Archives For intellectual acumen

This post is about you – as an organizational leader. Lifelong learning is a critical component of our personal and professional growth that we often seem to forget as we rise through the ranks. Unfortunately, as most of us become more senior within the organization, there is an undeniable challenge we face – facilitating our own ongoing growth and development. It becomes more and more difficult to identify growth opportunities, training, relevant readings, etc. and to deny the pull to remain stagnant – focusing on what we already know vs. the potential we have to know more. Perhaps most importantly, there is often a stealth sense of false complacency that emerges as a result of past success. However, the reality is that with the frequency and scale of change in global organizations, the leader that is not continually growing and changing with the environment may very well find that  s/he has been left behind at the last jumping off point.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your own personal development…and reaching your potential.  Many leaders let the business take priority over reaching their potential, or wait for the company to assume ownership of their development. Is this really what is most beneficial for you, and by default, the organizaion?  As leaders, it is easy to forget that it is far more effective to stretch ourselves, and thereby our organizations, than it is to settle for the status quo.  But how do you continually push yourself to think harder and go further? You can employ any number of self-help philosophies, but the reality is that you will probably not follow through – and if you do, they will typically not generate the results you hoped they would.

Finding and engaging a good mentor may be a critical success factor you are missing. Mentoring is a process about enabling and supporting your personal and professional growth. Organizational life can sometimes feel like climbing up the side of a mountain – as we struggle up the steep parts we are breathless, challenged, single-minded, and in need of support and sustenance. There may even be some moves we can not make without being tied to a partner. Mentoring can help with your changes in altitude, and enable you to get to higher ground – where you just may be able to see things from a different perspective. You will be able to see the mountains in the distance and new ways forward that were just not visible from your position below. Your mentor should facilitate a process that leads you to consider different perspectives, new ways of thinking, and deeper self-knowledge.

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Global business leaders are not born to lead effectively. They must actively and consciously develop a global mindset and the ability to lead across cultures, geographies and functions. Unfortunately, all data indicates global corporations today have a short supply of experienced global leaders who are able to successfully work across boundaries and borders. How can we effectively contribute to minimizing global leadership failures and maximizing the likelihood of global leadership success?  As economic and business globalization continues to accelerate exponentially, those individuals who successfully acquire the knowledge and skill to lead organizations into a more complex and competitive marketplace will become more and more critical to organizational success – organizations must support these linchpin leaders in order to facilitate strong, sustainable results.

As a reminder, a recent conservative study on global leadership failure rates indicate that 63% of leaders filling global leadership roles fail, while other studies on global leadership failure rates range from 41 -55% . We MUST take action to facilitate global leadership success.  After 20+ years of working in global business, and several more coaching global executives,  I can only communicate what I know to be effective in facilitating leadership success in global environments. It is complex and it is difficult –  there is no simple answer. However, by following some general guidelines as to what to look for and what to focus on, it is possible to provide global leaders with the tools, skills, and knowledge to be successful across boundaries and borders.

Last week I posted commentary on what I consider the “Intellectual Acumen” necessary for global leadership.  This week we will look at the second component: Psychological Acumen and it’s corresponding subsets:

2.  Psychological Acumen: Openness to new ideas/experiences.

  • Self-confidence: Is the executive willing to take calculated risks in context? Does the executive encompass critical mental and emotional behaviors, including self-assurance and empathy across multicultural environments? Is there an ability to thrive in complex and unpredictable environments? Does s/he have the ability to be energized, rather than drained, by operating in foreign environments?
  • Principled Mindset: Despite new ideas and experiences, is there a guiding set of core values, and the ability to remain authentic regardless of the situational and environmental challenges? Can the executive effectively communicate the corporation’s shared values and strategy without isolating diverse cultures and geographies?
  • Passion for diversity: Is there a passion for exploring the world? An appreciation for other cultures and what can be learned from them? A desire to try new, unconventional, and innovative things? Is there a high tolerance for the unpredictable? Is there a commitment to continuous learning despite environmental change?

These qualities are rare in most circles.  Just as importantly, it is rarely a simple matter to assess the right competencies for a global leader, and in almost every case it  is very situational.  From my experience, psychological acumen are critical competencies for global executives that can’t simply be applied through “traditional training” methods. These, similar to intellectual acumen, are longer term, personal integration issues, which if not incorporated through sustained, continual, coaching and reinforcement, will also ensure the failure rate of global executives will continue to soar – a key contributor to global organizations inability to achieve their potential.

What are you doing to contribute to the success of global business?

Next week I will cover the third of the core components that I believe are essential to global leadership success, Social Acumen,  followed by a discussion specifically on those competencies that are critial to global leadership success, but are not necessarily taught in business school.

Please feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week for the next installation of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders. FZP76BC9FG4Q

DDI’s Global 2009 Leadership Study  indicated that 37 percent of leaders filling global leadership roles fail.  These leaders failed to achieve their global objectives and, most commonly, left the company – unsuccessful. “Clearly, something is wrong worldwide with leadership development…”, reports DDI in its 2009 Global Leadership Forecast. But what is being done about this epidemic problem?  I repeatedly hear people willing to state the problem, but very few who actually propose and facilitate solutions.

After 20+ years of working in global business, and several more coaching global executives, I am repeatedly asked what is needed to facilitate success in global environments. I can tell you that it is not fancy terms or academic theories that move executives forward – but it is the ability to take reality-based theories, put them into layman’s terms, and apply them into real-world scenarios – while simultaneously  incorporating some less obvious skills that are not necessarily taught in business school.

I can provide you with the basic components I use to evaluate the likelihood of leadership success in the global marketplace, as well as the competencies I seek to further develop/position executives for global success. It is by no means a formal, definitive “global leadership” list of competencies, as the challenges are always very complex and involve a mix of both hard and soft skill development, but it is a methodology to leverage when evaluating global executives or  partnering with them to further individual or group development. The reality is that I am a practitioner, not a scientist – and I promote and teach what I know through real-world experience.

For each of the next three weeks, I will cover one of the three core components that I know from experience are essential to global leadership success (Intellectual, Psychological, and Social)  – followed by a discussion specifically on those more covert competencies that are critial to global leadership success.

This week we will look at the first component: Intellectual Acumen and it’s corresponding subsets:

  1. Intellectual Acumen: Understanding how the business works on a global scale / having the functional and market competencies to succeed.
  • Business management capability: Is there a capacity for strategic decision-making, functional expertise, efficient resource allocation, effective time management, problem-solving ability, ease in managing complexities, and ability to stay flexible? Can the executive adapt his/her leadership style to a variety of situations?
  • Global business knowledge: does the executive know how the business/industry works worldwide? How global customers behave across various geographies? How competition targets global clients? How strategic risk varies by geography? Is the executive mindful of diverse business protocols and legalities across areas of responsibility on a global basis / how it effects the overall business?
  • Cognitive complexity: does the executive have the ability to relate diverse scenarios with many moving parts without becoming overwhelmed? Is s/he aware of corporate/proprietary competencies that include navigation of internal culture, institutional business protocols, and proprietary skills that affect the global business?

It is rarely a simple matter to assess the right competencies for a global leader, and is very situational.  From my experience, intellectual acumen is the basic starting point for global leadership success. Although a significant portion of intellectual acumen is gained through education and organizational experience, if the basic competencies are not present, and incredibly strong, the leader has failed before s/he ever begins. If these elements are present, but need development or refinement, more than “traditional training” methods are required. These are longer term, organizational integration issues, which if not incorporated through sustained, continual, coaching and reinforcement, will ensure that the failure rate of global executives will continue to soar – a key contributor to global organizations inability to achieve their potential. I have seen it time and again…

How would you rate your global intellectual acumen? If it is not where you need it to be, what are you going to do about it?

You can contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week for the next installation  of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders. 59DCENEFB9N7