How to Groom a Global Executive

As business demands that companies produce an increasingly global workforce, organizations must better prepare their executives to take on global roles. That starts with having a global strategy that fits the company’s overall plan, says Nancie S. Whitehouse of Whitehouse Advisors. Let’s take a closer look.

October 18, 2018 – If a company wants to be a serious competitor in the global marketplace, it is likely that its qualified employees will be trained and developed for an international assignment. There are protocols for leading multinational teams, forming strategic relationships, managing customers and suppliers and delivering service outside the U.S. Many organizations, however, have admittedly failed to assume greater responsibility for creating programs that prepare their executive talent for global roles, says Nancie S. Whitehouse, founder of talent acquisition consulting firm Whitehouse Advisors.

Digital transformation has disrupted “business as usual,” further elevating the importance of fully educating and preparing employees that are poised for an overseas appointment.

“Growing the next generation of leadership is a top-down initiative,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “It is essential to have a clearly defined strategy for a global initiative that is in sync with a company’s overall business strategy. When a position is determined to be located outside the U.S., each appointment should have a solid business case behind it.”

Have a Consensus

First, there should be consensus regarding the reason for launching a global leadership development initiative, and of the benefits to your company. “Then, create a step-by-step developmental plan designed with specific goals and objectives, the methodology for measuring success and the timeframe for transition,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “The global initiative should compliment your overall corporate strategy.”

Preparing Executives for Global Roles


Nancie WhitehouseIn this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ we delve into what companies need to do to help develop high performers who are ready for global roles. Our host Andrew Mitchell is joined by Nancie Whitehouse, founder of Whitehouse Advisors. According to Ms. Whitehouse, “You need to be prepared, educated and think about all the different aspects of relocating to another country. Preparation for the adjustment to a new country and new culture is very important.” Listen now!


“Global” may refer to any number of corporate initiatives: Teams of multicultural employees, multinational client relationships, worldwide supply chains, and international joint ventures, said Ms. Whitehouse.

In order to identify managers with global potential and those who can participate in virtual teams, you must understand the characteristics and skills of a successful global executive, she said. “Determine whether that manager has both the ability and the motivation to assume such an experience,” she noted. “Candidates for these positions require an affinity for travel, comfort with change, being open to relocate and prepared to learn another language if required. He or she may even have previously worked or lived in another country. Above all, the individual must be flexible, have an open and direct personal style and respect others’ perspectives.”

Qualified candidates must be cautious of viewing other cultures through a U.S.-centric lens without judging “our way is right and your way is wrong,” she said.  They must understand that programs that are effective in one culture may not work in another and Americans aren’t the only ones who may be culturally biased.


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“Realistically, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all-countries’ methodology when it comes to training our future leaders,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “Executives should be indoctrinated into the global business community by gaining cross cultural awareness and sensitivity to cultural diversity; understanding that there may be vast differences between countries and regions.”

Enlisting Line Managers

One’s customer base can provide valuable data in deciding how to prepare your executives to differentiate themselves and compete in the global marketplace. “Enlisting line managers in developing the most effective programs will likely help to identify potential problems and determine solutions created by differences between one marketplace and another,” said Ms. Whitehouse.

Companies should encourage the development of new business models that can continually evolve and scale within a worldwide framework with options for conducting business in other cultures and in different regions. “Create a culture in which your employees view the world as a truly global marketplace,” she said.

It can be effective to train multinational teams by simulating the kinds of scenarios they could encounter in business interactions in different regions. This will help them develop a comfort with potentially conflicting perspectives and complex cultural realities, and help them to more accurately interpret the behavior, actions and choices of their non-U.S. colleagues. “It will also provide balance and prevent one culture from dominating the others,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “A potential leader can gain experience as a member of a cross cultural team by participating in international committees, task forces or project teams.”

A formal pre-program assessment tool that measures cross-cultural competencies can be highly effective in ascertaining capability and aptitude for non-U.S. assignments, she said. Using such instruments may help detect candidates who don’t understand the risk of viewing other cultures through a U.S.-centric lens or that programs that are successful in one environment may not work in another.

Preparation Matters

Before a step-by-step developmental plan is designed, it should include specific goals and objectives, metrics for measuring success and the timeframe for transition to and from the host country, said Ms. Whitehouse. Variances in governmental regulations, differences in legal systems and diversity in social values, currencies, and languages must be taught well in advance of a global assignment.

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“Lack of preparation for a multinational position can easily derail the career of a historically successful manager,” she said. “Companies that fail to create robust training programs, even years ahead of the actual deployment, implement these programs can face the potential risk of failed business negotiations.”

To help prepare for an international assignment, a qualified executive might serve as a member of a cross-cultural team or by participating in committees, task forces or project teams from different countries. “It is an opportunity to heighten perspective of a company’s global business operations, increase aptitude for communicating with diverse cultures and backgrounds and gain a clearer understanding of non-U.S. business trends and events by being exposed to different economic, political and social environments,” said Ms. Whitehouse.

She cited the following competencies to look for when cultivating and training leaders for multinational roles:

  • Ability to think with a global business mindset.

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  • Strong leadership and management skills; the experience and sensitivity to lead diverse, cross-cultural teams and encourage relationship-building.
  • Prior success knowing how to achieve and maintain competitive advantages without compromising quality or customer service.
  • Adeptness at recruiting talent, building effective teams and in coaching, motivating, influencing and empowering multinational employees to think differently.
  • Proficiency in managing conflict, providing transparency and giving ongoing feedback.

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  • Exceptional communication skills; a good listener who encourages constructive dialogue and works to bring clarity to an intercultural exchange process.
  • Ability to manage uncertainty and ambiguity, anticipate opportunities, lead change and innovation and learn from experience.
  • Humility; the willingness to learn and the patience to manage mistakes.

“Employees recognize that when a company selects them to work abroad, it signifies that person’s value to their organization,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “Smart companies are quick to recognize that to operate within the global economy; they need to be proactive in shaping the future of their leaders.  The most astute managers will welcome and cultivate the differences between multicultural relationships without advocating conforming to a U.S.-centric business model.”

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Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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