As a leader, you must think on a global scale. It’s imperative.
You think I’m not talking to you? Think again.
Our lives have turned global regardless of whether we are in business or education, healthcare or government, even if we spend much of our time dealing with local issues.
Recently NPR ran a fascinating story entitled “Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.” It started by explaining how the cotton is grown and harvested in the Mississippi Delta and continued by showing the yarn being spun in Bangladesh. The T-shirt was sewn in Columbia and the design was printed in North Carolina. Hundreds of people around the world had been involved in the making of this T-shirt. Who knew? We live in a global economy impacting all of us somehow.
When I went to college and studied global management at Thunderbird 30 years ago, globalization was still in its infancy. A company might send some expatriates overseas to ‘help’ the local team be successful. I was one of these expatriates myself at one point and realized really quickly that it was not for me to tell the locals how to do things. They understood their markets, their culture, and their resources much better than I did. Coming from the outside I did have something valuable to bring, but it was different from what I had anticipated. Rather than coming from the outside, today’s generation engages from the inside. The game has changed.
Thirty years ago it was uncommon for a 19-year-old girl to come to the United States to attend college. Today this is nothing special. My daughter spent her 10th grade in Lugano, Switzerland and traveled to India in her senior year. My son also went to India and started his college experience with his first semester in Dublin, Ireland. Yes, the world has shrunk.
For companies to succeed today they need to have people with Global Intelligence. Forget IQ and EQ. They need leaders who can adapt to the global context, understand diverse cultures,know themselves enough to not impose on others, have an insatiable interest in other cultures, are able to align others around a mission and values with integrity intact, have the ability to nurture a cross-cultural network, and understand local needs while leveraging unique global strengths. They need people with a global mindset.
You might think that only large corporations need employees with these skills. Not any longer. The company 37Signals, for example, started out with seven people in seven countries. The global consultancy I am working with, +UP There, Everywhere, has members in over 15 countries collaborating, and we are all small business owners with high level expertise. Size doesn’t matter; all of us are engaged globally.
So, what does it take to develop yourself as a global leader today?
1) Live in a foreign country, or two, or three global
I have lived and worked in three countries. For anyone at the beginning of his or her career, I would recommend living in a few countries, ideally one of them being an emerging country. Life is, of course, different in a vastly different culture. The bigger the difference from the home country, the more learning there is.
2) Have line responsibility in an overseas business
Don’t just travel to a foreign country, work there. Take on responsibility for a department, a business unit, a company. The learning is priceless.
3) Learn local languages and customs
Much of the communication on the internet is in English. If you want to understand the mindset of the people you are dealing with, it is essential to speak the local language. Much of the culture is wrapped up in the language. I am fluent in German and English and still I come across certain words that just can’t be translated with the same meaning.
4) Understand your own culture and cultural biases
By traveling and dialoguing with people in your own country, you get a better understanding of what your own culture is all about. Inevitably, you formed your own biases growing up and starting your adult life. Keep questioning what you think is true and re-examine. The more self-awareness you bring, the better you can understand the other culture.
5) Understand cultural differences non-judgmentally
You will come across different mindsets, customs, cultures. Just because they are different doesn’t mean they are good or bad. Being curious about others will widen your horizon and often guide you to unique solutions to problems. Connect on a human level and observe the differences.
6) Lead cross-cultural task teams
Working for Kodak in the 80s I led a cross-cultural team in Europe that included 12 nationalities. Without a doubt it was one of the most educational, interesting and humbling experiences in my
life. Picture 12 nationalities represented around a table. You are bound to make assumptions about who the executives are and what they believe in.
7) Educate yourself in cross-cultural communications
Much has been written about different communication styles in different countries. The Japanese won’t say no, the Germans like organization, the Indians are highly analytical. Cultures are blending more and more and yet the basic cultural communication traits still exist. Don’t just dabble, really study this to be effective when you hit the ground.
Some global corporations are now requiring all their potential leaders to have lived and worked in at least two foreign countries. I think we need to make this a goal for the next generation of leaders as well. When I see where my children’s peers have lived and traveled to, it feels imperative.
‘Think local, act global’ is my new motto! Shouldn’t it be yours?
If you found this article useful and inspiring and you wan too learn more about becoming global leader, feel free to check out the leadership lessons learned hiking the C2C, lessons from the 2016 World Economic Forum, lessons you learned in college and most likely forgot or lessons from Barack Obama.