In an increasingly connected world, success in the business world often means building strategic relationships with entities outside of the United States. Becoming a global business leader involves a slightly different skillset than that used to manage completely domestic teams. Leaders who want to distinguish themselves as truly global thinkers should keep the following tips in mind:
Begin developing a global mindset early.
Many companies begin intensively training leaders after about two decades of professional experience. However, becoming a global leader often means engaging with the training process even earlier. This provides more time for intensive training and offers opportunities for direct experiences in other countries.
Many things, such as cultural sensitivity and humility, are best learned in person, on the ground. Starting early with such experiences often results in a leader who is more versed in the global mindset and more able to work across different cultures. From a business standpoint, global leadership involves a substantial investment of both time and resources, but this is necessary for true competency. People interested in global leadership need to push for these opportunities and experiences early in their careers.
Pay attention to global affairs strategically.
While it may seem obvious that one must focus on global affairs in order to become a global leader, the truth is that no person can truly have a complete grasp on what is going on everywhere in the world. Instead, people should try to identify the markets – and even the particular aspects of those markets – most relevant to their work and their interests. Then, it becomes much more manageable to become well-versed in what is happening around the world.
Global leaders make learning a priority and build time into each day to take note of what is happening around them. An awareness of global affairs helps one approach business partners in other parts of the world in a sensitive manner and also provides the insight necessary to make sound business decisions.
Many of today’s top global business leaders took an immersion-based approach to learning about global affairs and lived abroad for significant periods of time. While it is common to spend a couple of months abroad, a couple of years is really necessary in order to develop a firm grasp of how a different part of the world functions.
Spend time building cultural awareness.
Coming across as culturally insensitive can have significant negative consequences for business leaders. For that reason, global leaders need to take the time to gain intercultural competence. Leaders who focus in particular parts of the world may want to spend time learning any relevant languages. However, real cultural awareness goes much further than spoken language.
One thing to consider is nonverbal communication, which is vital – particularly when verbal communication is not possible. Countries have different ways of greeting, both formally and informally, and adhering to these customs is important.
Different cultures may also treat time and punctuality differently. Being late is not a problem in some cultures, but other people could see it as a major sign of disrespect. Understanding that different countries have fundamentally different mindsets helps global leaders anticipate the needs of customers and partners and build stronger relationships.
Champion a culture of collaboration.
Global leaders must understand the importance of collaboration and build environments that encourage communication and sharing. Great global managers push their teams to talk about cultural differences in order to foster greater understanding and build connections. In global businesses, a major challenge is creating a unified vision that people from many different backgrounds can champion. This vision is built together as people from different places contribute their ideas and opinions.
Just as diversity is important in domestic teams, respecting different points of view is paramount in the global arena. Global leaders need to be excellent communicators who set a standard that enables their team members to trust each other and truly share their opinions and viewpoints. Everyone needs to find meaning in their work and fostering collaboration is a key way of bringing people together.
Understand the importance of strategy.
Many business leaders are focused on execution. Of course, looking at how things actually get done most effectively is very important. However, global leaders should also think about the “why” behind everything that is done. Global leaders need to have a big-picture view of what their companies are doing and think in the long term. Actions that seem benign to an American audience may have major global implications.
Looking at the why helps global leaders begin to think in broader terms and predict how their actions will resonate with partners and competitors around the world. Many of the most successful business leaders in the United States have a long-term perspective. This sort of long-term strategizing is absolutely critical on the global front, where business transactions may move much slower than people are used to and much can happen from the beginning of negotiations to the signing of a contract.