How local experience shapes global leaders
The Challenge
Is it better to take a global innovation and adapt it to a local market or is it better to take an idea that’s worked in one local market and export it to others?
Project Highlight
With 100 projects across 28 countries taught us about shaping effective global leaders in organizations that ultimately succeed locally

I was speaking at a regional conference in Yangon a month ago where someone kicked off an interesting discussion around the role of global leadership in markets that ultimately succeed locally. The question came from someone on a country level team from Pakistan:

Is it better to take a global innovation and adapt it to a local market or is it better to take an idea that’s worked in one local market and export it to others?

The question gets at the natural challenge faced by global leadership: their ideas only succeed if they deliver value at a local level, but local teams often feel global lacks the complete perspective they need to deliver impactful locally.

The question kicked off an interesting discussion around the role of global leadership in organizations that ultimately succeed (or fail) locally.

I’ve spent most of my career working with global teams. At Propellerfish, I have the privilege of watching global leadereship operate across a variety of initiatives around the world. We’ve had the opportunity to partner global leaders from different backgrounds, in different regions, with different levels of exposure to local markets, and with diverse perspectives on what it means to be “global”. The best of them have a three things in common.

1. Their perspective is informed by diverse local experiences

Global executives with experience in local markets have a clearer picture of what it takes to make things happen at a country level. Beyond the operational perspective, executives with experiences living day to day in a developing or emerging market understand the realities of life for the vast majority of people around the world.

2. They assemble teams that represent a global perspective

While diversity is a hot topic within organizations at the moment, nowhere is diversity a more important asset than in assembling teams that shape the global agenda of an organization. And when it comes to designing a global team, diversity runs deeper than drawing from multiple cultures, genders and race. It’s about leveraging diversity of experience to shape global thinking that’s grounded in multiple local realities. The ideal global team is a set of people hailing from different cultures, who can pair razor sharp professional skills with first hand experience living and working in different markets.

3. They’re based in hubs that share commonality with the markets they serve

While the flexibility of where to base a team with multi-country responsibility may be more the luxury of regional teams than local ones, choosing a baseplace that has more commonalities than differences with markets a team is meant to serve helps shape a more relevant worldview from which to think about global challenges.

If you’re looking to shape a set of global leaders that deliver impact locally, or are looking to become a global leader yourself, here are five pieces of advice worth considering.

1. Treat “global” as a skillset rather than a title or remit

When assembling global teams, think seriously about the skills you’ll need in order to create solutions that local markets can take forward.

2. Foster global perspective through local experience

Some countries have a culture of sending their high potential talent abroad to gain local experiences and perspectives that will make their global thinking more relevant in the future. Building global leaders is about equipping future leaders with local experiences as much as it is about exposing them to global standards.

3. Import & Export: Second from the inside out and from the outside in

Most of the investment in creating global leaders is about globalizing people from the centre of an organization, but some of your most valuable global leaders will come from the local markets. Creating a generation of global leaders is as much about seconding people from the global nucleus of an organization to local markets as it is about identifying local high potentials, exposing them to other markets and sharpening their skillsets.

4. Base global leadership in markets that reflect the many rather than the few

There are many reasons why a global team should sit in a global headquarters, but we are seeing more and more global teams base themselves in the markets that drive the majority of a business’s growth. Singapore has become a destination for businesses looking to headquarter their global operations in Asia Pacific, a part of the world that is driving the most growth in our global economy. Meanwhile, a regional team once talked to us about their choice of basing their regional team in Bangkok because it delivered both geographic convenience for leading Asia Pacific while also offering employees a day-to-day lifestyle that reflects a Southeast Asian market along with the perks of first world comforts.

5. Help local markets see the world from each other’s perspective

Finally, local markets that operate in isolation are unlikely to see value in the bigger picture without being exposed to it. Helping local markets become more versed in the similarities (in addition to the differences) that run between them can help them enter regional and global conversations with a productive sense of perspective.

If you have a story about how “global” works or doesn’t inside of your organization, we'd love to hear it.

Propellerfish is an innovation consulting firm with offices in London, New York and Singapore.
We turn strategy into the products and services that move businesses forward in the real world.