News & Insight
April 2011

Developing a Leader's Global Mindset

Joy McGovern, Ph.D. Global Mindset is the ability of a leader to influence others who come from very different cultural, political, social or institutional backgrounds than his/her own. In today's increasingly globalized world, Global Mindset has become an essential requirement for success. Unfortunately, most leaders look at the world with a particular cultural lens which is such a basic part of who they are that they are unaware of how it limits their ability to be successful in other cultures.

Let me illustrate this with a recent coaching case which is a typical example of how a leader may derail his/ her otherwise exceptional career. Walter had a track record of success at a Fortune 50 company, headquartered in the US. The company was providing proactive coaching for Walter as he assumed a new role as the Vice President for Manufacturing Operations Worldwide. In this new role Walter had Plant Managers from approximately 10 different cultures around the world reporting to him. Each of these cultures had very different ideas about what constituted effective leadership.

In our first coaching session, Walter discussed some of the initial steps that he had taken. He described how he had traveled to each of the plants, and individually interviewed the Plant Managers to collect their thoughts, opinions and feelings about what was going well and what needed to be improved in their operations. Some of the Plant Managers were quite forthcoming with their suggestions, others were more reticent and still others appeared to be annoyed by the questions. In spite of these varied reactions Walter's perceptions were that the visits were a hit and he was quite confident about his ability to be successful in this new role.

Walter experienced a rude awakening about his global mindset when he received feedback from his 360 interviews. The 360 interview data mirrored the reactions that Walter had observed during his meetings. Some feedback was very supportive and positive, others were neutral and finally some were hostile, with comments such as, "Why is he asking me how to do his job? That's what he's paid for." or "How can I possibly have respect for someone who doesn't know what he's doing?"

What Walter had neglected to consider was the impact that culture might have on how people might both perceive and respond to his very US-centric approach. In essence, he demonstrated that he did not have a Global Mindset. Global Mindset consists of three types of "capital" which are described below:
Psychological Capital which is the willingness and motivation to experience of and to succeed in a global role. While Walter certainly wanted to succeed in a global role he did not seem to recognize that people have different perspectives and values based on their culture.
Intellectual Capital which is knowledge of business and cultures around the world. Walter did not make an effort to gather information about other cultures before embarking on his international tour of manufacturing facilities.
Social Capital which is the willingness and ability to adapt your interactions to match the culture you are in. Walter interacted with his Plant Mangers in a very similar fashion, not showing any flexibility in how he approached people from different cultures.

Walter looked to me, his coach, for direction. I suggested that he use Thunderbird's Global Mindset Inventory (GMI) to identify what his current strengths and areas for development were and that based upon those scores we would create a development plan. One of the benefits of using the GMI is that Thunderbird School of Global Management's, Mansour Javidan, Ph.D., Director of the Global Mindset Institute and creator of the GMI, has demonstrated empirically that each of the capitals can be improved over time.

Over the next nine months Walter increased his knowledge of business and cultures around the world and came to accept that people from different cultures have different values. This led him to challenge his assumptions about people and to suspend his judgment until he had more information. Subsequently, in his interactions with his Plant Managers from different cultures he learned to:
Identify nuances in his employees behavior and modify his interactions to fit the culture he was interacting with
Probe for more information
Create a dialogue with his direct reports describing why he thought it was preferable to act in a particular way, and encouraging discussion, thereby, enriching the cross-cultural adeptness of himself and of his direct reports.

The post-coaching 360 I conducted indicated that while Walter still had a little more work to do on his Global Mindset, all of his direct reports perceived him much more positively than they had previously.

Joy McGovern is a WJM Faculty Member and Manager of Business Development for Thunderbird’s Global Mindset Institute. Joy has spent the last twenty years as a leadership consultant and business developer to Fortune 50 corporations, non-profits and universities across a wide range of industries and services..

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