A recent article from The Economist describes the renewed emphasis that global businesses have put on hiring the best and brightest recruits.  Business leaders support the “Pareto” philosophy that a very slim portion of the world’s workforce is responsible for the vast majority of actual progress.  One influential corporate leader can have more impact on a company’s direction than an entire department of lower-level employees.  For this reason, companies such as General Electric (GE) and Procter and Gamble (P&G) have invested disproportionate resources toward finding and keeping “the vital few.”  In today’s global economy, an important aspect of developing such prominent leaders includes exposure to international knowledge and opportunities. 

With the economy slowly improving, companies are positioning themselves to profit from new opportunities.  They must have complete faith in the leaders that will define a strategic direction for the coming years.  While raw talent cannot be taught, businesses are still responsible for providing the right learning experiences to those leaders whom they are able to bring in.  Even the “cream of the crop” of college graduates has a lot to learn about managing a business in a dynamic environment.

One approach to leadership development that has proven beneficial to companies such as GE is a special off-site training program for leaders.  GE commits over $1 billion to training each year for employees with top-notch leadership abilities.  While these courses are seen as valuable, the best way to prepare leaders for their future roles is to test them with challenging job assignments.

International roles are one of the best ways to help managers develop wide-ranging business leadership skills.  By managing an emerging business sector overseas, leaders are forced to cope with challenging issues in many functional areas that test them under pressure.  Higher level managers are not always available to provide them with guidance when quick decisions must be made.  Without actually running an entire company, young leaders can still get a taste of what doing so would actually entail.

In companies aspiring to expand globally, any amount of experience working overseas can help to position an individual for a significant management position.  P&G realizes this and makes sure that top leaders develop into a “collection of world experts.”  While innovative thinking is an important skill to possess, a global understanding is not far behind.  One proven method for companies with a large domestic market share to increase profits is to find new markets overseas.  This cannot be done without managers who understand what it takes to run a successful business and have the skills to do it on another part of the globe.

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