Could you be taken out of your current environment and still be an effective leader anywhere in the world? For example, if you lead a team in the U.S. would you be able to lead a team in Japan, or Brazil? Having the Global Citizen mindset means you embrace diversity and can think globally. Based on the over 140 CEOs interviews I did for my new book, The Future Leader, this is one of the most crucial mindsets for future leaders to possess.
Leaders of the future will need to look beyond their own cities, countries, and teams to work with the entire world. There are no such thing as just local or regional companies. With increased connectivity, every company has the potential to be a global organization and attract customers and employees from around the world. As a leader you must also be comfortable working with people who don’t look like you, think you like, behave like you, or even believe in the same things that you believe in.
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According to Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman and CEO of L’Oreal, “A diversified workforce in every function and on all levels strengthens our creativity and our understanding of consumers and it enables us to develop and market products that are relevant.”
There are three things you can do now to develop and practice the global citizen mindset:
Immerse yourself in different cultures
It’s one thing to read about a new country or culture, but it’s another to really experience and immerse yourself in the culture. Eating at a new ethnic restaurant each week doesn’t count! If you visit a new part of the world try to take some time to understand their customs, points of view, history, and their beliefs. If traveling is out of the question then spend some time learning about your diverse colleagues. Surrounding yourself with people who are just like you is easy and so is isolating yourself in your own cultural and belief system, unfortunately this creates a very limited way of thinking and seeing the world. You’ll likely find inspiration from new cultures, even if their approach to leadership and life is vastly different from your own ideas. You don’t need to live out of a suitcase!
Lead diverse teams
If your situation allows for it, get experience leading in different parts of the world. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE recently said, “The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of [General Electric] will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires.” It’s easy to fall into our comfort zone of teams we like to lead in areas where we like to work. It becomes familiar and easy, but it doesn’t push us outside our comfort zone or open us up to new ideas and perspectives. Lead teams from different departments and geographies. If you experience is predominately in finance, try leading a marketing or HR team. Branch outside of what you know to work with remote teams from around the world or teams based in other countries. Get as much global experience as you can and learn to lead from new perspectives. This of course requires tremendous courage because you are moving away from you know and are comfortable with and shifting towards something less certain and familiar.
Actively surround yourself with people who are not like you
Global citizens do more than just accept diversity—they actively surround themselves with diverse teams. This means that if you are a part of team where everyone looks the same that you speak up and say something. Don’t just be ok with being a part of a diverse and inclusive team, ask for it…demand it! Be open to their perspectives, you’ll probably realize you have more in common than you thought, and the diversity of ideas and opinions can lead to new ideas for the entire team.
Ilham Kadri, the CEO of Solvay, a 25,000 person chemical company. She has lived and worked in many parts of the world and is the type of leader you can put into any city with full confidence she would lead successfully and effectively. She told me a story of how she earned the nickname “water lady” by negotiating a water treatment plant between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Whereas others had a hard time making this project a reality, Ilham understood the different perspectives, values, and cultures of these two very different parts of the world and was thus able to negotiate something both parties were happy with.
Adopting the mindset of a global citizen is all about being open to new ideas and new people. In many cases, it will push you outside your bubble to understand new cultures and listen to new perspectives. But in our connected and diverse world, everyone deserves to be heard and represented. A global citizen leader can work across cultures to lead people from around the world.
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