Book review: “What is global leadership?” – Gundling, Hogan & Cvitkovich (NB Publishing, 2011)

Subtitled “10 behaviors that define great global leaders”, this book takes the reader on an expansive journey into organisational insights, personal experiences and anecdotes.

Based on a number of indepth interviews with mid-to-senior managers with experience of roles in foreign subsidiaries, it is a book of two halves: the first looks at the competencies and behaviours identified from the detailed research. The second considers the challenge of training for the desired behaviours, looks at coaching for skills-enhancement and reflects on the challenges faced by and in teams with a global profile.

The book ends with a chapter about the future of global leadership, which provides some useful pointers about identifying and developing the leaders of the future.

Starting with the identification of the three main megatrends that the world faces and which governs big company strategic thinking – rapid urbanisation, changes in the balance of GDP and population growth in the developing world – the authors set up the proposition that senior leaders need to be doing things differently. Considering where their key markets are and will be; which companies will thrive or wither; where game-changing innovation will take place; and who the global role models will be – all these issues should shift mindsets.

There follows a review of established leadership thinking and practice, highlighting Kotter’s definition of leadership and considering the contrast between leadership and management. I particularly like the distinction of leadership as dealing with change and working through informal networks and management as dealing with complexity and working through formal structures and systems. It moves into a discussion about the role of leadership in different cultures, leading to a useful list of factors likely to face international managers (p.26). The authors also draw an important distinction between international and global organisations (p28): in the latter,

“so-called global competencies are often haphazard extrapolations from domestic practices…
headquarters executives sometimes assume … that their own leadership styles can be readily exported”

A global organisation cultivates its structures, systems and employee mindset to work effectively on a worldwide basis, horizontally and collaboratively as opposed to depending on a vertical hierarchy.  Furthermore, global entities have an acknowledged balance between central and local and their business units are designed to work across national boundaries.

The authors’ research identified five stages of development of a global leader – seeing differences, closing the gap, opening the system, preserving balance, and establishing solutions. Each stage has two key global leadership behaviours: you’ll have to read the book to find out what these are; suffice to say that they strongly relate to self-awareness and an acute curiosity.  A chapter is devoted to each the five stages, in which the behaviours are fully explained and good examples of them are given from some of the interviewees.

I particularly liked the personal examples showcased in the book, in some depth: ‘borrowing’ from other peoples’ experiences is a really valuable way of personal development. I also liked the ‘Insights from Global Followers’ pull-outs: these are comments from some of those people that were in the team of interviewees. This is a smart way of providing a balanced view of the experiences shared with the researchers.  At the end of each chapter there is a series of ‘Questions for leaders’ which provides topics for reflection – again, a great aid to learning.

Of course, this book is already out of date: after all, 5 years is a long time in international commerce. Nonetheless, the lessons endure. Indeed, as nations, political entities and international enterprises face the uncertainties of the 21st Century the existence of a template around which to plan resource-allocation (i.e. deploy the best possible people to meet stretching targets) is more and more relevant.  And, for those in UK-based organisations, Brexit has made the skills learned from a book such as this even more apposite.

I liked this book.  It has a readable style, it’s well laid-out and it provides lots of ‘live’ examples of the topics it covers. It comes, also, from authors who have had long and established careers in learning development and this means that the focus is always on useable ‘takeways’. I would recommend this as a very helpful read for those working in international / global HR.

Reviewer’s rating: 4 out of 5

Review by David Evans, Head of Consulting at Primeast – coach and organisational change practitioner.  Get in touch with David here.

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