Culture Organisation Development

5 C’s for Leadership in a Global Company

When companies were just national, you could make it to senior level or even the top with a mix of competence and confidence (of course a few good connections could also help).

Today, successful companies are international or global and to be leader requires something extra. Just doing a good job on your home turf is no longer enough, you have to be visible and you have to have impact.

For example, a senior manager in India or Indonesia, could be successfully managing thousands of people, meeting targets, but have no visibility in a global organization. On the flip side, an American or European manager may fail to lead in Asia or South America, because they just don’t understand how to get things done in those cultures.

I was recently having a conversation with a US based, charismatic, ‘C-level’ executive of a global company, about the direct reports of his peer who worked in Asia. He expressed his frustration that these leaders in their own country were failing to meet his criteria for leadership on a global stage. His leadership criteria could be summarized as follows, leaders should:

  1. Know more than their clients
  2. Be able to have peer level conversations with clients
  3. Push back on clients or colleagues when there is a better way
  4. Be able to present convincingly to different demographics
  5. Be comfortable to pick up the phone and challenge him or other senior stakeholders

Knowing the senior leaders to whom he referred, and thinking about other coaching conversations I have had about going from national manager to global leader, I came up with 5 C’s.

  1. Competence
  2. Confidence
  3. Courage
  4. Comfortable with Conflict
  5. Cultural Intelligence


Competence is foundational to any endeavor. Of course you don’t need to know everything, but you must know your area of expertise ‘6 foot long and 6 miles deep’. And competence includes knowing who knows what you need to know and how to get them to help. The global leader, is never satisfied, they are constantly learning and networking to gather new information about their area of expertise.


Confidence is the fuel that drives the vehicle of success. To lead you must be confident in what you know, what you and your team can do, and be able to articulate this in a succinct way. Being confident in your own strengths is not a lack of humility but a statement, verbal or non-verbal of what you can contribute.

Confidence often deserts, when faced by someone more aggressive or senior than you. When this happens, you have been victim of a ‘neural hijack’, your emotional brain senses danger and prepares you for fight or flight, robbing you of reason. The cure for this is to visualize these challenges, not as a threat, but as an opportunity to show how you shine under pressure.

Presenting effectively to groups in person, or over a conference line, requires competence and confidence. Being able to present, especially under pressure, creates executive presence which is required of a global leader.


Courage is confidence under constraint. It is easy to be courageous when there is no resistance, but to be a global leader you must have the courage of your convictions. In my experience, managers don’t lack courage but fail to utilize courage when faced with opposition from senior people. The fear is of the consequences of taking a stand, whilst mostly this fear is false, there is a risk in saying “no” to power. However there is a definite risk of being overlooked if you do not speak up.

Courage is created when we care enough. The hero in us is released when we have a big enough cause, or purpose. What is it that you care about enough, to have the courage to speak out?

Comfortable with Conflict

Conflict is inevitable whenever there are two or more perspectives present. To be comfortable with conflict, we must have competence, confidence and courage. Key things to remember are; the other party has a perspective and you have a perspective, both are equally valid but both, or neither, might be right. With this frame of mind conflict in the workplace, is not about you or them, but about hearing all perspectives and evaluating which best serves the achieving the agreed objectives.

Our emotional brain is always engaged by conflict, and so it’s important to be able state what emotions you are experiencing, without blaming the other person, for example; “When ( some observable thing) happens, I feel, (frustrated, angry, sad etc.) because I need (express my opinion, to be part of the team etc.) and so my request is (some new behaviour).

We naturally want no hassles, but if we can become comfortable with conflict and stay with the process, creativity and innovation can ensure.

Cultural Intelligence

We live in a global interconnected world but biologically we are still tribal. Humans developed in small tribes and perceived people with different features, actions or rituals as a threat. Those biases are still in our emotional brains, and so we need to use our neocortex (thinking brain) to recognize differences as interesting and equally valid as our own. This openness to alternative rituals and ways of communicating is a sign of mental maturity.

Cultural Intelligence is recognizing that whilst you may have developed openness, the people you want to influence may have not. It is therefore important to be knowledgeable and adaptable to different cultural norms.

In addition to be able to recognize and adapt to different cultures, the global leader must be able to span generations. With Millennial digital native now entering the workforce, we need to update our mental maps about how junior staff should behave and the impact they can have on creativity and innovation.

The reader may consider that my 5 C’s are more culturally Western than Eastern, and I would tend to agree. My justification is that most global companies have taken on more Western cultural success indicators. If I were to add a 6th and 7th C, they would be collaboration and community as these are what will be required for global companies to be sustainable.


In my opening example of the charismatic ‘C-level’ leader, we can see that his requirements for success can be decoded as:

You are competent and you know your stuff, therefore be confident to sit down with clients or colleagues and have the courage to say what you believe to be true. People aren’t always going to agree with you, so be comfortable with conflict and get good at listening to their perspectives, presenting yours in a compelling way and negotiating a win/win. And regardless of your culture, consider the cultural norms of the group you are trying to influence and adapt as necessary to get buy-in.

As a leadership consultant I have coached all of the 5C’s for individuals and groups in a variety of cultures. When managers start practicing the 5C’s the result are phenomenal and global leadership begins.

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