Ideas for Leaders #046

Shaping a Global Leadership Strategy For Cross-Cultural Effectiveness

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Key Concept

In organizations across the globe, managers at all levels must be trained and ‘groomed’ for future leadership roles. But will a manager in Delhi respond in the same way to the same training as a manager in Beijing – or in California, or Singapore? This research Idea from CCL identifies both the universal sources of leadership learning, found across China, India, Singapore and the US, as well as unique approaches specific to each country – by way of a cross-country comparison of developmental experiences.

Idea Summary

Better prepared leaders are the ‘need of the hour’ across the world. But it is extremely challenging to deliver an effective global leadership strategy: one that’s equally effective in one region, as it is in another. In this Idea data from the US is complemented with findings from India, China and Singapore to draw up a cross-country comparison of developmental experiences.

In terms of how leadership development happens, we can first point to the familiar 70-20-10 rule: 70 per cent challenging assignments; 20 per cent developmental relationships; and, 10 per cent coursework and training. This is universal – but the make-up of each changes.

We can also describe the Basic Five sources of learning in organizations – which are again, universal:

  1. Bosses and superiors: the people that matter the most, because of their influence and impact. The ways they manage, motivate, inspire, etc., are often imitated, cascading throughout the organization.
  2. Turnarounds: fixing a failing or underperforming operation so it can operate efficiently within budget or turn a profit (most frequently reported as developmental by leaders in China).
  3. Increases in scope: these occur naturally at several points in most managerial careers as a professional takes on a first or expanded supervisory role, or receives a significant promotion.
  4. Horizontal moves: transitions to another function, line of business, organization, industry sector or region can also result in developmental experiences.
  5. New initiatives: ambitious plans for domestic/international growth can also propel leadership development.

As well as these similarities, there are important differences we can note as sources of leadership development in these different countries – which we can call the Plus Twos:

  • China: personal experiences and mistakes
  • India: personal experiences and crossing cultures
  • Singapore: stakeholder engagements and crises
  • United States: mistakes and ethical dilemmas

Business Application

In forming a global leadership strategy then, organizations can look at which on-the-job experiences are the most developmental for individuals in different regions. They can use a ‘mix’ of the Basic Five and the Plus Twos to help develop early and mid-career managers in different parts of the world.

The second step is to pay attention to which leadership lessons are the most important to your organization. This research found the following three to be relevant across all countries:

  • Managing direct reports: this involves many separate but related tasks - such as delegating and following up, developing others and motivating people with diverse needs.
  • Becoming self-aware: this often increases when one has an opportunity to confront and reflect on new challenges.

  • Executing effectively: mostly learned from turnarounds in China and India. In Singapore, however, managers were more likely to learn this lesson by watching bosses and superiors execute effectively.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are the three leadership capabilities your future top leaders are most encouraged to develop?
  • What are the specific events or experiences used to impart leadership insights?
  • To what extent are top leaders and bosses willing to become mentors and/or coaches?
  • Are there barriers that impede reflection on experiences and lessons learned?
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Idea conceived

  • 2011

Idea posted

  • January 2013

DOI number



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