When a company goes international, it’s time to develop leaders who can point the company in the right direction. Combining experience with an understanding of topics like psychology, geography, politics and sociology can help create a successful global leader.

The Global Business Environment

James is a regional manager with a company that makes industrial conveyor belts. The company, Veyor, is well-known in international circles for its quality and service. James was recently promoted to vice president and has just been assigned to manage Veyor’s Spain division. James is seen as a well-rounded team player who is prolific in Spanish. Veyor has high hopes for James and has pegged him as a global leader. Let’s look into what attributes James takes with him to be successful in Madrid.

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Globalization describes how international economies interact in the global marketplace. Companies do business across borders and work whenever or wherever deals need to be made. Veyor is a perfect example of this phenomenon – Spain, after all, is six hours ahead of Veyor’s Charlotte, North Carolina corporate headquarters. Being globally successful requires capital, market share, and human resources spread across political and temporal boundaries. As such, global leaders must be flexible, independent, and proactive.

Becoming a Global Leader

Veyor is a well-established company that has been successful since its inception in 1945, and Veyor sees James as someone who has the psychological, geographical, political, and sociological knowledge to work among different cultures. His mastery of the local language in his new country makes it easy for him to communicate and train on state-of-the-art technologies. And in addition to language skills, it’s important that James know about the history, politics, and customs of Spain.

Before he leaves for Madrid, James will need to become aware of things that simply come naturally to someone who lives in the area, such as the sociology of race and ethnicity in Madrid. Being familiar with local opinions on current events and hot-button topics like the environment will also help with his integration. Let’s look at the key elements of James’ transition, including his knowledge of and/or sensitivity to history, politics, language, customs, norms and local controversies.


Knowing the history of the region you’re working in is important. Countries are often created out of peace agreements, wars, and/or immigration. They could have had a name change, flag redesign, or revolution that would be important to know about when you are working with descendants of these events. Had James been moved to Hungary, for example, he should know that the country had its borders severely depleted due to a treaty signed after World War I. There may still be hard feelings resulting from this event.


Having at least some background in the politics of a region is also vital for success. Knowing the different political parties, whether communism or socialism is accepted, what the key divides are, and how to navigate the legislative process will help with things like partnerships, permits, and work visas. For example, even though it was abolished in 1990, South Africa continues to struggle with the after-effects of apartheid. Had James headed to South Africa, this background would have been crucial.


Some countries choose to do business in English, while others want negotiations to take place in their native language so there aren’t any misunderstandings. Also, there’s often more than one language spoken in a region. If James needed to do business in Finland, he would need to know English, Swedish, and Finnish in order to work without a translator.


Knowledge of local customs can also play a big role in successful global leadership. Being familiar with holidays and typical work weeks help leaders communicate more effectively when dealing with different time zones and closures. For example, some Swedish government workers now have a six-hour workday. James would need to balance his region’s workweek accordingly.


Knowing regional norms like the status of minorities or women is also important for teamwork. Women may have a progressive role in some countries, but they may not be put in leadership roles, allowed to vote, or even be able to get a driver’s license in others. For example, women were only recently given the vote in Saudi Arabia.


In addition, staying away from local controversies is a good way to blend in with the locals. Being aware of what areas are off limits for development will help a company like Veyor stay away from controversy. Brazil, for example, has battled for years over the protected areas around the Amazon River. To many advocates, these areas should be protected from any development. Staying as far away as possible from similar hot button issues is important to James’ success.

Lesson Summary

Globalization has brought about the need for unique leadership skills. Functioning in an international economy takes a global leader. A global leader is someone who knows the history and politics of a region. Knowing when, how, and why important aspects of a region developed is important to leading people from that area. A global leader should also be aware of local and regional language, customs, and norms. Knowing how to communicate and being familiar with things like holidays, are helpful in leading individuals from a different culture.

A global leader also understands local controversies, such as environmentally sensitive areas. The world changes quickly, and to be effective you have to integrate with various cultures as thoughtfully as possible. Although global leadership sounds exciting, success will come by being a local leader.