International Leader Transitions: Phase I – Plan & Mindset

Are you or other executives on your team about to take on international or global responsibilities?

You should know there are three key phases of an executive transition to an international or global leadership role:

  • Phase I: Pre-Transition – what you need to do immediately after the announcement of your new assignment 
  • Phase II: Transition – what you need to do the first 30 days on the job
  • Phase III: Acceleration – how to accelerate and ramp up your transition from 30 days onward

You may have been reading our interviews earlier in 2015 with accomplished global leaders. You may have wondered, “What did they do to prepare for their successful international assignments?”

The bottom line? You need a good plan. And you need the right mindset.

From our work with many international leaders over the years, we have distilled key lessons to help you when you’re ready to take on an exciting international assignment of your own – whether in your current position or if you’re transferred overseas.

Gems of wisdom have been shared with us by accomplished leaders with decades of experience leading international and global teams in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East.  

Included among these are several from our recent Global Insider Interview SeriesAziz El-Azarifi is General Manager for the Middle East for General Mills; Peggy Fang-Roe is Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Asia Pacific for Marriott International; Paras Sidapara is Global Head of Managed Services Enterprise for Thompson Reuters; and Stefan Rotter, Vice Director Global Marketing for BASF Ultrason. 

In this article we will cover Phase I: Pre-Transition.  Stay tuned for the next two phases in subsequent articles.

Pre-Transition – Developing Your Plan….and Your Mindset

Step 1: Get Planning

Get started developing your Transition Plan soon as your new assignment is announced. Secure a qualified coach or experienced mentor to help you with this. Your Transition Plan should prepare your and your team by assessing business needs and goals for the new assignment. What is the mandate for your new assignment? What is your time horizon? What are key milestones? Who are the key stakeholders? What are your resources for success?

Your planning should also assess culture – both national culture and organizational culture. What are the characteristics of the countries where you will be leading? How does the local office culture compare to your current office? How does that compare to headquarters culture? Our Global Accelerator model provide a comprehensive yet simple means for leaders to capture such dynamics in their plan.

Step 2: Get Curious

It is important to suspend judgement and get a clearer picture of the new environment in which you will be working. You will need to approach your new team and the markets with curiosity and interest to help your understand new situations and environments. You will need to “park your assumptions” for the new office, the new market and your new colleagues. You can then build new assumptions and then test them in the new environment.

Reflect on these questions: What attitude do I currently have about this new market or office? What beliefs do I have about my colleagues there? What stereotypes do I have about their culture?  How do these beliefs limit or expand my sense of what is possible? What do I need to learn to test these assumptions and perhaps adopt new ones? Who can help me with this?

Step 3: Get Flexible

Coupled with your new mindset of curiosity is the commitment to respond to new situations with flexibility. You will need to “read” people who have different mind-sets from your own. As a “foreign” leader, you will need make suitable adaptations to your style in order to achieve the desired result and avoid misunderstandings which could affect your ability to get things done.

In the Pre-Transition phase, you will need to study the environment and notice how people operate. Find a colleague or mentor or coach who can help you study the new market and identify the areas where you will need to be open and flexible.

Step 4: Expect the Unexpected

The first year is always the critical path – professionally and privately; you simply cannot rush it. Thus, you will need to consider your international assignments to be a minimum of 3, ideally 4 years in duration and a long term opportunity for your growth and development. Despite the best efforts, you will need to manage your expectations of the promises that you are given about the support and resources that will be available or provided to you. Experience teaches us that expectations and reality are rarely the same, so be emotionally and physically well prepared for the challenges that you might face.

Step 5: “Family Planning!”

In our work with international leaders, we have found that the #1 success factor (and derailer) is their family. Those who have the support and encouragement of their families have a much higher degree of success and satisfaction. Discuss the assignment with your family – the opportunities for growth and learning as well as the likely challenges, especially in the first year. They too will need to have a plan and mindset outlined here. Again, a qualified coach or mentor can make this step easier and more satisfying.


We will cover the key lessons for Phase II: Transition and Phase III: Acceleration in our next two articles, later this month. Thanks for reading!

About Martin Global Leaders

Martin Global Leaders is a leadership development consultancy focused on developing high performing leaders and teams operating in the global marketplace. We focus on preparing executives with the key skills needed to manage across multiple locations and cultures, including national and organization culture. 

The MGL Global Leader Accelerator™ executive coaching program prepares leaders for their international assignment with primers to help them become savvy about influencing and driving results on international scale. When they step into their role, they are able to bridge differences and leverage diversity to create truly high performance international/global teams.

Contact Us:

Contact Martin Global Leaders to create a plan for your transition, maximize the power of your international team, and help your organization gain competitive edge in the global marketplace.

For more information about how we can, please contact us today:

Craig Martin (San Francisco/Silicon Valley):  +1-408-916-1645 –

David Howells (London): +44 7808 947576 –

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