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Leadership Without Borders: Successful Strategies from World-Class Leaders





Book: 'Leadership Without Borders: Successful Strategies from World-Class Leaders'

Author: Ed Cohen

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pte Ltd, 2007


Leader Values

There is obviously a well-trodden path to becoming a global leader. Most companies simply find managers who have shown good leadership skills in their home country, and send them on an overseas assignment for broadening. During the overseas posting, these managers typically adopt a quasi home lifestyle – living in ex-pat housing, socialising with other ex-pats and sending their children to an international school.

But is this the best way to grow global leaders? Not according to experienced strategic leader Ed Cohen. He took up a position in India and discovered that his home-grown leadership skills didn’t work so well when he was out of the US. From this experience, Cohen warns that “leadership is much more complex on the global frontier. The global shift requires new competency priorities”.


In Leadership Without Borders he discusses the global strategies used by successful world-class leaders. The book is based on the results of a Global Leadership Survey among 200 executives living in 60 countries, plus extensive interviews with 50 global leaders. Cohen asked them about key challenges facing global leaders and the core global leadership competencies required for success.


Adopting the survey approach does carry a few risks. Surveys often seem to yield many facts, but relatively little understanding. It is easy to get carried away with statistics like “x% of respondents believed that … is a key skill for global leaders”. But Cohen has avoided that trap and gives us the collective insights of the seasoned leaders that he surveyed.


Cohen identifies five key competencies required by successful global leaders: global leadership characteristics, global business acumen, worldview, global people leadership and global business leadership. He explores each of these areas in detail, with tips on how to develop global leadership skills. The main points are illustrated with examples from the experiences of successful global leaders.


Many of these global leadership competencies sound familiar at the big picture level. But when you look into the detail, there are some unexpected findings. For example, ex-pats are advised to avoid cocooning, and to immerse themselves in their new culture instead. That means moving out of your comfort zone, but the rewards can be very big. Cohen suggests that it will make you not just a more successful global leader, but a better person as well. Aspiring global leaders are also warned not to rely on one paper or news channel, since “getting your news from only one source will inevitably bias your thinking”.


Of course, you may not agree with every recommendation. In some countries you aren’t allowed to live outside ex-pat compounds. And language barriers may prevent your children from attending a local school. But the underlying concept of engaging with the local people and culture still holds.


Leadership Without Borders questions some of our widely-held beliefs, making it worthwhile and thought-provoking material for all those on the path to global leadership.


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