ATD Blog

Learning and Leadership in a Global Marketplace

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning and performance continues to change and evolve based on the globality of work.  For some, that means designing and rolling out curriculum to multiple countries with various cultural implications. For others, it means increasing cultural complexity and various languages working and training together. Bottom line: The global workplace will likely touch all professionals in some way.  

For the ASTD Handbook (2nd edition), I worked on a chapter about learning and global leadership with Bill Wiggenhorn and 13 professionals around the world. It was quite the global project, and an honor to work with talented people who are happy to share their knowledge and experience.

More important, it was fascinating to see the stark differences that many leaders face. But it was equally interesting to see the commonalities.


People are working with multiple generations, various cultures, and changing geographic boundaries as fewer companies have products and services made and distributed in a single country or locale. This means people must working with—and understand—one another across borders.

For example, in China, three top success factors we identified were:

  • being broad-minded
  • being forward-looking
  • being competent in the role.

Not surprising, many identified success factors have very broad applicability. And innovation continues to be a main differentiator and valued in organizations.

Many of the major difference we observed are issues that have strong leadership implications. To start, leadership styles certainly vary across the globe. There are countries with entrenched paternalism or autocratic styles, with a mentality of not challenging leader’s decisions. For those countries, there are challenges to develop the next generation of leaders. 

Also, several areas of the world are dealing with affirmative action to support under-represented groups.  Women in leadership roles varies across continents, but there are many initiatives to increase the effort to prepare women for leadership responsibility.  Likewise, many regions seem to be dealing with ethical standards issues and corruption, both in their society and across business.


In addition, learner engagement varies around the world. In some countries, attending a leadership development session is seen as a reward and recognition for good work, as well as part of their development. In other countries or companies, where leadership development is not valued, there needs to be a strong message of purpose and return on investment of time and budget.

To be sure, companies are designing leadership training with geography, leadership styles, and culture in mind. Fernando Sanchez-Arias tells us, “Assuming a Peruvian leader gives the same importance to the financial, commercial, operational and human aspect of business than a Bolivian leader just because they look alike and have a common ethnic and historical background is like saying that Texans and Californians lead in the same way because they are both from the Union and are close to the Mexican border.”

Moving forward 

Being “comfortable with being uncomfortable” is a valued leadership trait that applies to the learning and performance world.  Attention tuned to the global implications and knowing there are unknowns is a functional mindset. Frustration at not knowing everything that might happen and learning some lessons the hard way is inevitable.

Learning is a journey. Consider the quote from Bob Galvin: “Take two suitcases with you…one filled with knowledge to share and one empty to fill with what you will learn from others.” His thoughts apply to the physical journey of travel, as well as the professional journey of navigating many cultures, languages, and leadership styles.


ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development (2nd Edition)

In today’s parlance, smart board is the new chalkboard and for the profession of training and development, this new, 2ndedition of the ASTD Handbook is the MUST-HAVE resource for every practitioner. More than a year in the making, it maintains the authentic credibility of ASTD’s first Handbook (2008), incorporates the new competencies of the profession, and includes more than 50 chapters authored by the top professionals in the T&D space. This all-new material is not just the "best of," but it is the BEST there is.

Together with the first edition, it represents the essence of the training practice with solid how-to content, plus tools, resources, technology, and more.  Spearheaded by expert trainer and world-renowned author, editor, and speaker, Elaine Biech, this is an essential title for your training library. 

About the Author

Renie McClay, CPTD, has had many roles, including learning leader, project manager, instructional designer, and in person and virtual facilitation. She is passionate about travel and about developing people. Having visited more than 40 countries, she has facilitated training for corporate, academic, and nonprofit audiences in Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and Latin America. Her past roles have included sales, sales management, and training/learning leader for multiple Fortune 500 companies.

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