Japan's Leadership Challenges in Globalization

Part 3: Common Traits of Successful Global Business Leaders

White Papers | March, 2015

By Tokyo

In our first white paper, “Japan’s Leadership Challenges in Globalization – Part 1: The Race is on for Japanese Global Leaders,” DHR International (DHR) confirmed that many Japanese companies are committed to recruiting and developing leaders who will successfully lead them through an era of increasing globalization. In our second, “Part 2: Turning Globalization Opportunities to Deliver Results,” we interviewed corporate executives and managers. We examined how Japanese companies are implementing diversity into their organizations and converting it to a real business driver in constantly changing global markets. This third paper continues our focus on the globalization of Japanese companies, examining the mindsets, habits and traits of successful global business leaders.

In previous interviews executives often spoke about the importance of “having the right person in the right place.” While the functional skills required vary, depending on the specific role, successful global leaders share certain traits. Mr. Pravesh Mehra, Executive Vice President of DHR International’s U.S. headquarters, explained in his recent report entitled “Successful Leadership Styles: One Style Does Not Fit All,” that while every company has its own culture and requires a certain type of leadership style, there are commonalities among successful leaders. He says, “The most successful leaders have integrity, they inspire people with a shared vision of the future, they set clear goals and motivate people to achieve them, they manage delivery, and they communicate well with their teams.”

Common Traits of Successful Global Business Leaders

Through interviews DHR identified three common traits of successful global business leaders: Ability to Influence, Ability to Take Action, and Ability to Communicate.

1. Ability to Influence
Mr. E is now Head of HR for a foreign company. He graduated from an American university, worked in HR for a Japanese company, and continued his HR career in several foreign companies for almost 20 years. He said, “My company has global leaders who are skilled at influencing people. And those who can exercise influence have actually achieved results. They lead their global teams reach goals or resolve problems beyond the difference in positions and languages. They motivate team members to believe that they can achieve what leadership desires. These are skills required for all global leaders. Therefore, when I interview candidates for our executive positions I look for indicators of that skill set.”

2. Ability to Take Action
Mr. F worked for a Japanese electrical appliance manufacturer for thirty years, including nine years working outside of Japan. He then moved to a US financial institution as Head of HR. He said, “In 1970’s, when I joined a Japanese company, the company’s culture welcomed “the nails that stick out” and they did not get hammered down. As time passed and the company became successful and grew, management started to value stability. The leaders stopped taking risks and leading others by example. As a result, the company got weaker and weaker. There is a strong team spirit that motivates everyone to work towards the same goals, which is good. However, that’s not enough to survive. Leaders need to lead by taking action. When a leader sets a goal, he/she must be committed to implementing initiatives to reach those goals. Everyone likes to work for such a company and follow such a leader. I think this is the most important point to consider in recruiting senior executives at my company.

3. Ability to Communicate
Mr. A, Head of HR at a major Japanese home electronics company, recognizes that the experience of working as an expatriate in other countries is invaluable in helping leadership talent develop the ability to communicate well. He said, “Employees in Japan work in a closed environment for a long time, sharing the culture and often understanding each other without articulating everything precisely. However, in a global organization, one must communicate succinctly, in words, and in a positive, realistic and straightforward manner. Messages must be clear and delivered in such a way that people from diverse backgrounds and who think differently understand and trust them. Communication is more than just speaking the language. Without the ability to communicate authentically, the company cannot rely on the person to successfully run overseas operations.”

Mr. G, Head of the HR at a major Japanese manufacturer and with more than thirty years of experience in overseas business operations, also emphasized the importance of fully effective communication. “For example, even if you are sending a message from the global headquarters in Tokyo, it shouldn’t sound condescending and arrogant to non-Japanese. In a truly global organization, all employees, wherever they are, should be treated like partners. Effective use of communication technology is also an important competency. Today, we have many different communication tools, such as conference calls, e-mails, etc. In an organization made up of different cultures, consider the people at the other end. Sending the right message to the right people at the right timing via the right channel will result in greater trust in you as a leader.”

DHR considers the Ability to Influence, Ability to Take Action, and Ability to Communicate as key attributes when we interview candidates. Whatever the position or responsibilities, we believe that testing these qualities in candidates as we conduct our search assignments helps us identify potential global business leaders.

Keeping a business organization on course globally, while recognizing changing customer needs and market environment in a timely manner, cannot be done by a single person. In order to control a business, which a fast changing global business environment is making increasingly complex, we need tools to complement our IT systems. Success in the marketplace, including the ability to offer the right product or service at the right time, requires the involvement of various stakeholders across multiple countries and multiple organizations, from within and outside the company, from strategy formulation to action implementation.

Leadership Qualities Required in Global Market – DHR

cgreybe.jpgMs. Christine Greybe, President, International Region, DHR (except North American Region) offers another perspective, observing three other common qualities of global leaders who successfully lead their businesses globally in rapidly changing environments:

1. Business Acumen

Innovative ideas and processes are necessary for businesses to survive today. Successful development and implementation of these concepts requires their conversion to profitable mechanisms and structures, and a functional business model. Leaders must possess more than mere talent. They must possess true business acumen.

While many leaders are talented, acumen is developed by learning from experience, including failure.

The lessons executives take from those “road bumps” are often priceless and play a significant role in their successes.

2. Tenacity

Successful leaders never give up. They access a mental toughness that enables them to confront difficult situations, move through them, survive and win. Tenacity goes beyond possessing a positive attitude. An optimistic outlook is important, of course, but real tenacity makes one relentless in overcoming obstacles, and it is a quality common, and required, of effective global leaders.

In 2000 Jack Ma was Chairman and CEO of Alibaba.com, before the company went public in 2014.

At that time, the company was a portal site that supported transactions only among small and medium size companies. It was not profitable, Ma had no income, and investors were doubtful.

However, Ma was unwavering in his belief in his own potential for success, working hard and faithful to his business model. Ten years later, his business has evolved to one of the world’s largest B2B transaction sites. Alibaba.com now provides services such as global transactions, Chinese domestic transactions and Japan-China transactions – with over 50 million members in over 240 countries. His persistent, tenacious attitude led him to succeed.

3. Building Relationships & Networking

Many successful global business leaders cultivate diverse connections, create a network of people and make use of it. In other words, successful leaders often have an exceptional talent for building relationships and networking. They strive to build a network and invest time in doing so. They also make full use of their network without hesitation.

They ask people’s opinions, request coaching from their senior business leaders and seek advice about their challenges and difficulties. There may be a small cultural differences between successful Japanese leaders and those of other nationalities. For example, Japanese leaders may appear somewhat reserved. However, they make use of a culturally appropriate networking system, effective and within context, hosting parties and study sessions and taking every opportunity to create forums to exchange and enthusiastically expand human connections.

“I always enjoy meeting and talking to people,” says Ms. Greybe. “I focus my attention completely on the people I am with at the moment and have a great time. I believe that I can offer them something valuable, and in return, I receive tremendous energy back.”

In the same manner, successful global business leaders always try to learn something new from the experience, knowledge and thought processes of people they meet. They know the value of learning from others.


This report examines and makes observations on some of the “Common Traits of Successful Global Business Leaders.” Although offering great products and services is key to any business, the “human” part of business has a huge impact on success in the global market. Today, many companies work to identify and develop true global business leaders. Even in major multinational corporations few are universally acknowledged as “true global leaders,” but many companies are actively working to identify, recruit and develop those with that potential.

Our next report, the last of this series, will examine the “Effective Use of Local Leaders Overseas” and the “On-Boarding Processes of New Leaders.”