Tag Archives: inclusion

How to Spot a Global Leader

jimmy-bay-207382NewWhat does a global leader look like? Are they walking around with any distinct features, or special characteristics that brand or identify them?

Just because you have an excellent executive in your home country who has given you great results year after year, doesn’t mean you can place them on a jet and send them to work overseas, it also doesn’t mean he/she will be ready to lead your global initiatives right here at home.

Knowledge, experience and competencies are all critical, but being a global leader requires some unique qualities. For example, can your best leaders be molded? Can you teach them sensitivity? Can you teach them energy?

The best global leaders are a breed in and of themselves, partly because of nature and partly because of their life experiences. They have a “magic mix” of skills and behaviors that come together to create a competitive advantage for your company.

Whether your leader is at headquarters or globe-hopping they need to succeed across countries, economies and cultures, they must be able to have excellent people skills and know when and how to adapt instantly. Here are some of the differentiators that spell success:

Ambassadors – Global leaders are the company they represent. They stand for and represent the company’s core values. People may never get to visit your headquarters to see how you operate; a global leader brings corporate culture to them, they are your spokesperson.

Explorers – Effective, successful global leaders love exploring new places and learning about new environments. A global leader once told me there are two kinds of global travelers, those who arrive, go directly to the Westernized hotel, visit the office and leave, and those who arrive early and have passion to understand the native culture. They want to know how do things work in this country. They take the time to learn how the unique, local environment impacts what individuals do. They are willing to look at changes in the business landscape. They visit and stay in local places and delve themselves into the local flare of their environment. Global explorers are passionate and inquisitive about understanding their surroundings, if you want to spot someone like this, look for the person who isn’t afraid to ask questions. As the quote on the back of Jacques Cousteau’s research vessel said, “ll Faut Aller Voir,” which means, “We must go and find out for ourselves.” Global explorers are curious by nature, they find things out, they are information seekers.

Energetic – The most successful global leaders have high amounts of energy. Imagine flying across the globe, going through customs, traveling to your branch office and walking into a meeting ready to conduct business. You must have a huge amount of energy to complete this task alone. Global business happens 24/7; there is no time to pause. This type of fast-paced environment requires boundless energy. A global leader is always on.

Vision – Epic global leaders possess visionary skills, they must be able to leverage themselves in any environment. They must think entrepreneurial in order to be able to utilize highly developed analytical and decision-making skills to successfully manage in unfamiliar places. With their vision, they are able to take business to a higher level. Take for example, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of India’s Reliance Industries, who is creating what he promises to be the world’s largest startup. He plans to create 1 million jobs and reach $25 billion in annual sales by increasing the standard of living in India, by setting up airlines and trucking routes that never before existed. The vision is: we are not afraid, we can see what needs to be done and we know how to get there. Excellent global leaders follow their dreams.

Mobilizers – The best global leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with are masters at mobilization. Many are required to mange or start-up new operations, and sometimes don’t have enough resources or information. They need to influence decision makers and work with, not through them to obtain what they need to get the job done. They need to learn how to utilize local resources, to find the right people for the right job, how to organize the right teams to accomplish their goals and most importantly, be where their people are.

Personal Integrity – Integrity and acceptable business practices vary from one culture to another. In challenging local conditions, global leaders must demonstrate the highest level of integrity. They must be honest, committed and able to perform consistently in many differing situations. They must be genuine, true, transparent and real in order to gain trust from those they lead.

Chameleons – Effective global leaders are chameleonic, able to adjust to their surroundings without standing out. They must be able to adapt their behaviors and beliefs to unfamiliar roles and environments. This skill is important in any leadership role, but with global leaders it is imperative to adapt to your local environment instantly. You can’t change a person, but you can teach them to be sensitive to what’s acceptable within the different cultures they operate in. In addition, they must be able to understand their own personal leadership style as well as how to adjust their style in order to be effective in diverse situations.

Black Belts – Black belts represent the highest level of mastery in martial arts, in business it’s Six Sigma, at the global leadership level it’s mastery of cultural diversity and emotional intelligence. This type of mastery involves knowing and understanding how to engage, motivate, and inspire individuals within various cultures. Excellent global leaders know how to adjust their styles according to each situation. When it comes to understanding the importance of forming a human connection, global leaders are masters, the black belts of communication, and experts in what they do. For example, engaging and motivating in France requires a different process than what is needed to get the same result in Germany. Global leaders don’t fail because they lack technical skills or experience, they experience difficulty because they don’t have people skills, the ability to stop, listen and understand. An effective global leader is always respected by those they influence and lead.

Intellectual Stamina – Operating as a leader at the executive level is complex in any country. Operating a global organization with multiple regions, economies, political, social, and cultural factors; and understanding the factors that influence strategy is even more complex. Global leaders are sharp, they possess “street-smarts,” which is the ability and the intuitive knowledge needed to survive in difficult situations. They are on their feet and thinking all the time. They must be able to deal with ambiguity and crunch a lot of information into the smallest amount of time.

Research shows that there a significant difference between excellent leadership and excellent global leadership.

To effectively answer the question on how to spot a global leader, you need to delve into getting to know your people, dig in, ask questions, observe, listen and understand them and you may wind up finding your diamond in the rough.


Unconscious Bias Training… Does it Work?

Unconscious bias is all the talk in diversity these days. It is as if someone turned on a switch and companies everywhere are adding unconscious bias training to their diversity programs.

I am not against it, but it has been part of cultural training and diversity for decades. The only thing that happened is it became zeroed out as a point to focus on. Much like repacking products for sale at the grocery store; where the company will come out with a new and improved version, which is basically the exact same thing as the old product.

Whether you are a large or small company, a leader in your own home turf or overseas on a global assignment, diversity issues are everywhere. Singling out one area of it and focusing only on that one theme fails to address the bigger picture. And the big picture is that culture is the driving force behind much of human behavior.

If you are not addressing the cultural background and belief systems that individuals hold, you will be misunderstood.

The central contradiction of unconscious bias training is that you can’t train something you can’t control. Most of us can’t control what our brain does. You can’t become more objective just by learning about or thinking about biases; unconscious bias training does not actually provide you the tools to do something about how your brain behaves.

This is the basic problem with using unconscious bias as the starting point to improve functioning. You can show someone that he or she has an unconscious bias, and you can even identify what some of those biases are. But then, what do you do about it?  How do you use this information to effectively create positive change?

It’s like designing a weight loss program that consists of two steps, Step 1: proving to people that they eat too much and exercise too little, Step 2: tell them to eat less and exercise more.  Guess how well that program is going to work!

Reality is that it will only produce a slight improvement in a small fraction of people, for the very reason that the forces that drive the problem are unconscious.

These forces are not subject to conscious control, which is why the problem of obesity is so widespread and difficult to solve. At best, one can increase awareness, which will create a very small marginal improvement, but likely to fall far short of the results that organizations want to achieve.

So the common sense conclusion is that unconscious bias training is not likely to create much change in how people actually behave. Experience has shown me that this conclusion is accurate. However, I wondered what the scientists who do research in this field have concluded. They spend a lot of time researching unconscious bias, and they must know something about it. Do they agree with me?

Some of the best, and most honored, scientists in this field work on a program called Project Implicit, at Harvard and some other top universities. So I decided to take some of their unconscious bias tests and to see what practical recommendations they would have to improve an unconscious bias.

Their test is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, and can easily be taken in about 15 minutes online on their website at implict.harvard.edu. They have versions for several different kinds of unconscious bias. The tests are well-designed, scientifically accurate and fun to take.

To give an example, one test is called the Gender-Career IAT. This test identifies unconscious bias that associates Career with Male, and Family with Female. Even if people consciously believe that females are just as appropriate for careers as males, and males are just as appropriate for raising families as females, the test can detect subtle reactions that indicate there is still bias in the associations of the unconscious mind.

This test has been given to thousands of people and shows that 75% have this particular unconscious bias.

The moment of truth comes after you complete the test, when they give you your results and you are left asking yourself, “What Can I Do About an Implicit Preference That I Do Not Want?”  I think their answer says it all:

”Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged ‘diversity trainings’ generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases. Therefore, we encourage people to instead focus on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate, such as blind auditions and well-designed ‘structured’ decision processes.”

I don’t know about you, but I found it encouraging that, at least in this case, top scientists reach the same conclusion as common sense.

Practically speaking, according to the scientists, the best proven way to reduce the effects of unconscious bias is to set up an environment where personal reactions can’t occur. For example, have the hiring decision made by a person who doesn’t know whether the applicant is male or female. If this is impossible, you can set up a detailed and complicated process where a large amount of objective data drowns out personal reactions.

Such strategies could be a good idea for some decisions about hiring and promotion. But they are impossible to implement in the situations that matter most– the day to day interactions between real live people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures.

If your company is experiencing difficulty because its retail clerks are offending customers, identifying unconscious bias is not going to solve the problem. If your top male executives are having trouble working with female bosses, or making blunders while on an important overseas assignment, then unconscious bias training is not going to solve the problem.

The best approach is a cultural approach: one that gets to the root of culture and cultural differences that explores the cultural norms, expectations and beliefs that every person has.

One objection to a cultural approach is that it involves stereotyping people from different cultures. So how does one go beyond stereotyping? The answer is that every human being is different, no matter how many characteristics he or she might share with other members of his or her culture. Only an individualized approach can work.

It may be that an executive lives out a particular normative behavior from the culture they came from, and expects others to do the same. But the personal meaning of this varies greatly from individual to individual. The more you explore the things that members of a culture have in common, the more you realize just how unique each individual is.

For example in an overseas assignment, the starting point to cross cultural training is not giving the transferee a list of stereotypes about the country and culture he or she is going to. The starting point is exploring the employee’s own cultural background, in the context of the real-life, day to day, problems that they encounter in their daily work.


Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash