Global Mobility: Qualities of a Successful Leader


AESC’s Leaders on Leaders podcast explores top trends impacting global leadership. Karen Greenbaum, AESC President and CEO, speaks with leaders from the world’s top executive search and leadership advisory firms.

In our latest episode, Karen speaks with Stephen Dallamore, Global Chairman of AltoPartners, and discusses leadership mobility and the qualities of a successful leader in new geographies.

KAREN: Welcome to the Leaders on Leaders series from the Global Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. I’m Karen Greenbaum, AESC president and CEO. In Leaders on Leaders, we explore today’s top trends impacting global leadership with leaders from the world’s top executive search and leadership advisory firms. 

Today, we’ll be discussing leadership mobility. I’m joined by Global Chair of AltoPartners, Stephen Dallamore. Stephen, thanks for joining us. 

STEPHEN: Well, thank you for inviting me, Karen. 

KAREN: Stephen, let’s begin with you telling us about AltoPartners. 

STEPHEN: Okay. Well, AltoPartners celebrated its 10th anniversary last year and it’s an alliance that has been built up by three chairmen. I’m the third chairman in office. We currently have 58 offices in 35 countries and I would say AltoPartners is entrepreneurial, flexible, and has deep local insights and attracts best-of-breed partners.

KAREN: Terrific. So, with that global network, you seem well-positioned to talk about this subject. Let’s focus on leadership mobility, an important issue as we look for talent worldwide. How do you define leadership mobility and why do you see it being so important to today’s organization?

STEPHEN: My definition simply is the ability to move seamlessly between different cultures and communities in different worlds and still be accepted as a leader. 

KAREN: All right. Well, while we’re discussing mobility at an interesting time, a time when populism is running high, what impact is this having on global mobility?

STEPHEN: I think long-term, it’s not going to have much impact because I think the great revolutions that are happening, particularly in technology and information, will outpace populism and we’re already seeing some of that in France with Macron being an accepted leader. But I think we’re still going to go it. So I think at worst, companies might put a hold on some of their views on this, but I don’t think they’ll stop it all together. 

KAREN: Excellent. So are there differences in the type of leader that will succeed in new geographies such as the Far East, China, Asia, Africa, Latin America?

STEPHEN: Absolutely. I think really, we’re looking for people who really embrace change and are genuinely interested in developing people and developing their own skill sets. I think they’ve got to be sympathetic and very people-orientated. I just take for example the work we do in Africa. I speak to lots of executives who have spent their lives building a career in Africa and there is that wonderful saying, “Africa is not for sissies.” But all of them say, very simply, [that] you have to really enjoy it. You have to enjoy change. You have to be adaptable. You’ve got to be flexible. And you’ve got to be able to dust yourself off when you don’t know the answers. And if you’ve come up short, you’ve got to come up with ideas on how to fix it and how to fix it quickly.

KAREN: Terrific. So, I know you talk a lot about leadership rotation. What are some of the benefits of leadership rotation and when can it become counterproductive? 

STEPHEN: I think the benefits are the great, diverse experiences that an individual who embraces this can have: the wonderful education it brings with it; the new skills that person will gain; the ability that person will build a lot of resilience as he meets or she meets and has to deal with different experiences that they didn’t have to deal with before; a world outlook; and new learnings. What I mean by world outlook is [that] a lot of people are very one-dimensional and they’re used to a First World environment. And you take them to India, Africa, South Africa or rural South Africa—it’s pretty Third World—and you have to adapt, learn to understand and really embrace what you see. [You have to] get people to follow and accept you as a leader. I think those are important and those are the positives.

I think some of the negatives could be that corporate should be very mindful of the time they’ve prepared to allow an executive to spend in a job. I always believe that if you spend less than two years, you don’t really have time to create a legacy. I think they should be able to spend longer than that. I think the person needs to be really good at getting to understand local customs, local people and how they operate. And I think this will offset the cost. A lot of people who come from the First World are obviously expensive resources and they come to a Third World environment where they are paid a First World salary. I think, sometimes, that can be counterproductive to a company. [I think] those are some of the negatives but I think there are ways around that as well. 

KAREN: Okay. I know you believe that leadership mobility must be strategically managed. What are some of the factors required to manage mobility well?  

STEPHEN: I’ve touched on one or two of them but I think it’s having a very clear view of the time that the company is prepared to allow that executive to learn and manage the business. And obviously, I’m anticipating that all candidates who put their hands up for this kind of role have a baseline of competency. In other words, they are chief executives already. They understand finance and they understand the business that they’re running, et cetera. And they’re now going into a new environment and so they’ve got to have the right attitude and skills to deal. They also need to have a clear view on their career progression after this time in this new role so that they don’t feel concerned about what’s next. And then I think the individual needs to have a real ability to groom and mentor a successor so that the time, experience and skills that are imparted by this leader are not lost and they’re taken up by someone who can carry on with the good work.

KAREN: Excellent. One final question. And I think you’ve touched on this throughout our discussion, but let’s make this a wrap-up question. Are there common traits of leaders who tend to do well in a global context?

STEPHEN: I think so and some of them will be obvious, but let’s just run through a few of them. I think a passion for people; a hunger for new learning and different experiences; flexibility; somebody who takes the time to get to know and understand local issues—I think that’s very important; empathy—somebody who shows and demonstrates empathy; an ability to earn the respect of people—I think that’s key and without that, I don’t think a leader’s going to be successful; and then finally, adaptability. I’m sure there are others but those are ones that I think standout for me.

KAREN: Stephen, thank you for your insights. Listeners, thank you for joining us for Leaders on Leaders. For our next Leaders on Leaders discussions, stay tuned to Thank you and have a great day.

Listen to other Leaders on Leaders