Character at heart of global leadership

Character at heart of global leadership

Stewart Black and Allen Morrison | Business | Sat, January 11 2014, 3:46 PM

Most people think that the higher you go, the more authority and control you have. But our research finds that in today’s complex, global environment, the higher you go, the more you get things done because of the goodwill and trust you develop, not because of your formal authority. Emotional connections
Global leaders need to establish personal, empathetic relationships with people from all backgrounds inside their company, and in the broader community. Doing this requires three distinct abilities: sincere interest in other people, a heightened ability to listen, and a strong capacity for understanding different viewpoints.
Sincere interest in others
Our research found that effective global leaders actually like people – all kinds of people. They enjoy talking with people and being around them. They care about people and want in some way to make their lives better. All of these attributes help them to form better business relationships, which are a critical part of doing business in many countries.
Genuinely listening to people
Being interested in people is not the same as genuinely listening to them. As one executive recently told us, “It can be too easy when you are in a leadership position to do all the talking.” Yet, for others to feel understood, leaders must excel at picking up verbal and non-verbal communications. They must also overcome the “everyone thinks the same” assumption, which suggests a superficial understanding of the aspirations, interests, and feelings of other people.
Understanding viewpoints
Understanding people requires leaders to relate personally to the lives of their employees, customers, and others who are relevant to the business. It means understanding context and, more specifically, how to provide appropriate leadership within it in whatever cultural context one finds oneself. Establishing emotional connections is an essential part of effective global leadership, but this is not the same as “going native”. Leaders who are interested in people, who are excellent listeners and who are familiar with local conditions and traditions do not have to become like the people they are with. While they need to keep an open mind, they should never forget who they are or what they represent.
Integrity forms the bedrock of character and is essential in establishing genuine emotional connections with people. We define integrity as having and demonstrating a strong commitment to personal and company standards. This includes ethical behavior as well as loyalty to the company’s agreed-upon values and strategy.Both personal and company standards are substantially more prone to compromise overseas. When far removed from corporate oversight and routines, most managers face increased pressure to modify their personal ethics and alter their unit’s standards to appeal to local values and demands. In most cases, such “flexibility” can bring short-term gains.
External relationships
Ethical behaviors in relationships outside the firm pose particularly difficult challenges in a global context. There can be considerable differences between the dominant behaviors of a particular culture, and judgments about appropriate behaviors, regardless of culture.
When leaders’ ethical standards are different from a country’s behavioral norms, they and their company have three basic choices: avoid doing business in that country; maintain their own standards and risk being placed at a competitive disadvantage as a result; and change their standards to play the game the way the locals do.
Our experience suggests that this last option is not sustainable in global companies. Questionable behavior in one country can rarely be contained. Eventually the entire world finds out. Global leaders understand that global companies have global reputations, and need global standards of conduct.
Internal relationships
Global leaders must demonstrate their high personal standards in all their internal interactions within the corporation. These standards cannot vary by country; managers will lose respect if they treat people inconsistently.The most effective global leaders combine enormous insight into people with strong moral character. Such leaders are superbly skilled at building trust and goodwill, both inside the company and in the community as a whole. And, because trust and goodwill are critical to business success, character is the natural starting point for any discussion of global leadership competencies.
Black, the professor of Global Leadership and Strategy at IMD, and Morrison, the professor of Global Management and the holder of the Kristian Gerhard Jebsen Chair for Responsible Leadership at IMD, are directors of The Leadership Challenge program, designed for senior executives with significant responsibilities who must ensure their organization’s success now and in the future. This is an edited extract from a chapter in Black and Morrison’s forthcoming book, The Global Leadership Challenge.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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