Global Success Takes a New Skillset and Mindset

Originally published in inBusiness Magazine

By Paul Kinsinger, clinical professor of business intelligence and executive director of Thunderbird Executive Education

In today’s fast-moving globalizing economy, “what got you here” some years ago will help, but it won’t “get you there” altogether. To lead in the modern global marketplace, you have to add something more.

At Thunderbird Executive Education, we are finding that even seasoned global executives need to upgrade their skills to keep pace with the two overarching phenomena dictating global opportunities and challenges: managing the complex demands of a global economy that is shifting both east and south as emerging markets outgrow those in the developed world while, at the same time, navigating an increasingly turbulent global environment. 

Seizing on dynamic growth in emerging markets while maintaining innovation and focus in established markets is the strategic challenge facing many executives today. Whether the company is already in emerging markets or does business with companies that are, executives and organizations must have a strategy for emerging markets or risk becoming sidelined. 

But winning in emerging markets is getting tougher, too, so if you are not already in them, or are following a customer that is, the challenge of doing so is getting steeper daily. In many such markets, the easy fruit has been picked; local competition is on par with developed economies; governments are driving harder bargains with regard to investing in social development and contributing to the growth of local companies; and customers are demanding high-quality products and services at price points that meet their market realities. 

The challenge for leaders comes with increasing their strategic ambidexterity. Senior executives must master multiple market speeds — one for slower-moving, complex developed markets like Europe; another for faster ones like the US; another for emerging markets graduating to greater levels of complexity, like China; and others for new giants like Indonesia or Nigeria. This requires dealing with increasing complexity across multiple aspects of a business, as well as rethinking comfort levels with risk. It also requires devolving more power to others closer to the markets who can make the fast decisions needed to stay ahead there. 

Dealing with the second big phenomenon driving the global economy — increasing turbulence — requires more buoyant organizations, which in turn requires more adaptive, agile leaders. We find that organizations flourish when they are as alert as possible to signs of the ground shifting and move quickly in response; can experiment fast and move on; can flow vital information effortlessly; and will work opportunistically with partners, customers and even competitors to tackle external obstacles that all face. All these demands call for leaders who are great listeners, and are collaborative and trusting as well as fast-moving.