Three Competencies for Global Leaders

For the most part, early innovators worked alone. Aristotle, Galileo, Plato, Copernicus—these inventors stand on their own, without a company of thinkers behind them. Today, we still have prominent individuals, but they are typically associated with an organization full of people helping them expand and execute ideas. To continue moving forward in thought and innovation, global leaders must draw on more talent than just their own. According to Dr. Sunnie Giles, PhD in systems psychology, author of “The New Science of Radical Innovation,” and prior marketing director for Samsung in Korea, Global leaders must develop competencies in differentiation, integration, and learning to successfully innovate on a global scale.


Giles claims creating differentiation is all about adding variety and capitalizing on diversity. She specifies that it is not enough to approach diversity in regards only to gender, sexual orientation, and nationality, etc. To truly make a difference, organizations must utilize these dimensions of diversity to achieve diversity of thought. You can have all of the aforementioned elements of diversity, “but if you don’t have diversity of thought, you are not doing justice to the power of diversity.” More analogically, Giles asserts that undertaking diversity from a compliance angle without matching it with the innovation angle is like putting lipstick on a pig’s lips. “You’re not getting as much benefit out of the power of diversity.”

Diversity and psychological safety are hot topics in business, not just because they are ethical standards of practice, but because they enable businesses to better innovate. However, Giles asserts that global leaders must also be able to put checks and balances on differentiation to ensure diverse companies have enough momentum to move in a cohesive direction. This helps bring about diversity of thought and is done through integration.


Giles teaches that integration is largely about providing cohesion among a group. Organizational cohesion stems from common purpose. According to Giles, global leaders can create directed momentum by providing general parameters for members to follow. These parameters should be designed around both achieving the organization’s overall mission and fostering integration. Some examples of integration-directed parameters for leaders include not making value judgements during brainstorming sessions, separating ideas from the title of the contributor, and speaking last to let others say their piece first. Such direction towards cohesion gives members of a diverse group common ground to emotionally connect on, while also allowing them to exercise their diversity of thought.

Why is cohesion important? Why must the diverse groups of an organization develop emotional connections? According to Giles, “emotional connection provides resilience.” She explains that the classic definition of resilience is feeling less pain when the same thing happens. Furthermore, it has been proven that when you have a connection with someone, you feel less pain. Hence, a cohesive, connected organization will be able to overcome challenges with less difficulty than a disjointed organization in the same situation. Being able to integrate diverse groups to work towards a common purpose is paramount for global leaders.


With an integrated organization moving towards its mission, leaders must be able to promote learning. Giles instructs, “your organization has to be a learning organization.” This means experimenting to learn from each iteration without condemning failures and overly exalting successes. Failures should be assessed with the mindset of incorporating new knowledge into the next iteration. That is how innovation, the ultimate success, is achieved. “[Innovation is] a serendipitous result of profuse learning.” With that in mind, Giles claims failure is in fact a requirement for innovation.

Though allowing the time and budget for learning-based experimentation is ideal, many companies face the reality of quarterly deadlines to achieve results—financial or otherwise. Giles suggests one technique to combat this pressure is to separate money for experimentation from money for normal operations. Undertake experiments to find viable ideas with one pot of money dedicated to exploration, and then once the idea reaches a certain stage, transfer it to the normal operations pot of money for exploitation along with other viable ideas. Separating exploration from exploitation of ideas will allow for more experiential learning.


With a highly connected world, innovators with diverse ideas are connecting to launch society into a state of advancement that earlier generations could only dream of. Diversity of thought is key to modern innovation, but it can also divide an organization and bring development to a standstill if leaders don’t provide the proper organizational guidance. To successfully lead a company to innovate in this environment, global leaders must master the competencies of differentiation, integration, and learning.

To learn more from Sunnie Giles on the importance of the three core competencies for global leaders, view Giles’ Global Perspectives Summit 2020 presentation here.

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