaders be successful across international boundaries.

In order to do this, let's go back to Lucia. She is a 38-year-old Italian senior marketing officer for a German medical instrument company. The company headquarters are in Stuttgart and she is based in Milan. She has worked on Italian national accounts and then the southern European region for the last 12 years and her performance and that of her teams have been consistently high.

As her company is expanding in the key markets of Argentina, Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea, she is now being asked to take on a more global role. Her technical knowledge is beyond compare and her ability to motivate her colleagues has been demonstrated again and again, even during economic downturns and company restructurings. But she has not traveled much beyond the Mediterranean, except for a professional conference in Baltimore and family holidays in Phuket and Cancun.

For someone like Lucia, the first step is usually to help her become more "culturally competent," but this can be interpreted and realized in many different ways.

Myth 1: The Behavioral Approach

A typical way to launch "cultural competence" coaching might be for Lucia to read one or two of the many books or websites that outline all the things to do—and more importantly, not to do—in a particular country.

If Lucia is like most businesspeople and she does not want to give offense or look stupid, it might be very helpful for her to learn how to give someone a business card in Osaka or what not to discuss at an initial business lunch in Monterrey. All of these hints and tips can certainly help with those important first impressions, but what happens after you kiss, bow, or shake hands?

Lucia might have done her homework and diligently learned the top 50 or 100 or even 500 etiquette tips for working and communicating with Brazilians or Koreans, but what would she do in situation 501? Unfortunately, she would have no idea what to do or say, because the behavioral approach on its own only gives the "whats" and the "hows" but not the "whys." There is no context for the content. No framework for the structure.

Myth 2: The National Values Approach

In order to get at the "whys," Lucia might then be directed to some well-grounded research on the differences between national values. The innovative works of Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars are frequently studied during this stage of global leadership development.

Through her reading, Lucia will probably be delighted to discover that the traditional importance that Italians place on such values as family, relationships, creativity, aesthetics, love, passion, and even calcio (football/soccer) are also shared by Brazilians. She might be surprised to find out that the Chinese value "face"—social harmony and personal honor-just as the Italians do. In China, it is called mianzi and in Italy, bella figura. And she might appreciate the warning that "respect" does not mean the same thing in Mexico as it does in Italy or that the Japanese are much more concerned with centralized authority than the autonomy-loving Italians.

Similarly, explanations of the different concepts of "quality" and "seriousness" in Germany and Italy might shed  light on some long-running tensions with certain people in the Stuttgart headquarters. But this approach can only help so far, because it is based on a rather dangerous assumption: that everyone—or even most people—within a national culture will conform to the norms of that culture.

This is a particularly dubious claim in the vibrant cultures of international business and among young people, where change is a constant and deviation from the norm is much more prevalent.

On an individual level, Engineer Lee may not be very Korean in his value system, because he studied for his undergraduate degree at Delft University in the Netherlands and his master's degree at MIT in Boston. And Señor Trujillo may not be very Mexican as he grew up in seven different countries on three continents as his mother was a diplomat.

And what about Lucia herself?

At first glance, it would seem that she is typically Italian, having lived and worked there her whole life apart from her frequent business trips around Europe and a few work and pleasure jaunts beyond the continent.

But what if you knew that she was an orphan from North Africa, who was brought up by her nonna (adoptive grandmother) in a clean, safe, but very modest home in a small town outside Naples. As a math genius and natural athlete, she excelled in school and was the youngest MBA ever to graduate from the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan. She is now married to a struggling artist and has three young children, one of whom has cerebral palsy.

How might these unique environmental and genetic factors affect her personal value system and how she behaves and communicates with other people?

We will explore this and related issues in the next Global Leader Development article to be published in the June issue of BCW.

In the meantime, if you want to respond to any of the points raised in this column, please email the article author.


This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.


Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations across Nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Hofstede, G. (2005). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (Revised and expanded 2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hampden-Turner, C. and F. Trompenaars. Riding The Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

  Jeremy Solomons, is the UK-born and USA-naturalized founder and president of Jeremy Solomons & Associates, which helps current and future leaders to connect and communicate effectively across all cultures-national, organizational, professional, and individual. From his base in Austin, Texas, he coaches, consults, designs curriculum, facilitates, and trains in many areas of leadership. Contact Jeremy.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Sustainability—The Impossible Dream

Posted by WABC

By Jeffrey L. Balash

All of us are attempting to fight one of the key laws of nature in both our business and personal lives: its life cycle. This process of birthing, growing, maturing, and dying applies to everything in the universe-including our own sun. So when our leaders, in both business and government, refer to "sustainability," they are to be applauded for attempting to lengthen the life cycle. However, they still can't repeal this essential law of nature. This note explores the reasons why these life cycles occur as well as some brief thoughts about how to extend them.1

1. Inability to Persevere in Doing Things That We Don't Want to Do

We all talk about staying in shape and watching our weight to enjoy and to extend a healthy lifespan. However, obesity is epidemic in America. As a Hall of Fame tennis player explained to me: "I've trained hard for 20 years. I'm done and going to enjoy life." This world-class athlete had become obese and completely out of shape.

Similarly, as corporations grow and become successful, complacency sets in. The culture changes from the quick, lean culture of the initial employees to a much larger group who are attracted because the firm is a successful enterprise that offers potential for wealth and security and an "easy" job with an "entitlement" to all of the associated benefits.

So the "tough stuff" of watching costs, changing the business model to preserve market leadership, and being "paranoid", in the words of Andy Grove, are no longer done—or acceptable.

Potential solutions: The CEO and his/her team need to concentrate on maintaining the culture of the company through A) hiring only those people who will adapt to the culture and embrace it, and B) structuring the proper incentives to motivate employees to maintain that culture. They must recognize that employees who excelled at a particular position may not have the skills to operate optimally in that same position as the company grows and matures.

2. Inability to Recognize That the Game Has Changed

Andy Grove also observed that he was the last to know things as the CEO. Because senior management and government leaders are typically far removed from the "front lines," it's difficult for them to identify critical changes as early as possible. Similarly, many employees aren't creative thinkers. They merely carry out orders. Those who sound the early warning alarm are frequently "shot" as messengers of bad news.

Potential Solutions: Structure a fairly flat organization where information can flow to the top quickly. Establish a separate email address for each member of the senior management team that is different from his/her primary email address, so that rank-and-file employees can send emails directly and allow the sender to screen his/her email address, if desired. In this way, the sender will know that no reprisals will occur. An intranet employee chat room, once again allowing for anonymity, will let employees interact quickly on line so that new ideas can be exchanged and issues can come to the surface quickly. It will also allow the senior management team to learn how the company and themselves are viewed by employees.

3. Inability to Change Strategy Tactics Even Though the Change Has Been Recognized

Professor Clayton Christiansen of Harvard Business School has done exhaustive research in this area and in the area described above.2 Organizations are typically a prisoner of their own business models. To effect the necessary change is painful, requiring the adoption of an entirely new paradigm, which may entail reengineering, retraining, and restructuring (including layoffs). Most firms don't have the will to do this.

Potential Solutions: Accept the fact that "you need to do it to yourself-or it will be done to you." A company can either be a victim (as in the Big Three automakers) or a survivor (as IBM has expanded its business into the services area instead of continuing to concentrate primarily on hardware manufacturing). This not only demands a tough "look in the mirror" on a periodic basis and the will to do what has to be done; it also requires significantly different management talents and styles to maximize the profits of declining businesses. (These can remain high for a long period, if appropriately operated). These talents and styles are different than those operating in growth businesses or mature businesses. A company needs to have all three types of managers on its "pitching staff" (e.g., starter, middle relief, and closer) and to establish the appropriate incentives for each group.

4. Loss of Flexibility and Nimbleness as the Bureaucracy Grows

As a firm achieves ever greater success, it grows larger, less nimble, and more bureaucratic. Rules and procedures tend to be inflexible rather than adaptive. The behemoth can't move as quickly as the fox. When Intel switched from DRAM (dynamic random access memory) as its principal product to microprocessors, it took a year for Gordon Moore and Andy Grove to gain managerial acceptance of the new strategy.

Possible solutions: Organize the company to operate in smaller units, allowing it to be more nimble in its responses to challenges and change, as well as to attract and retain entrepreneurial managers. Delegate decision making downward, so that the decision chain is shortened and response time is improved. An interesting example is Johnson and Johnson, which permits its key managers to run their businesses on their own, except that they must get all significant capital expenditures approved by the CFO.

This note is brief of necessity. It can't possibly address all of the issues and potential solutions. I also don't have a monopoly on knowledge. Therefore, I would encourage comments, suggestions, and criticisms by the reader, which is how I learn and adapt to the changing environment as well.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

1 For a very thoughtful discussion of how our human "health span" can be maximized, please consider: Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge and the successor book: Younger Next Year for Women: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley, Henry S. Lodge, and Gail Sheehy (both, Workman, 2007). The strategies and tactics articulated in these books can frequently be mapped into business situations.

2 Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. Collins Business Essentials: 2003 (1997).

 Jeffrey L. Balash has created over $4 billion in value across five continents in different industries as an investment banker, strategist, operating executive, and investor. His experience includes seven startups. Contact Jeffrey.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

A New Twist on an Old Concept: Return on Crisis (ROC)

Posted by WABC

By Omar Khan and Maggie van de Griend

We've heard people saying "don't waste a crisis." There's something to that. When facing a crisis, we're inevitably invested in it, whether we'd like to be or not. The crisis influences the competitive landscape, our customers, our teams, our financial options, and so on. So how do we get the most out of the investment, the challenge, and the potential opportunities? How do we lead in order to get the best possible return on crisis (ROC)?

Leaders may wish the financial crisis hadn't happened on their watch. On the other hand, one of the key ways leaders are known is by the impact they have on a situation, on the value they add to whatever status quo is around. For leaders eager and willing to show their mettle, this may even be the best possible time. Winston Churchill once said that his entire life had been a preparation for this moment. "This moment" for him was World War II. For business leaders today, it may be what we are calling The Great Recession.

Why Do You Believe Getting a Return on Crisis Is Possible?

Return on crisis is possible. In fact, some of today's major companies were formed during deep recessions, including GE, Hyatt, Burger King, Federal Express, Microsoft, CNN, Intel, and Wikipedia. Some famous companies were born during the Great Depression, among them HP, Revlon, Fortune Magazine (marvelously ironic) and Motorola. And companies like Google and PayPal were able to drive dramatic growth even during the "bursting of the technology bubble."

Crisis does not have to demotivate our teams—it can, in fact, be leveraged better than any other circumstance to foster community when people are focused on a truly important, common bull's eye (if not utilized in this way, it can sadly lead to unproductive panic...a real danger many companies face today).

Common mistakes made by companies that can create difficulties include aiming for across-the-board measures that are dangerous. Judgments should be made on a value basis, not just a cost basis. So if a business unit is performing particularly well, a key brand delivers a big chunk of profitability, a sales executive has historically high closing rates but needs to travel to deliver this, or a service team excels in customer retention and loyalty, perhaps the organization should invest more in these areas rather than less.

The Container Store doubled its training budget postcrisis, arguing they couldn't afford to lose a single customer. But they focused this on service and sales. Non-business-critical investments should indeed be deferred. But that can't be decided by applying an across-the-organization axe.

There are risks as well. For instance, what if a particular newly formed team must perform for the business to have any chance of thriving, and that team is wasting time in pointless go-arounds and ineffective decision-making processes? Perhaps a team engagement conference based on business and interpersonal dialogue and relationship building should be a mandate during these times (even if other conferences in the company have been cancelled).

What if an organization loses the top 10% of its talent because they have decided to find a smaller shop with better work/life balance, head out on their own, or use this year for that long-awaited educational or travel sabbatical? What if a large part of the organization's institutional knowledge, know-how, and key relationships walks out with them? Maybe this is the year to improve employee value proposition.

What about the slump in productivity when people are overworked and under-rewarded? Finding innovative and affordable ways to say "thank you" should be an imperative during these periods. Such engagement and recognition of those who are delivering in tough times is now front and center, and rightly so, on leadership agendas around the world.

To get ahead of the curve and to improve ROC, there is one practical step that all companies would be well advised to take: gather the senior team to decide how they intend to lead at this time. What are some critical "big hits" not only in terms of playing defense but also in terms of making 2010 as productive and profitable as possible?

The team may also have to assess the quality of its own interaction. One of the largest costs in companies comes from the pass-off chains between departments and functions. Members of the team may have to investigate their relationships with each other as well as ensure that their energy is going toward leading the business in key ways for critical outcomes, rather than being squandered in turf protection or agenda promotion.

Equally, they may wish to look at things they can do to improve the business. For example:

  • How can they strengthen customer loyalty?
  • How can they make a compelling case to current non-buyers?
  • What new products or services can be created in light of emerging realities and needs?
  • How can unwanted turnover be reduced, while non-performers are replaced with top talent?
  • What are key corporate makeover areas that were always put on the back burner for lack of slack time?
  • Those with decent balance sheets also now have a chance to make acquisitions and to be market leaders as markets consolidate.

In short, if organizations don't take on some of the deeper destroyers of value, the hit they'll take in terms of "opportunity costs" and temporarily hidden costs (e.g., loss of talent, employee burn-out or apathy, customer defections, poor execution of key strategies due to infighting) will be far greater than any of the more obvious costs they may be taking out.

With ROC, our fundamental message to leaders is to seize the opportunities in this crisis that will bring people together, get them to own the challenges of today and to co-create solutions, thereby being "fit for growth" as the economic tides turn and we learn to create the future in these extraordinary contexts.

Let's really engage our leaders, our customers, our stakeholders. Let's make sure our organizational behaviors at this time are paving the kind of future we aspire to. Arguably at this time, that's not a merely "nice to have," but the very essence of the leadership required.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

Omar Khan is senior partner of Sensei International, a global leadership consulting firm.  He is the author ofLiberating Passion: How The World's Best Global Leaders Produce Winning Results and The Global Consultant. Contact Omar.

Margreet (Maggie) van de Griend is a senior partner at Axialent. Her consulting and facilitation are aimed at creating business value through effective corporate culture and human capability. Contact Maggie.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Leadership Development Now

Posted by John Baldoni

By John Baldoni

"It is so obvious that something big has failed," said the dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Angel Cabrera. "We cannot say, ‘Well, it wasn't our fault' when there is such a systemic, widespread failure of leadership." Dr. Cabrera is making the case for revising the curricula of business schools since to some, like him, as well as others quoted in a New York Times article1, it is obvious that schools prepare students to manage, but not to lead. Ethics and responsibility need to be instilled. For example, take the concept of risk management. The question should not be how much risk is feasible, but rather how much risk is ethical, especially in the case that our projections are wrong. That is the domain of leadership, since so much of leadership is about doing what is right for the organization and its stakeholders.

Business school reform may come, but it will not be soon enough for the up-and-coming generation of MBA-equipped managers already in the field. Something is needed now and the good news is that the current economic crisis is the optimal time to implement leadership development initiatives. Skeptics will push back with issues related to two issues: time and funding. Let's address each.

The time is now. Crises should provide a desire for individual initiative. The best leadership development programs are those that accelerate the experience of leading others for intended results. Managers can replicate the experience by providing their high-potentials with opportunities to receive cross-functional training as well as to take on new assignments outside of their individual specialties. If the manager coaches his or her people through these experiences, he or she is providing a hands-on leadership experience.

The cost is variable. Many companies are employing a "do not waste this crisis" imperative to reduce costs, but such a mantra could also be applied to investing in the future. While the ideal leadership development programs combine internal efforts at a corporate university with external offerings at business schools, it is possible to either scale back the spending, or employ one or the other. If formal programs are not feasible, then organizations can provide coaching services.

There is a third issue, and rather than an obstacle it is an opportunity: innovation. History teaches us that organizations that stand the test of time are those that adapt. Creativity is essential and should not be considered an expense. So consider the possibility of bringing back retired executives to mentor and coach next-generation leaders. These veterans have survived similar crises and undoubtedly would be pleased to share their wisdom.

Some organizations, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal,2 are already seeing the benefit of leadership development efforts. While training budgets have been cut, companies such as Philips Electronics NA, Estee Lauder Cos., and Canon USA are continuing their leadership development efforts with either internal or external offerings. These companies and others are investing in grooming the next generation of leaders because they realize that the future of business depends on having talented and tested leaders in place.

There is another reason to invest in leadership development. Companies that invest in their people during hard times may be more likely to retain them when good times return. How much better will it be to have a new generation of leaders who have been tempered and wizened by tough times already in place to take the organization forward? These will be leaders who have figured out how to help the organization survive and many will have the drive to help it thrive. Lose them at your peril. Invest now in leadership development.

1 Kelley Holland, "Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?" New York Times, March 14, 2009,

2Dana Mattioli, "Despite Cutbacks, Firms Invest in Developing Leaders," Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2009,https://www.thepartnershipinc.org/pdf/WSJarticle021009.pdf.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 3). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

John Baldoni is an internationally acclaimed leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. He is the author of many books on leadership. His newest book isLead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up(AMACOM, 2009). Website: www.johnbaldoni.com. Contact John.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.