7 Global Leadership Skills in High Demand

According to a 2023 report from the World Trade Organization, there was a 15% growth in services trade last year, which outpaced the 2.7% rise in merchandise trade. Combined trade in goods and services climbed 13% to $31 trillion from 2021 to 2022.

These numbers underscore an important reality: More than ever, business operates on a global stage. Even the owners of a seemingly simple mom-and-pop gift shop need to know where their materials and products are sourced from and how the global supply chain works.

This makes developing solid global leadership skills important for those looking to launch or grow a career in global business management.

“A lot of U.S.-based businesses now do business globally,” says Patrick Sweeney, PhD, professor of the Practice of Management and the executive director of Wake Forest School of Business’ Allegacy Center for Leadership and Character. “We live in a global economy, and there’s a great need to broaden the strategic thinking of those who lead these companies. What happens in different parts of the globe will have an impact on your business, even if you’re a U.S.-based business.”

Here are the global leadership skills that are in highest demand.

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness in leadership means you know what motivates you, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how your personality and leadership traits affect the people you work with.

“This is an important skill for global leaders to have because it puts you in a better position to assess and adapt your decisions as necessary,” says Sweeney. “It also helps you better understand your team members. Ask yourself, who are you as a leader? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? And the most important thing is, where are your potential biases?”

>> Read More: Five Skills You Learn in an MBA Program

2. Global Awareness

“It’s important for a global leader to understand different cultures and how people communicate and to be able to align everyone to work together for a common mission,” Sweeney says. “Part of that is being able to shape an organization and the culture in the organization where it is truly a global culture, and people from all over the world feel like they fit in.”

It’s important for global leaders to be able to:

  • Understand and appreciate different cultures and norms
  • Adjust leadership styles and business operations appropriately in light of those cultural norms
  • Bring people together from different cultures

To achieve this global mindset, Sweeney says, “Organizations need to have global and inclusive cultures and cultural representation at all leadership levels.”

3. Ethical Decision-Making

As leaders navigate the challenges and opportunities of doing business globally, ethical decision-making is crucial. Being responsible and transparent are key elements of this.

“It’s important for global leaders to use an ethical framework to systematically process the ethical dilemma from key stakeholder perspectives and various lenses and ensure the decision reinforces the organization’s culture,” Sweeney says. “There is no absolute right or wrong answer in ethics when two values or responsibilities conflict. Think critically and understand that there may not be a truly ‘right’ decision.”

4. Strategic Thinking

An effective global leader understands how their business strategy fits into a global space. They consider potential advantages and risks and how they can remain competitive while staying consistent with their company’s culture and mission.

“Strategy should be linked to your mission and driven by your culture, core values, and purpose. Where are you going to compete? Where can you bring all your strengths to gain an advantage and then minimize any threats? But again, you must do this while remaining aligned with who you are, your culture, and your purpose.”

>> Read More: What Can You Do With an MBA in Strategy and Leadership?

5. Communication Skills

Solid communication skills are one of the most important skills that business leaders need.

“Good communication is absolutely critical because cultures communicate differently,” Sweeney says. “Global leaders should be able to adjust their communication methods and messages based on the cultural norms. You have to understand how the organization or how that culture receives information, and then adjust your message accordingly.”

6. ‘Leading by Traveling’ Skills

In a U.S.-based organization with just a few offices, many leaders practice what’s called “leadership (or management) by walking around.” LinkedIn defines this as “a management style in which the manager walks around the workshop or office in an unstructured and unscheduled manner, spending time listening to problems and ideas of their staff.”

Leadership by walking around requires a leader to get out from behind their desk and demonstrate personal involvement and good listening skills.

“At the global level, it’s ‘leadership by traveling,’” Sweeney says. “Leaders have to get out and visit their people and the key stakeholders in the different countries. That’s how you build trust and learn how you can help in different areas. It’s very symbolic because you’re communicating about your culture while reinforcing the bigger vision.”

7. Flexibility

“Strategic and tactical flexibility is important—global leaders have to have this,” says Sweeney. “You want to standardize things, but at the same time, in-country leaders have to have some flexibility to make minor adjustments in order to honor important cultural norms.”

For example, collective societies like to be recognized and rewarded as a collective versus an individual. The U.S. tends to be more individual-focused in the ways people are recognized and rewarded.

“If I’m an in-country leader in a collective society, I should have the flexibility to change those policies and focus on performance objectives that are more collective and recognize rewarding people as a collective,” Sweeney says. “There has to be some flexibility in each country to make some adjustments.”

Grow Your Global Leadership Skills With Our Online MBA Program

The Wake Forest online MBA program equips you with a strategic, global perspective on business. Our Global Immersion Program is an experiential program designed to help students understand the challenges and opportunities of doing business in and with countries and economies around the world. Traveling to the region being studied is part of each Global Immersion course.

“The Wake Forest online MBA program has instructors from different countries and with international experience,” Sweeney says. “We use a lot of international case studies, and we bring in international business leaders to teach. Students get a chance to interact with these leaders and ask questions.”

Explore the Wake Forest online MBA program. If you’re ready to take the next step to earning an MBA online, request more information today.