The integration of multiple geographies, cultures, nationalities, ages and styles in enterprises around the world is having an enormous impact on business relationships. Leaders today need a new, specialized set of skills if they are to be successful.
Fueled by social networks and technology, universal collaboration is becoming a daily business reality. Global data and knowledge are now accessed on devices that people can hold in the palms of their hands. Jim Kouzes, renowned leadership expert, recently described this shift by stating that “while the content of leadership has remained the same over the past 20 years, the context has not.”
Leaders striving for success today must be able to master three new levels of competence:
- Global business acumen: The new financial, industry, functional and technical skills needed to navigate a market characterized by rapid evolution of business models, markets, products, and mergers and acquisitions.
- Global mindset: The capacity to engage in a boundaryless and synthesizing cognitive process that identifies opportunity and innovation in complexity.
- Global citizenship: A potent combination of geographic, political, economic, governmental, legal, cultural, technological and environmental savvy that informs business strategy formulation and execution.
Global Mindset vs. Global Citizenship
A global mindset includes the ability to see beyond the boundaries of the organization, national culture, functional responsibilities and corporate gain to envision and communicate the ultimate contribution and value of the work to society and sustainability.
In his book Five Minds for the Future, Howard Gardner delineates five sets of cognitive capabilities leaders must master: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind. The global mindset demonstrates the application of the ethical mind, which conceptualizes how work can serve purposes beyond self-interest and can contribute to the greater good.
This global mindset enables people to embrace complexity and paradox. It means they are capable of holding the tension and ambiguity of opposing points of view, perspectives, data and values in their minds and then harmonizing these differences for greater leadership effectiveness.
Global citizenship is acquired by pursuing an open-minded interest in the world, global business, cultures and people. Again drawing from Gardner’s five minds model, this capability to gather, retain and master vast reservoirs of knowledge, data and information about the world reflects the respectful mind. The respectful mind recognizes and embraces differences between human individuals and groups, tries to understand them and seeks to work effectively with them. The crux of a global citizen is honoring one’s origins while suspending judgment and remaining open to others. This is emotional and social intelligence applied to cultural competence. These leaders adopt a flexible, adaptable and curious way of looking at things and see difference in others not only as acceptable, but as preferable.
Every aspect of leadership today must be described and measured through the lens of the global mindset. The core of global leadership is reflected in the “being” competencies — having a compelling vision founded on clear, shared values that appeals to a diverse constituency — as well as the “doing” capabilities — demonstrated by world-class expertise, eminence and results.
Leaders in the 21st century must then assume seven critical roles:
- Strategist: Integrating short-term and long-term interests with global and local stakeholders and establishing a clear course of action to achieve organizational success.
- Innovator: Generating a climate of innovation and change and personally identifying and pursuing new global possibilities, products and markets.
- Communicator: Engaging diverse stakeholder commitment and enthusiasm by sharing clear messages through multiple networks and technology.
- Relationship builder: Creating relationships of trust by developing keen insight and respect for difference while also connecting with others globally in a meaningful way.
- Mentor or coach: Building the next generation of leaders by supporting a strengths-based apprenticeship culture within the group or organization.
- Decision maker: Leveraging a global view, systems thinking and broad spectrum analysis to execute strategy in the midst of ambiguity and uncertainty.
- Global citizen: Honoring one’s own unique origins while developing appreciation of and integration into a larger global citizenship.
Global Leadership at Every Level
Global companies in the 21st century may employ international processes and operations, yet they understand that the consumer is ultimately local. These companies find innovative ways to generate competitive advantage through their local enterprise presence by, for example, establishing R&D centers in the midst of their customers; hiring local talent who represent customer perspectives, values and requirements; and working within local regulatory contexts to conform to national requirements.
This extension of the enterprise into local contexts and the integration of local operations into the perspectives, strengths and results of the global operation require that all acquire the capabilities of global leadership. The global competitive context does not permit us to leave any talent underutilized. Everyone must acquire and embed global leadership competence into everyday actions and behaviors.
Developing Global Leaders
Learning professionals must equip leaders at all levels of the organization to:
- Manage dynamic complexity.
- Respond with agility to crisis and opportunity.
- Embrace the democratization of knowledge.
- Engage the wisdom of crowds and social networks to innovate and grow the business in new markets.
- Build global cross-cultural competence as a critical business skill.
First, CLOs must craft a competency model that authentically describes these skills, behaviors and knowledge through the global mindset lens. Then, they must create a progressive curriculum that develops individuals to become global leaders. See Figure 3 for a sample template of a global leadership skills assessment.
Each employee then can enter the curriculum at the appropriate level, based on what he or she already has learned and mastered, not by level or position.
One of the best paths to build needed global skills is an immersion into the international context. As Oliver Wendell Holmes has stated: “A mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Initiatives to develop global leadership competencies currently focus on engaging individuals and teams in global, mini-expatriate assignments in several countries, functions and roles. The next innovation would be to replicate the expat experience in a virtual world and make it available to all.
Two examples of mini-expat initiatives are:
1. VF Corp.: Ron Lawrence, vice president of organization development for the global apparel company, helped launch an innovative short-term assignment program called Ex-Pat Lite. Like other large companies, VF has a growing need for global leaders but is challenged by the extremely high costs of full expat relocations as well as finding talented executives who are willing to move. The Ex-Pat Lite program allows VF to provide meaningful global learning and growth experiences to rising leaders at a fraction of the cost of a full relocation and with less disruption to the individual and his or her family. The usual duration is three to six months with a solid re-entry process back into the home country.
2. Berlitz International and the Georgetown McDonough School of Business: Language and cross-cultural training company Berlitz International joined forces with the Georgetown McDonough School of Business to launch a global leadership development program that provides a rich combination of language training, communication skills, cross-cultural competence, global strategic business acumen and global leadership development. It is delivered over six months in four one-week sessions held in four hubs. Each of these locations was chosen for the role it plays in global business: London (global finance); Shanghai (supply chain and manufacturing); Bangalore (outsourcing and IT); and Washington (global business and industry policy). Each week leverages on-the-ground experiences and the development of business networks and insights while building intercultural leadership capabilities.
There are many examples of companies that entered global markets without understanding local consumer behavior, regulatory constraints, and even the implications of brand names that have a completely different meaning in another language. Consider the revelation that resulted from introducing the Chevy Nova in Mexico, where “no va” means “no go.”
Preparing leaders to acquire, master and maintain global leadership capability is key to every organization’s survival.