What Being Global Really Means
By Ángel Cabrera – Harvard Business Review
Today’s greatest business opportunities, and also the greatest challenges we face, are global in nature and therefore demand leaders who are also global. But what does “global” really mean? The old mantra “think global, act local” is woefully inadequate to describe the complex realities global leaders face. Truly global leaders act as bridge builders, connectors of resources and talent across cultural and political boundaries — relentlessly dedicated to finding new ways of creating value. They don’t just think and act global, they are global.
We have conducted broad and deep analysis of best practices at my home institution, Thunderbird — which pioneered the field of international-management education more than 65 years ago — on how to best develop global leaders, including surveys conducted by my colleagues of thousands of managers around the world and interviews with dozens of successful global leaders. These efforts have helped us identify three critical skill sets that are essential for effective global leadership: global mindset, global entrepreneurship, and global citizenship.
The global mindset allows leaders to connect with individuals and organizations across boundaries. Their entrepreneurial spirit equips them to create value through those connections. And their citizenship drives them to make a positive contribution to the communities they engage with. Connecting, creating, and contributing are the three core tasks that make or break a global leader.
Leaders who possess a global mindset are able to interpret and decode situations from multiple, even competing, points of view. They have an insatiable interest to learn about other cultures. They care to understand other people’s perspectives and suspend their judgment to do so. They are knowledgeable about economic and political issues around the world and can grasp the inherent complexity of international affairs from multiple national perspectives. Finally, they nurture relationships with associates and friends around the world and have a unique ability to transcend cultural barriers and cultivate trust.
Global leaders utilize their understanding of cultural and institutional nuances and their global connections to create new forms of value by bridging people and resources across boundaries in novel ways, whether to create a better or cheaper product, improve the efficiency of a key process, access a new pool of resources, or serve a new market. Sometimes they do that by leveraging differences across boundaries, sometimes by leveraging similarities, and sometimes by building and exploiting networks or by adding reciprocal value add.
But true global leaders are defined not only by their worldly knowledge and connections, nor by the global opportunities they seize, but by how they contribute to the improvement of the multiple contexts in which they operate. True global leaders don’t exploit one community to benefit another. They find solutions that create multidirectional value. They don’t see business as a zero-sum game, but as a mechanism to bring about prosperity to more.
Globalization has brought unprecedented benefits to many, but not all. Hundreds of millions have escaped the dehumanizing effects of hunger and poverty. But hundreds of millions remain trapped in them. Our ability to build a truly sustainable and inclusive world economy will depend on how well we help new generations of leaders to become global.