The #1 Mindset Every Leader Must Develop

With the expansion of globalization and rapid advancements in technology, cross-cultural interactions around the globe are at an all-time high. No longer are cultures bound by their geographic borders. Local developments be they technological, political, social, economic or environmental can now have instantaneous global impact. With news available 24-7 around the world, people are more aware than ever before of what is happening globally, and businesses and organizations are affected more quickly than ever before by events in far reaching places. Take the 2008 economic crisis in the United States for example, its impact was felt way beyond the United States’ geographical borders.

Today’s leaders must integrate an appreciation of global dynamics and cross-cultural competencies into their leadership framework. From construction companies to startups to health clinics to churches to Fortune 500s, every sector and every leader is impacted by the rise of globalization and advancements of technology.

The Rise of Globalization

Globalization is simply the spread of people, goods, and services around the globe. It’s been around since humanity could walk and move. The use of animals for transportation increased the pace of globalization, as did the advancements of cars, trucks, and trains. It was the availability and accessibility of air passage after WWII that became the catalyst for the expansion of globalization today [9].

Today, the rate at which people, goods, and services can travel around the globe are at an all-time high. Couple that with exponential developments in technology that allow billions of people the world over to be virtually connected anytime anywhere and it becomes obvious how critical cross-cultural competencies have become for today’s leaders.

Globalization’s Impact on Cross-Cultural Relations

As people, goods, and services spread more quickly around the globe, cross-cultural relations increase as well. According to the UN’s 2017 International Migration Report between 1990 and 2017, “the number of international migrants rose by over 105 million or by 69 percent.” Most of this rise in migration was seen in just a little over a decade, between 2005-2017. As people move around the globe at an increasing rate, interactions between different cultures increases.

Culture is simply how and why we do what we do around here. MIT Sloan Fellows Professor Edgar Schein says of culture that it “is our learned solution to making sense of the world, to stabilizing it, and to avoiding the anxiety that comes with social chaos” [10]. Ken Hultman described culture as being comprised of values, norms, and behaviors [6]. Cultural differences exist whenever the values, norms, and behaviors differ between people in the way they maintain a sense of stability.

People of different cultures living next door to each other, working together, and doing business together is at an all-time high. The benefits of this are many. According to Schein, the greater the diversity of ideas, strengths, experiences, and viewpoints that come together to solve problems, the better positioned an organization to thrive amidst the rise of volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous (VUCA) times [5]. Munusamy, Ruderman, & Eckert also found that the greater the diversity of social identities throughout an organization means gains in human capital, identity capital, diversity capital, and social capital for the organization [7]. Social identity refers to the nonprofessional parts of a person’s life that simultaneously play critical roles in their identity like gender, nationality, race, native language, generation, etc. [7]. The value then of empowering people to lead from their authentic selves increases their overall effectiveness as well as the organization’s overall effectiveness. The opposite is true as well and is costing organizations greatly today.

The latest issue of O, The Oprah Magazine highlighted these costs in the article, “Can you really be yourself at work?” Women shared of the intellectual, emotional, psychological, mental, and financial losses they incurred while battling the challenges of being asked to be someone they weren’t while trying to succeed in their careers. The Minneapolis Star Tribune article “Twin Cities businesses ask why professionals of color leave,” quoted an online survey of professionals of color who indicated one of the reasons they were looking for work in other cities was because they felt that “In order to fit in, they need[ed] to lose their identity” [8]. While these employees faced costly challenges themselves, it is ultimately organizations that suffer when the diverse cultures that people bring to the table go elsewhere.

Today’s leaders must be able to help their organizations courageously embrace and work through the tensions that exist on cross-cultural teams. Avoiding the realities of cross-cultural interactions typically means the dominant group silently assumes the nondominant groups will conform and become like them [7]. While organizational values and cultural alignment are essential for sustained organizational success [6], this is best achieved by organizations which empower individuals to value the uniqueness they bring to the table by working from their authentic selves.

Unfortunately, the norm for many can be summed up by Adamaris Mendoza’s response when she was told by colleagues that there were aspects of her personality that weren’t a good fit for the field, “I covered up my real self in order to fit in.” The need for leaders to not only be aware of today’s global dynamics, but to also develop their cross-cultural competencies to serve their teams better, is greater than ever.

A Leader’s Need for a Global Mindset

Increasingly working across cultures whether at home or around the globe, leaders must develop their global mindset. Cabrera and Unruh defined a global mindset as “the ability to perceive, analyze, and decode behaviors and situations in multiple cultural contexts” in order to grasp the dynamics of the interplay between multiple cultures [2]. Today’s leaders will be invited into cross-cultural dynamics more than ever before. From generational cross-cultural challenges to meta cross-cultural tensions, leaders must adopt a global mindset in order to effectively lead their teams.

Cross-cultural awareness begins with embracing the reality that no culture is right; they are simply different [3].

Today’s leaders have the responsibility to understand the various cultures with which they work to the best of their ability. Embracing the realities of cross-cultural leadership starts with humility. It is humility that will keep leaders continuously learning and collaborating, which are essential for successful cross-cultural leaders as globalization continues to touch communities around the globe.

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  1. Block, P. (2011). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used, 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

  2. Cabrera, A., and Unruh, G. (2012). Being global: How to think, act, and lead in a transformed world.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

  3. Caligiuri, P. (2012). Cultural agility: Building a pipeline of successful global professionals. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  4. Cummings, T. G. & Worley, C. G. (2015). Organization development & change, 10th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

  5. Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K. C., & Dinwoodie, D. L. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s enduring success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  6. Hultman, K. (2002), Balancing Individual and Organizational Values: Walking the Tightrope to Success, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY.

  7. Munusamy, V. P., Ruderman, M. N, & Eckert, R. H. (2010). Leader development and social identity. In E. Van Velsor, C. D. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman (Eds.) Handbook for leadership development (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons (pp. 147-175).

  8. Prather, S. (2016), “Twin Cities businesses ask why professionals of color leave”, Star Tribune, 26 September.  Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/twin-cities-businesses-ask-why-professionals-of-color-leave/394688601/ (accessed 19 April 2017).

  9. Rizter, G. & Dean, P. (2015). Globalization: A basic text, 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

  10. Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership, 4th ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.