What it Takes to Lead in a Multicultural, Multinational Environment

Despite the continuing trend towards more nationalistic and protectionist policies we have been seeing in many countries around the word, the interconnectedness and the interdependence of the global economy remains a reality. Cross-border business is likely to go on, no matter what the regulatory restrictions are.

As a result, the need to develop leaders with a global mindset is unchanged. “Executives who can manage effectively while respecting employees’ and customers’ multifaceted diversity are the ones who thrive and create value for their companies,” write Andzrej Pryka and Vibhas Ratanjee for Harvard Business Review. Their study on what it takes to fix organizational leadership gaps was conducted several years ago, yet is has lost nothing of its relevance for the 2020s. While Ratanjee and Pryka were focusing on leadership development for the ASEAN region, their findings appear to apply for other areas as well.

More and more we see top executives who work at multinational corporations (MNC) come from the ASEAN region. In fact, where globalization used to be driven mainly by international expansion of European and North American (“Western”) companies, it has now become increasingly common for APAC-based organizations to “go West.”

More Local Leaders Will Have to Rise to the Global Task

In addition to that, a world economy under stress in times of a pandemic isn’t filling leadership gaps the same way it did for decades: by sending leadership talent from country to country. Growth in any market, whether emerging or established, now requires that more leadership talent is grown and developed locally. Talent sourcing to fill top positions with expatriates may not disappear completely, however, many MNCs are creating additional pipelines to develop leaders with a global mindset.

Under the current circumstances, finding leaders who are up to international tasks hasn’t become any easier for many companies. “According to a study by the American Management Association, 48% of organizations consider developing global capabilities in their leaders to be a top priority,” writes Ratanjee. “What’s worrisome, is that only 18% of multinational companies say they have the strong global leadership pipeline necessary to meet their future business challenges.”

Cultivating the next generation of globally minded executives will require programs aimed at finding young leaders with similar talents, and helping them reach their true potential through a specific focus on coaching, mentoring, and training.

7 Major Lessons Learned from Global Leadership Development

We discussed these very questions with Vibhas Ratanjee, Senior Practice Expert with Gallup, during our daily live show, Two Chaps – Many Cultures. Here are some of the things Vibhas learned via the study he conducted for Gallup and during his own journey towards becoming a more culturally competent leader.

1 – You can push leaders into “cultural sensitivity” training and chances are they learn something. However, these trainings are no substitute for active immersion into another culture.

2 – The earlier these immersive experiences happen which stretch people and push them outside their comfort zones, the better.

3 – Expat assignments aren’t “CV fillers” – they are learning opportunities. Experience and knowledge are key takeaways of a foreign posting, but emerging leaders must be genuinely curious about other cultures to obtain real experience. Not fully understanding local markets, trends and deep-rooted social and cultural nuances can lead to failure.

4 – Developing patience and intentional listening skills will pay huge dividends for global leaders.

5 – Don’t worry too much about saving face (a key element of many cultural training programs). Focus more on becoming vulnerable and being comfortable in showing your vulnerability.

6 – Celebrate diversity. Companies need to teach global competencies. That helps people adapt to, value and make the most of an international experience. After all, if you can’t truly celebrate diversity, if you don’t have the appetite for a bigger world view, why work in an international context?

7 – In our current travel restricted reality, it will become even more imperative for leaders to connect with intention. We need to make the extra effort to connect 1-on-1 with our team members and counterparts abroad.


In any kind of business it’s important to know something about the people with whom you’re doing business. This something is shaped by the cultural background of your business partner. 

If you know how to relate to their culture, business will be good. If you don’t get culture, culture will get you.

Executive leaders in global organizations work with us because they know that by identifying, addressing, and minimizing the #CultureGap they get better at what they do. International frustration slows, their business growths, success shows. 

Ready to talk? Reach out via GetStarted@TheCultureMastery.com today!


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