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What is Global Leadership?

By B. Sebastian Reiche, Mark E. Mendenhall, Allan Bird, & Joyce S. Osland

While it has become common to call for global leaders to address the many challenges that internationally operating organizations face, it is much less clear what we actually mean when referring to global leaders or what the scope of global leadership entails. This article elaborates a framework for understanding the globality in leadership, focusing on three distinct yet interrelated conditions of global leadership: contextual, relational and spatial-temporal. We also highlight the critical elements of leadership in a global environment and discuss implications for the design of global leadership development activities.1

As businesses continue to expand their operations beyond their home borders, the topic of attracting, maintaining and developing people who can successfully perform in such a global environment is receiving more and more attention. Indeed, global leadership has become the buzzword of the 21st century: business news don’t go without a column on how to lead global markets; talent development professionals focus on enhancing global leadership skills; and organizations keep looking for executives with a global leadership mindset. Over the past two decades, the academic world has also examined the phenomenon, specifically working to understand what the necessary attributes of global leadership are. However, despite the growing attention brought to the topic and several scientific contributions made to understanding it, there is no common conception of what we mean when we refer to global leadership. Specifically, there is no common understanding of ‘global,’ which posits a risk to knowledge development in the area. Without clear and commonly accepted definitions, the work done in the academic domain becomes increasingly fragmented, and cannot be summarized into a common body of new knowledge nor translated into practical implications.

Given the abovementioned lack of a common understanding of global leadership, and its possible limitations for advances in the field, our intent was to fill this gap and specifically elaborate on the global dimension of global leadership. By developing a conceptual model of global leadership, we help to focus future research efforts while avoiding conceptual pitfalls that have slowed the progression of other, similar fields in international management.

A conceptual framework of globality in leadership
Due to a lack of clear consensus concerning what global means, there is confusion about the boundaries of the global leader designation, making it difficult to specify who does and does not fit into this category. In an attempt to create more clarity, in our conceptual framework we focus on three critical dimensions that address the contextual, relational, and spatial-temporal elements of global leadership2.

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