Being Global: How to Think, Act and Lead in a Transformed World

Global leaders become who they are by cultivating particular ways of looking at the world, thinking about problems and opportunities and acting with integrity in pursuit of solutions

Published: Apr 20, 2012 06:28:52 AM IST
Updated: Apr 11, 2012 11:05:52 AM IST

Globalization has shaken up traditional leadership development. Language immersion, cultural etiquette tips and the like are wildly insufficient to prepare managers for the demands of today’s global marketplace. Likewise, worrying about expatriate culture shock or the risk that employees “go native” are concerns of a past era. Today’s global business needs truly global leaders. They can’t just act global. They have to be global.

Real global leaders are a new breed with identifiable traits. They have a natural curiosity about the world that leads to relationships with people very different from themselves. From these relationships come insights and innovations that span national and cultural boundaries. While driven to enhance their own prosperity, real global leaders also recognize the impacts of their actions on communities and the planet, and the fact that their personal prosperity is interdependent and shared with the prosperity of others.

Many global leaders are drawn by life experiences to develop these traits. They travel early and often with globally connected families. They are exposed to languages and cultures different from their own. They have easy access to education, internships and other resources that open the world to them.

So does that mean only those who are born global can be global? No. On the contrary, Thunderbird School of Global Management was founded on the belief that global leaders are not just born. They can be made.

What Thunderbird has learned over the decades is that global leaders become who they are by cultivating particular ways of looking at the world, thinking about problems and opportunities and acting with integrity in pursuit of solutions.

Global leaders have three key characteristics they all share in common: Global mindset, global entrepreneurship and global citizenship.

Global Mindset: Connecting Globally
Global mindset can be defined as the ability to perceive and decode behaviors and situations in various cultural contexts. Culture is the social DNA that dictates the way we dress, the food we eat, the language we speak and the stories we tell. Global mindset is thus the capacity to appreciate the differences among cultures and bridge the interfaces between them. Leaders who possess a global mindset are able to view situations from a variety of perspectives, develop trusting relationships with individuals from different contexts and identify promising routes to successful collaboration.

Global Entrepreneurship: Creating value globally
Global mindset is critical for success as a global leader, but its true benefit comes when global leaders act as global entrepreneurs and leverage mindset for value. Global leaders use their global understanding and connections to identify the opportunities among cultures and regions and turn them into new value-creating operations.

While most definitions of entrepreneurship emphasize the creation of a new business, that’s too narrow a definition for what global leaders do. Creating new value obviously happens in established organizations every day. And it’s not just businesses that create new value. Some of the most exciting new organizations today are nonprofits.

Value, in our definition of entrepreneurship, is not limited to “profit” but includes individual, organizational and social benefit. Value may come in the form of an innovative new product, a new mode of operation, new forms of financing or new solutions to existing problems. And it can also be social and political innovation that reaches across sectorial boundaries to forge value-creating partnerships among business, government and civil society.

Global Citizenship: Contributing to a more prosperous world
The concept of global citizenship is not new. More than 2,400 years ago the philosopher Socrates claimed: “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” More recently in 1982, U.S. President Ronald Reagan called himself a “citizen of the United States and of the world,” and U.S. President Barack Obama appropriated the phrase in 2008.

Their usage of the term communicates a common investment in the shared fate of humanity. Our use of global citizenship echoes this, but further signifies decision making that recognizes that the prosperity of one individual, one firm or one nation depends on the prosperity of others.

Global citizens believe that global business norms are emerging and that they have a role to play in shaping them.

In the past, leaders have allowed national law to serve as the far edge of their moral obligation. But today’s global leaders do not play on the edge of the law. They see ethical relativism as an excuse “to get along by going along” and a way to avoid confronting the realities of injustice, exploitation and corruption in many global markets. Global leaders recognize that each decision either reinforces current practice or changes it. And where current practice undermines shared prosperity, global leaders work to change it.

Becoming global
We live in an unprecedented era of global economic integration that has created unique business opportunities as well as complex challenges. These challenges raise the ante on effective leadership. The world needs a corps of global leaders who can take on the pressing challenges and contribute to an inclusive and sustainable economic system.

The big problems we face are global. The financial crisis, climate change, poverty and corruption all require leaders who can understand people different than themselves, forge cross-boundary solutions and foster value creation that is broadly shared.

Now is the time for being global.

Ángel Cabrera, Ph.D., has served as Thunderbird School of Global Management president since 2004. He will start in his new capacity as president of George Mason University on July 1, 2012. Gregory Unruh, Ph.D., is a professor of international business at Thunderbird and the director of the school’s Lincoln Center for Ethics in Global Management.

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[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management]

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  • Msme Advisor

    Everyone dreams to be global and they do think about these three things but they don't have two things "1. strong management system" and "2. managers who act as entrepreneurs". Companies which get these two things right become truly global. Owners don't invest in systems so they don't get time to innovate and professionals/ managers make safest choices to protect their job.

    on Apr 20, 2012