Question: Getting non-fluent english speakers into global management roles

Over last 3 years, our business has grown internationally though joint ventures in Asia and Africa.

We have some really talented operations leaders in our company now who are sometimes passed over for promotion into global roles because of weak spoken english or heavily accented english. Recently, we lost one such top performer to a local competitor in that region.

How can we develop such individuals so that they can one day lead teams, not only in their regions, but also in US?

5 Expert Insights

Make English fluency and accent reduction a required part of their development. That will serve them at a time when bias is still prevalent.

I think the best thing to do is to speak with those potential individuals and explain the need to speak English with the reduced accent.

On the other hand, I came to this country from former Yugoslavia, spoke some British English and learned to speak American English as I worked here. I still have an accent and it was not in my way to become president of a large company.

We all make decisions -- especially important ones like our career direction -- because something is more important than something else. These foreign national contributors deserve and need a sit down designed to explore what they really want. They may not realize that there is a bigger game available to them if they choose to improve their English. This is not about economic nationalism. The linqua franca (thought I'd put that in there intentionally to get a smile!) of international business is English. If they want that kind of future, help them get there with training and international exposure.

If you (your company) is really serious about developing your foreign operations' leaders, here is what I would suggest: Choose one of the leaders whom you would be genuinely ready to promote. Sit that person down and, as Robert White suggests, explore what they want and whether they really want the promotion. Then help that person select an ESL (English as a second language) course. By working with one person in a serious effort to promote him or her, two things happen. One, you will, as a company,  have developed a process, and second, those who are really interested will show up to get the training they need.

I agree with Ruth, provide your high potentials the opportunities and training to polish their English speaking skills..