Skip to content
Rich Hirst2 min read

a different animal all together

Global leadership plays a critical role in tackling the grand challenges of our time and Australia is uniquely positioned to foster innovation (you can read why here). 

So, if we're so well placed, why are so many companies struggling to produce global leaders in Australia?

The research is pretty concerning.  

  • only 12% of executives say they have a strong leadership bench [DDI 2023] and  
  • 6% of organisations feel they are very ready to develop global leaders [Deloitte 2019]. 
  • McKinsey [2016] reported that up to 83% of leaders globally feel unprepared for new roles.  

Too many companies are struggling to develop leaders and most leaders don’t feel ready when they get there.  

Why is it so hard? 

What can we do to make it easier? 

How can we work together to solve the global leadership challenge? 

Before answering these questions we need to define what we mean by global leadership. 

Global Leadership Definition 

  • A role that has influence and exposure across geographic and cultural borders. 
  • Can be related to position but not ‘exclusive to’ or ‘guaranteed by’ title. 
  • Anyone from anywhere at any time can be a global leader, including you. 

It can be helpful to think of global leadership like a ladder, with many rungs.  

The first rung on the global leader ladder is being employed by a multinational company. Even if you have no direct exposure to your peers overseas, your role would not (or should not) exist if it did not influence in some way, shape or form the global operations of the organisation.   

The next rung for many people may be participating on a course with colleagues from other geographies and cultures.  

Step up again and you may be teaming with colleagues and/or serving stakeholders from overseas on an internal or external project. 

Take another step and now you may be leading a project that requires influence or is exposed to global stakeholders and dynamics. 

In the corporate sector the global leader ladder climbs right up to that of global CEO or Chair, with responsibility for potentially 100s of geographies and 100s of billions in revenue. 

Thinking about global leadership in this way challenges us all to ‘step up’ how we think about our contribution.  

No matter what rung you are on, there is always an opportunity to make a difference globally. That is one of the coolest things about working for a multinational! 

But let’s be clear. As Professor Jay Conger of Claremont University said in 2013… 

“Global leadership is not the next level of leadership but a different animal all together.” 

This provides a clue as to why companies are struggling to develop global leaders. Jay identified that global leaders are different to leaders that are not working across geographic and cultural borders in three key ways.

  • Qualities, such as catalytic learning & cultural IQ 
  • Skills, such as sophisticated networking & contextual leadership 
  • Mindsets, like dealing with complexity, uncertainty & systems thinking  

These capabilities hold as true today as they did 10 years ago, but they don’t go far enough. They don’t capture the unique challenges of being or becoming a global leader in Australia, and they don’t reflect today’s context. 

If I were to update Jay’s quote, find out what I’d say in my next blog post.


Rich Hirst

Rich’s personal purpose is to help people become their better selves and bring out the best in others. Trained in organisational psychology Rich has worked with over 100,000 leaders and 1,000 CEOs plus 100’s of the global experts to decode and coach exponential leadership mindframes and tactics to achieve new levels of performance, well-being and abundance for all. He is the cofounder and CEO of Abundium, a growth accelerator network for the local leaders of foreign owned companies and not for profits.