Why today’s leaders need a global mindset

Culture shapes our behaviour. The places where we grow up, work and socialise influence how we perceive others and how we interact with them. We develop a ‘mindset’ – a set of beliefs that can predetermine how we interpret and respond to different situations.

Globalisation and digital transformation are breaking down international barriers and bringing different cultures closer together. Leaders who have a ‘global mindset’ are aware of the diversity across different countries and cultures, and of how activities in one area can impact another. They are adept at spotting patterns across territories and markets. They tend to be quite open to global opportunities and aware of the challenges different territories might present. 

In the book Developing Your Global Mindset: The Handbook for Successful Global ..., Professor Mansour Javidan from Thunderbird School of  Global Management contends that the leader’s task in our multicultural world is to influence colleagues, clients, partners and other stakeholders who have very different backgrounds and beliefs. A key challenge he highlights is that we are socialised to work with others who are similar to us. We develop a unicultural rather than a multicultural lens. A unicultural lens can help us to understand our immediate vicinity, but in a global environment we need a multicultural lens to understand, influence, and get the best from diverse groups of people.

It often feels very comfortable to be with other people who are similar to us. Leaders with a global mindset feel comfortable being uncomfortable. Rather than being frustrated and intimidated by differences, they seek them out.


What are the benefits of developing a global mindset?

Even if you don’t work for an international business, there is no doubt that global forces will affect you. Globalisation is a fact of life. In our increasingly connected world, we are all subject to sweeping change. An awareness of cultural, geographic and economic diversity helps leaders to make sense of constant change. It also helps you to spot innovation and best practice and to adopt this best practice and make it relevant to your business.  

Professor Pankaj Ghemawat from New York University’s Stern School of Business and author of World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It, cites global challenges such as economic and political upheaval as classic examples of where a global mindset is essential. At times like this, we need to extend cooperation and trust across borders. Ghemawat suggests that a whole host of business problems could be solved more easily if leaders develop broader, more global mindsets.

In the book Riding The Waves Of Culture, Fons Trompenaars proposes that the ability to lead effectively in a global business environment is one of the most valuable skills anyone can bring to an organisation. He highlights several research-based cultural differences, such as how enthusiastically rules are made and adhered to in different countries.

For example, Australia, the UK and the US are ‘rule-centred’ societies: we tend to put a lot of rules and regulations in place and expect others to adhere to them. In more ‘relationship-centred’ societies such as India, China and Russia, rules tend to be less rigidly applied, and bonds with colleagues and friends are often a greater influence on decision-making. An awareness and understanding of these differences can help leaders to navigate relationships across different cultures.


Can you develop a global mindset?

Once upon a time, big multinationals would send young executives to work in different countries around the world to help them become global leaders. Some still do, and it can be very beneficial. However, actually creating a global mindset is more sophisticated.  It is about developing an approach that makes the most of doing business in a global economy. It requires specific skills and behaviours. These can be developed through a variety of methods including coaching, online collaboration and self-directed learning.

In my next post, I’ll look further at how we can help leaders to develop a global mindset. I’ll explain how coaching can help, and also offer some top tips for leaders who’d like to expand their horizons.

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