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It’s been more than a decade since Jack Welch stressed the importance of international leadership skills.

“The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me -- I spent my entire career in the United States,” he said. “The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure they have training that will allow them to be global leaders.”

So how well are companies delivering on international leadership skills today? According to DDI’s 2014-2015 Global Leadership Forecast, which surveyed 13,124 leaders and 1,528 HR professionals around the world, they have some work to do.

Although HR professionals recognized the significance of international leadership skills -- “integrating oneself into intercultural or foreign environments” and “intercultural communication within international business environments” were cited as critical leadership skills for the future -- the development of these competencies is not being prioritized as highly as it could be.

“Only one in five [organizations] is emphasizing development in global leadership,” the report states.

With this fact in mind, it makes sense that leaders don’t feel confident in their international skills. Only 34% of survey respondents considered themselves to be highly effective at leading across countries and cultures, which was the lowest response out of a list of 12 skills. The remaining two of the bottom three also concerned international abilities. 

It’s clear that companies need to ramp up their focus on fostering international leadership expertise. But where should they turn their attention first? In addition to encouraging HR departments to deploy more international skills training, DDI also suggested the order in which international competencies should be introduced as leaders progress from the front-line level to more senior offices.

“For global leadership skills, prioritize 'Intercultural business communication’ first at the front line, then 'Integrating oneself into intercultural environments,' and finally 'Leading across countries and cultures' as leaders use these skills more,” the report states.

Originally published Sep 22, 2014 6:00:00 AM, updated September 22 2014

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