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COLUMN

Global Leader Development
Becoming a Global Leader-Part III

By Jeremy Solomons

As business becomes more and more global, many organizations are asking themselves if effective leaders in one country or region can duplicate their success on a worldwide level?

In the first two columns in this three-part series (February and June 2010 BCW), we looked at how Lucia Mannone–a 38-year-old, Italian, senior marketing officer for a German medical instrument company with little global experience beyond Europe–could help her company expand in the key markets of Argentina, Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea.

We identified different ways she could become "globally competent":

  • By understanding and comparing the different countries' values and behaviors;
  • By taking into account the organizational culture of her own company–in both its headquarters and its offices around the world–and that of its key clients;
  • By drawing the best from each person's professional culture, whether they are marketers, doctors, or operations people.

But there is still one "culture" that stands out above all others if Lucia or anyone else wants to be successful globally.

And that is "individual" culture.

Even though anthropologists maintain that culture is a group phenomenon, we all carry around our own individual culture, molded by both Nature and Nurture.

On the Nature side, our "culture" is formed by such things as our genes, our personality, and our character.

On the Nurture side, we are shaped by our family-of-origin, the community around us, our education, and our opportunities for different kinds of life-altering experiences, such as spending six months between high school and college on a kibbutz in Israel (as this columnist did).

Together, they help build our understanding of who we really are and why we behave the way we do.

Across borders, this means that before even attempting to interact with someone from Korea or Mexico, budding global leaders really need to ask themselves some very searching questions about their own "individual" culture.

These questions might include:

  • What does it mean, in a general sense, to be a truly global leader?
  • What does it mean to me personally to be a truly global leader?
  • What do I hope to achieve?
  • How will it enhance my career, my work, and my personal life?
  • In what ways might it actually impinge on my career, my work, and my personal life?
  • What natural strengths, learned talents, overarching passions, and core values do I already possess to be a global leader?
  • What gaps do I have and what hot buttons and blind spots do I need to be aware of?
  • How can I best overcome my shortcomings through meditation, stretch assignments, travel, studying, coaching, etc.?
  • What else do I need to be successful on a global level?

Once these questions have been addressed and future global leaders are much clearer about the who's, what's and why's of branching out across the world, then they can start to learn more about the individual cultures of the key counterparts with whom they will be interacting.

This is obviously easier if colleagues or counterparts have the chance to spend time together both in formal meetings and informal activities over a period of time.

The CEO of a successful US consumer goods company would spend one week a month visiting different corporate offices around the world to hold town hall meetings and get to know the people he was leading.

Another global energy company has a standard practice of launching any new virtual project by bringing all the new team members together in one place for two weeks. It has continued this practice even after 9/11 and during the recession, believing it important for team members to get to know each other before they start working together across distance. And it has paid off again and again.

When colleagues and counterparts don't have the chance to spend significant face time together, it can be much harder to get to know each other's individual culture. But it is not impossible. They just have to make a more concerted, conscious effort.

Technology and advances in social media networking can really help nowadays.

For example, a newly forming global team can easily set up an internal website–Facebook-style–with team member profiles, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, photos, videos, etc.

Each team can then co-create a communication charter, accommodating individual preferences for face-to-face, phone, email, text and/or IM interchanges.

Just because an East Asian colleague is always available at 11:00 p.m. for a multipoint conference call, don't assume that this is what he really wants.

He may actually prefer to speak in the early morning, which would mean his colleagues in the Americas will have to stay up late once in a while when call times are rotated in order to "share the pain."

These are just a few of the many specific ways that global leaders can understand who they are working with and how to get the best out of them without being neglectful or manipulative.

Traditionally, the best piece of advice about how to be successful globally relates to the Golden Rule that is common to many different religions and cultures: treat others as you want to be treated.

It seems very logical and fair, but across cultures, there is a fundamental flaw.

You are assuming that others are like you and, as such, want to be treated like you.

As we have seen in the last two columns, there is a whole host of cultural factors–geographical, organizational, professional, and individual–that can make a seemingly familiar person be very different from you.

So this columnist would strongly urge you to practice the Platinum Rule instead: treat others as they want to be treated.

This way, you are acknowledging the potential differences between you and then gradually, as you get to know the other person by spending time with them and asking appropriate questions, you can actually find that he or she is not that far away from you and that you do have a lot in common.

By acknowledging the differences and seeking the commonalities, any leader can reach out and not just survive in a global context, but thrive and leave the world a slightly better place.

Enjoy the journey!

References

Adler, N. 2007. International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior. Florence, KY: Cengage Learning.

Hofner Saphiere, D. et al. 2010. Cultural Detective Online Learning Series. http://www.culturaldetective.com/

Hofstede, G. 2001. Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations across Nations. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Hofstede, G. 2005. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and expanded 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Jeremy Solomons is the UK-born and USA-naturalized founder and president of Jeremy Solomons & Associates, which helps current and future leaders to connect and communicate effectively across all cultures-national, organizational, professional, and individual. From his base in Austin, Texas, he coaches, consults, designs curriculum, facilitates, and trains in many areas of leadership.
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