Let’s face it, in the business world today, local is dead and global is the new norm. You may have people working globally, working virtually, doing business with people from other regions or countries, or employing workers from other cultures.
The ability to successfully manage a business across borders cannot be overstated. Without it, you and your organization are destined to fall behind. Even more, we have a moral and ethical business obligation to be savvy about how the world works. By this, I mean being aware of the nuances of political systems, cultural norms, and psychological mindsets of those we do business with and for. Without this savvy, we have no ability to lead effectively. Still, studies show that leadership programs are failing at preparing future leaders with the skills needed to excel in this new business world.
These programs lack the tools necessary for employees and organizations to cultivate a global mindset. Global mindset is truly having the desire, knowledge, and skills to operate effectively in business today. It is a critical skill parallel to legal, marketing, sales, or strategy, and we need to take it as seriously as we do other business operations.
To be an effective global leader—one with a global mindset—you need what I call the “4 C’s”:
- Cultural sensitivity. You need to be able to be open to different viewpoints and ways of doing things.
- Collaborative skills. You need to be able to work with others toward a goal.
- Comfort with the uncomfortable. You must have the ability to accept that a particular situation may not be like anything you’re familiar with.
- Capacity to motivate. You need to be able to influence and enable individuals across cultures to uphold corporate culture and accomplish company goals.
So how do you get these skills? Thankfully, if you don’t have training in place, there are actions you can take right now to help you and your leaders successfully navigate in multiple environments to achieve your organization’s goals:
Live and travel abroad. Leaders need to experience what it’s like to live and exist in another country. This experience will help them appreciate cultural differences, incorporate what they learn into their work lives, and build networks of global relationships. The best global leaders are those who are comfortable in different cultures and understand the nuances of doing business outside their home country. Not to mention, living abroad and seeing and experiencing new and different things can lead to a more fulfilling and enriched life.
Have an open mind. Global leaders have the ability to accept that a particular situation may not be like anything they’re familiar with. They recognize that what works well in one culture could be unintentionally alienating in another, causing a rift between a manager and his or her team. They adapt their approach to specific dynamics and are able to mirror the shifting standards of multiple regions.
Be inquisitive. The best global leaders are curious about anything and everything new and different. They ask questions of their teams, customers, clients, and partners and put aside opinions and criticisms. They’re eager to learn, and listen more than they talk.
Be flexible. The global business world comprises varying perspectives and ambiguity. A global leader is comfortable with this and is responsive to true differences in problem solving among countries. They have the ability to learn from mistakes and to balance shorter- and longer-term objectives.
Share your experiences. When you travel, read global news and books, or watch international films, tell your friends, families, and co-workers about it. It will get them excited to learn more about the world. People exposed to distant cultures and new ideas tend to appreciate the importance of a global mindset.
Play memory. If you’re working in a new, specific, region of the world, go online and memorize five facts about the country or culture. When interacting with colleagues or business partners, use those facts as ice-breakers. In new sales or vendor meetings, you’ll be seen as credible. And by showing an effort to learn about their culture, you’ll gain respect and show genuine interest in your new associates.
Be self-aware. Effective global leaders know their management style and how it might be received by different cultures. For example, most of us have experienced both the micromanaging boss and the hands-off boss. In some cultures, teams will expect a manager to keep a tight rein and will feel abandoned by a boss who allows more independence. Other cultures are the opposite. Other differences to be aware of include how decisions are made, how recognition is given, how feedback is given, and how time is viewed.
Study upon study has come out stating that the No. 1 agenda item for today’s corporate leaders is finding talent who can think and lead globally. A global mindset isn’t only a business benefit; the growth and enrichment that comes with cross-cultural experiences can be as personally rewarding as it is professionally.
Melissa Lamson, CEO of Lamson Consulting, is an intercultural trainer and consultant. Her experience spans two decades and projects in more than 40 countries, affording her invaluable expertise in helping organizations expand globally, improve time to market, and increase profits. She has offered hundreds of companies the tools and insights to build successful leaders and effective teams in every corner of the world. Past clients include LinkedIn, Ikea, MTV, Porsche, and SAP.