Global Leadership

City scene in old Europe

Have you ever traveled internationally?  You know, outside your home country? … The last couple weeks have reminded me of the big world in which we live. I have been fortunate to attend an executive development course in Barcelona, visit a boss in Geneva and see family in Frankfurt. Living out of a suitcase isn’t fun nor is being away from family, but I love traveling and seeing the world.

I also love working and challenging myself in other countries, regions, cultures and settings. If you read my weekly leadership article on a regular basis, you know that I’m an adventurer at heart. … Trust me. Not everyone enjoys a good adventure. Some people like to lay low. You may be one of them. That’s ok. No worries. The world has, and needs, all kinds of people. However, this article really focuses on global leaders. Global business. World travelers. Adventurers.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been attending an executive development course at IESE in Barcelona, Spain. If you don’t know, IESE is one of the world’s premier business schools. I selected it carefully after considering many other options. Now, lest you think I came to the school because it was in Barcelona and I wanted to watch futbol and take it easy, I should tell you that I averaged over 14 hours a day throughout the 4 days of the course. In fact, I did not get to see Barcelona at all (save for the first evening). I’ll have to come back one day with my wife and do the sights! Including a Barca game at Camp Nou.

Now, though this course was intensive, I loved it! I wanted to attend. I asked to attend. I put in the hours with joy. No complaints here! It was a labor of love. Why? I love growing. I love stretching. I love learning new things, meeting new people, trying new approaches, and pushing myself.

We had executives from many countries including Ireland, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the US. We had executives from many industries and companies. During my visit, I also had a chance to interact with businesspeople from Switzerland, Russia, France, and Romania. In sum, I’ve been on an adventure with leaders from all over the globe.

One of the “things” I’ve been noodling through for years is what does global leadership look like and it is unique to the country or region from which the leader comes. Interesting, the course I attended referenced the cultural work of Geert Hofstede who looked at global culture. While this is not exactly the same as global leadership, it is a “kissing cousin” nonetheless.

It caused me to think more on the idea of global leadership skills and traits. Were there commonalities? Would a world-class leader in the Philippines be a world-class leader in Spain? Would a world-class leader from the US be a world-class leader in Germany?

As it the case with nearly all of my leadership articles on LeadStrategic, the opinions and views I share are based on experience. I defer to the top academic journals for empirical, research-based articles. Mine are based on my experience as a leader, student, and adventurer in Africa, North America, Europe, South America, and Asia.

This is what I have observed.

  1. Global leadership is not for everyone. Nor is global travel. Some are not adventures.
  2. Perspective and experience gained while “vacationing” in another country is not the same as that gained while working there.
  3. Traveling in another country does not provide the same experience as living there. It’s a great experience, but not the same.
  4. Eating, sightseeing, and experiencing the locale as a foreign visitor provides a much different set of experiences than if you do these with a local (or as a local would do it). For example, if you travel to Korea and eat at McDonald’s, … well, you get the idea.
  5. Hard work (and adding value) is respected everywhere.
  6. Respecting others (their views, culture, food, music, etc.) is a key piece of world-class leadership.
  7. Honoring local customs, business etiquette, and knowing what is off-limits (taboo) will win the day.
  8. Learning the language, or at the least conversational basics, will open many doors.
  9. Treating others as you’d like to be treated (the “Golden Rule”) is always (yes, ALWAYS) a good idea.
  10. Refraining from putting other countries down is always a good idea. Also, don’t over do it on the other end, bragging too much about your country.
  11. In every organization I’ve visited around the globe, “Taking Care of Business AND Taking Care of People” is always a good idea.
  12. Having a strong sense of self and confidence, without being arrogant, always plays well. Treating others kindly while knowing what you’re about is globally respected.
  13. Don’t let others take advantage of you because of your nationality, ethnicity, race, religion or gender. Don’t be abrasive, but neither do you need to be apologetic.
  14. Be a relentless learner. Absorb. Observe. Lean. … Be an adventurer.

Bonus: Dress appropriately depending on the country, culture, organization, etc. You don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.

As I reviewed the above list, it struck me that whether or not you’re a global adventure, these are key skills, traits and tips that will help you become a world-class leader.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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