Going Global: Is the Leadership Development Landscape Being Reshaped from a Glocal Perspective?

Reflections and thoughts by Dr. Lily Cheng
Founder and Chief Catalyst


Are leaders today facing such different challenges that our methods of developing them have lost their efficacy? In a 2011 white paper by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which sought to answer the question “what will the future of leadership development look like?” the following trends were found:

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CCL’s white paper also identified Four Trends for the Future of Leadership Development, which can be read here.

Now that we’re in the year 2017, are we any closer to the answer of what the future of leadership development looks like?

Based on my past 38 years of corporate exposure as an employee, supervisor, manager, leader, and an OD practitioner (since 1998), who has travelled extensively from the East to West, I propose that leadership development has to take a global perspective rather than a HQ approach. I have seen many MNCs — particularly Japanese, Indian, German, and some American ones — focus on having leadership development programmes in their home country, and thereafter cascade them to the emerging markets. In such MNCs, vital decisions are still in the hands of a small group of trusted leaders from the home country. 

Do we continue to groom future global leaders in the HQ and then send them on overseas appointments? I believe some organisations might be able to continue this approach for now, but not in the future. If they continue to hire technical specialists, local experts, and country managers from emerging markets, but rarely promote them to corporate positions, it poses a very serious threat to their leadership sustainability. Here are some of my thoughts on how leadership development needs to be reshaped in the future:

Thought #1: The VUCA Environment has Reshaped the Meaning of Leadership Development

Our VUCA environment demands that we develop credible leaders with a high level of agility to overcome global competition. We no longer need leaders who can command from the HQ, but ones who are committed to have a strong resolve to confront brutal facts and move the organisation to a better state. 

Corporate leaders have to choose to trust host country leaders to ensure that the risks and uncertainty of the business environments in the emerging markets will be mitigated due to the proximity of these host country leaders to the markets they serve. The need for leadership development to be localised and contextualised with a strong leadership framework that adopts a glocal (global + local) perspective is key to leadership sustainability in the future.

Thought #2: Content and Context of Future Leadership Development

The “what” (content) versus the “how” (context) in leadership development need to be addressed in the future of leadership development. It’s helpful to reflect on these issues: Do we have to rethink the development gaps that we want to close beyond knowledge and skills? Are we building leaders with global perspectives? Do we need to equip our leaders with a leadership development framework that builds on a common leadership language across the globe? Do we need to have vendors in leadership development who are neither HQ-centric nor local-centric, but glocal-centric, who embrace global perspectives with a local context?

Thought #3: Leadership Pipelines in Future Leadership Development

Most of the organisations we have worked with have a strong first layer of leadership, but are less optimal at the the subsequent levels. In this ever complex network that our organisations operate in today, disruptive technology has created even more ambiguity, and it’s a struggle to have ready leaders at all levels of the organisation.

Consequently, having an ongoing leadership development milestone journey that holistically embraces competency-building, on-the-job application, multi-medium learning engagements,  and action learning projects with executive coaching, are now a necessity and not a nice-to-have. 

Part of rethinking the way to make the leadership development journey ongoing also requires us to create a strong mentoring culture in our organisations, so that we can strengthen our leadership pipelines with ready leaders at all levels. 

As the landscape of leadership development changes, it takes a global perspective and a focus on ongoing leadership development to ensure we are equipped for the future. Ultimately, the key to successful leadership development lies in how we have leaders who are ready to lead when the need arises and also when we don’t expect it.

How is your organisation reshaping its leadership development for the future? Drop us a note at connect@pace-od.com to find out how we can be a part of it!