You want to become a leader at your company, so you study the industry, find a mentor, and maybe even go back to school. You read about leadership and do everything you can to take on the right kinds of responsibilities to get noticed by the higher-ups. 

But what if there was one surefire move you could make that could put you way ahead of all of your ambitious colleagues?

Turns out, there is -- only it's not what you think.

Extend your comfort zone 
Go abroad.  And not just for an "Eat, Pray, Love" kind of foray into self-awareness and happiness. Work abroad. 

It turns out that working outside of your comfort zone in this way is extremely good for you. It can help you become a better strategist by making you more mentally agile, more attuned to the changes facing businesses in the global economy, and better at working with people across cultures.

Being a great strategist, in turn, is a great way to add an enormous amount of value to your company, whether it's by finding that new market to tap into, anticipating a major move from the competition, or finding novel ways improve services to your clients. 

In other words, working abroad -- especially in as foreign an environment as possible -- can give you all of the tools you need to become a successful business leader.

How it works 
A study looking at global business leaders and international experience found that working in foreign environments is really good for strategic thinking. There's something about having to relearn everything you think you know that challenges your intellect and forces you to see new connections and pathways to accomplishing your business goals.

It's not just the business issues that are different.

Working in a foreign office with people who might have a very different perspective than you also challenges your assumptions and can make you more open to different ideas and ways of doing things.

Interestingly, while the study's authors didn't find benefits to just working on a diverse team, they did find that immersing yourself in another culture and developing relationships is a great way to build the kinds of skills that will make you a future business strategy rockstar -- and thus a huge asset to your company's leadership.

How to do it 
In getting global experience, you want to accomplish two things: 

  • Working in a different country or with the international team 
  • Making the experience as foreign as possible

In other words, look for opportunities to work abroad or to manage or collaborate with a foreign business operation. That could include getting a job in another office or helping build relationships in a new market.

The second part, though, is also critical: Try to operate in areas that are as different from your "home" culture as possible. As an American, going to the U.K. isn't that big of a change from a business standpoint, but going to Kenya, China, or Argentina might really challenge you.

So, according to the research, if you want to get the most of your international experience, these are the opportunities you should focus on. Take these steps to boost your career and open up the leadership opportunities of your dreams.