Global Innovation Leadership: Are You Ready for 2019?

Today’s business context is placing leaders within a global network of collaborators where change and innovation are the key drivers. They are facing demands to facilitate knowledge-sharing with cross-functional and cross-cultural teams as well as the need to orchestrate the global innovation project. Leaders are challenged with competencies for collaborating and innovating with team members across geographies. Yet there are few leadership and innovation models that address behaviors and practices based on the current work context – one that is global, multicultural, and digitally connected.

In exploring the global innovation leadership journey, it’s helpful to understand four layers: core leadership values, cultural dimensions, cultural interactions, and global leadership contexts. Each development stage is essential to developing and applying new knowledge and cognitive behaviors. There are leadership models and practices available for specific development needs at each stage. Core leadership values lead to greater self-knowledge that guide the development of your skills and competencies; cultural dimensions provide insights to cultural differences in team and organizational settings; and cultural interactions allow you to identify and develop cognitive behaviors for facilitating interactions with multicultural teams. 

These three layers are then applied to the global leadership context in order to effectively manage international projects and initiatives in today’s multicultural and networked world. Understanding cultural dimensions and cultural interactions strengthen cross-cultural competencies, however there’s also the need to manage within specific business contexts. Knowing cultural differences and practicing cultural intelligence are only as effective as their integration with leadership practices for inspiring concept creation, designing business strategies, managing projects, and facilitating team collaboration across countries. 

Leadership behaviors can have great influence on the outcome of the global innovation project. For example, a senior manager working in a leading US based multinational high-tech firm had invested time with the executive team in building strong relations with teams in key international markets. However, the situation completely changed when a new executive replaced the outgoing leader. “We experienced a recent re-organization where the executive team members switched hands”, he explained: “In the past, the previous vice president was very pro-active in getting local buy-in and feedback.” The new executive’s approach focused on a top down leadership style where he wanted HQ to lead and control the effort which resulted in a lack of open feedback and limited engagement from local teams. As a result, the senior global manager faced challenges in trying to motivate the international teams, explaining that “if you want to be creative as a global company, it’s important to encourage ideation from your international counterparts instead of focusing on the HQ team.”

Innovation projects demand particular leadership competencies in an international and digitally connected environment. In launching new concepts, products or services, leaders need both cultural and market intelligence to ensure local market success. Specific leadership competencies are required to inspire a common global vision, engage cross-cultural and cross-functional teams in dialogue, and orchestrate a dynamic space for effective project collaboration and execution. In order to review your leadership development needs, consider the following questions: 

  • What kind of leadership behaviors are being applied throughout the global innovation project cycle?
  • In which global innovation project phase is the team experiencing multicultural collaboration challenges?
  • How could you improve leadership competencies for specific phases in the global innovation project cycle?

Global innovation leadership requires openness to diverse cultures and perspectives. Leaders will need substantial cultural and market intelligence, facilitation, and orchestration skills in order to accelerate innovation and performance around the world. There is a greater need for trust-building and knowledge-sharing throughout the key project phases, from ideation to execution. It’s time to consider leadership competencies that contribute to these business contexts. Are you ready to lead innovation in a global, multicultural and networked world?

This article is based on new thoughts and excerpts from the book “Leading Global Innovation” by Karina R. Jensen, Palgrave Macmillan 2017. 

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