Navigating International Waters: Essential Skills Every Global Executive Must Have
by Barsha Bhattacharya Services 16 October 2023
With the advent of globalization, we’ve unlocked a wealth of new opportunities to network and conduct business internationally. However, the new business landscape is unlike anything the executives of the past 20 years have experienced. Executives in 2023 must carefully balance local needs with global objectives and possess a unique set of abilities to navigate not only distance and time zones but also cross-cultural sensitivities.
Here, we will delve into four essential skills every successful international executive must possess to thrive in the global marketplace.
1. Multilingual Abilities
Successful global executives like Lorenzo Bonfiglio often attribute their strong success in international markets at least partly to their ability to speak multiple languages. Not only does proficiency in several languages give entrepreneurs and executives access to a wider market, but it can also aid in their ability to negotiate critical business deals. Although translators can be used to iron out contracts and establish expectations, they may not understand the nuances of the deal or the broader concepts an executive needs to convey. By communicating directly with foreign business partners, global executives can reduce the chance of misinterpretation when conducting business deals.
2. Cross-Cultural Awareness
For global executives to build strong relationships internationally, they need to possess an appreciation, respect and understanding of different cultures.
Cross-cultural awareness helps executives build trust in their business relationships and can also aid business partners in both preventing and resolving conflicts that may arise due to cultural differences. For example, an American executive doing business in Japan may offend prospective business partners if he does not use formal titles and honorifics when meeting for the first time. Conversely, a Japanese executive who has not taken the time to develop her cross-cultural awareness may not realize that tipping in U.S. restaurants is mandatory.
While being multilingual or from a diverse background is helpful, even monolingual speakers can learn to act with cross-cultural sensitivity by researching cultural nuances, etiquette and customs and observing these where appropriate.
The global economic landscape is highly dynamic and at the mercy of countless external factors, such as civil conflicts and natural disasters. Inexperienced executives who lack adaptability will often become overwhelmed by these disruptions and struggle to effectively lead their organizations through times of upheaval.
Adaptable executives understand the importance of diversification and making contingency arrangements. For example, a skilled executive might operate a large factory in Manila but store a percentage of product supplies in a secondary location to avoid catastrophic losses if a fire were to break out. Adaptability is vital in helping successful executives accept change and develop new business strategies as needed.
4. Technological Proficiency
It would be impractical for global executives to hop on a plane every time they needed to negotiate a deal with international partners. While traditional phone calls can assist with overseas communications, audio calls can feel impersonal and cause individuals to miss vital visual communication clues. Technology such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other meeting software, can be an extremely powerful tool to bridge this gap and build rapport from a distance.
With new software constantly in development, a successful global executive must be committed to and passionate about mastering the best new tools for long-distance communication. It’s not enough to simply be aware of new tools. A skilled executive must have the IT skills to troubleshoot technological difficulties and the confidence to power through presentations even when cameras or microphones are malfunctioning.
Leadership skills have moved far beyond the traditional workplace requirements of seniority and charisma. In the digital world, global executives must possess strong technological skills, adaptability, and cross-cultural competencies to effectively lead a team toward success.