What could be better for an organisation than to grab the chance for international expansion? A passport to growth. Reaching the promised land of endless opportunities. Why not? If business results are above expectation on the domestic front, why not expand into the global markets for additional profits. Surely, it’s just a case of reproducing what worked well in one market to other similar markets?
Unfortunately, the world of business is much more complex than that.
Success in modern business is multifactorial. Wise leaders in organisations with the intention of expanding globally must consider several key factors before even contemplating such a move. Intertwined are three key leadership functions: The strategic domain where long-term, clear direction is set; the operational domain where sustainable business results are delivered; and the people domain where strong leadership and team relationships are built to last.
Before investigating the key steps to prepare leaders for an international setting, let’s consider the benefits of such a planned expansion. The rewards seem clear. High on the list will be to develop new markets for existing products or services. From this, there will be increased production resulting in extra sales. This in turn should bring a thriving new local economy with the potential of creating new employment locally and new jobs back home. And supporting this expansion, there is the huge advantage of the organisation potentially developing a more skilled labour-force led by strong, flexible, effective global leaders.
So, how can an organisation prepare its leaders for international expansion?
Well, the short answer is to improve the quality of its leadership training and awareness. No one leader can be expected to excel in all the leadership tasks or behaviours every single day of the year. Therefore, leaders need to be helped to develop the key characteristics required for the challenge of leading in a global context. These would-be global leaders also need to be helped in leading their teams to reach their full potential in an international setting. In fact, many successful CEOs gained valuable leadership experience outside their home office, having to develop and expand the business within a new culture.
With such a lot at stake, how can this be done effectively?
Let’s consider some top tips from the leadership toolbox needed to lead a team set for expansion.
First on the list should be focussed preparation. It will be crucial to do specific research, use existing networking contacts and ask lots of questions to understand the new environment.
Second should be an understanding of the new context. In other words, the ‘big picture’ view. This can be broken down into an appreciation of several key areas: the stability of the political situation; the state of the new region’s economic and financial context; the socio-cultural environment; the reliability of technological infrastructure. The importance of this understanding can be summarised as “Knowledge is local; Mindset must be global.”
A third top tip should be an awareness of the cultural dimension. It is essential for the leader to show an appreciation of the standards, norms and beliefs of the local culture. This naturally includes the local language. Clever leaders will make every effort to learn the new language in order to communicate with locals and thereby earn their respect. If this is not feasible, then communication in a common language (usually English) will be critical. The ability to communicate in simple, clear, accurate language will be key.
But, perhaps the best advice should be to improve the leader’s ability to lead. The question is not so much “To lead or not to lead?” No, without doubt, leadership is needed. It is more a question of “How to lead more effectively in a new, international setting?”
This will involve leaders demonstrating the ’human touch’ to give their business the edge. The ability to apply specific leadership characteristics and behaviours for maximum impact and optimal team performance. The ability to show great interpersonal skills for building strong relationships not only within the team but also outside the organisation in the new environment. The ability to get the maximum out of a diverse, multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural team. And finally, the ability to show adaptability in an ever-changing world and the capability to keep learning continuously.
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Forward-looking organisations will help their leaders prepare for their new international role. The organisation will seek to equip leaders with the appropriate tools to cope with the new culture, climate and performance indicators. In particular, a change that involves an international expansion overseas will require specific input of new knowledge and the development of leadership skills. A pivotal factor will be the leader’s ability to adapt to the new environment and inspire the workforce.
To learn more about our approach and services at Edgecumbe, simply get in touch with our friendly team today. We are a leading UK-based business psychology practice, with over 20 years of experience providing tailored solutions to enhance leadership, employee engagement, and business performance in our client organisations.