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Global Leadership Lesson #5: Exemplary Global Leaders Are Open-Minded

Posted Oct 22 2008 9:30pm

In my last four blogs I have written about qualities that are common to effective global leaders—they have high integrity and credibility, are forward-looking, team-oriented, and inspiring. Not only have Barry Posner and I found that these attributes are essential to success, so has Project GLOBE in its research studying 17,000 managers in 62 countries.

There is still one other overarching quality that explains why global leaders are effective in culturally diverse settings. It's something other researchers have called a global mindset, but it all boils down to being open-minded and flexible.

Researchers Morgan McCall and George Hollenbeck in their book Developing Global Executives — a report on their research into this challenge—state that "At some point a fundamental transformation takes place for successful global executives—a transformation that can be described in shorthand as the acquisition of a global mindset." And how do they define global mindset? Here are a few descriptors that make their list: open-minded, flexible, adaptable, curious about others, interested in differences, empathetic, and gets along well with others. Maxine Dalton and her coauthors from the Center for Creative Leadership report very similar findings in their book on Success for the New Global Manager.

Take for example the case of Titus Lokananta. Titus, plant manager, Grupo Industrial Bimbo SA, remarked to a Wall Street Journal reporter a while back, "I'm an Indonesian Cantonese with a German passport who works for Mexicans in the Czech Republic." This guy represents five cultures all by himself. In preparation for a recent presentation, I did a Google search for Titus, and I found him at a factory in China.

In his life and in his career, Titus clearly has had to adapt to a variety of cultures in order to be successful. He's had to be open to and curious about the ideas of others.  More and more leaders will be facing the challenges that Titus does—the challenges of leading diverse groups of people who are culturally different from the leader and very often culturally different from each other. The development of a global leadership mindset is likely to be the most vexing challenge leaders will face in the next several years, even decades.

When I was chatting about this issue recently with my good friend and colleague, Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, a partner in the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder International and author of Great People Decisions, he remarked, "You have to be able to work with people as peers, and see their differences not only as acceptable but perhaps even preferable to one's own. This is thinking beyond your culture. As I see it, it's about working on a larger scope, and being open to many more ways to do things.  In brief, it's getting out of yourself!"

As the world flattens and our economies become more and more global getting out of yourself is great advice for anyone. Seeing the world through the mental and emotional viewing frames of people different from ourselves is a great prescription for learning to work and live in a borderless world.

Posted by Jim Kouzes

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