Developing a Global Mindset


Last week I attended the Developing Leaders for Global Roles Summit at the Thunderbird Najafi Global Mindset Institute in Glendale, Arizona. The summit brought together academics and practitioners from around the world to discuss the concept and issues surrounding global leadership, and approaches to closing the talent gaps that virtually every organization experiences. The stories and insights from the other attendees were enlightening, so I thought I’d summarize a few of the takeaways here in our blog.

First, this will come as no surprise, but nobody is defining their problem in terms of a surplus of global leadership talent. Talent in this area is particularly scarce and extremely valuable. This is a prime battle in the broader war for talent.

Second, gooGlobed leadership skills do not necessarily generalize to a global setting. Leadership skills are distinct from having a global perspective, and successful global leadership requires both. The folks at Thunderbird have a robust body of research on the concept of global mindset, complete with a measurement tool (the Global Mindset Inventory, or GMI) and taxonomy of skills and attributes. The good news is that global mindset can be developed. The bad news is that not nearly enough organizations are actively developing global mindsets in their leadership talent pools or organizations. 

Third, success in a global environment requires not just leaders that think globally, but an entire organization that sees itself as global and thinks in those terms. Making this transition is difficult. For example, moving from being a U.S.-based business that works in China to an organization that does business in both the U.S. and China is a big adjustment, and requires commitment from the entire workforce. From this perspective, global mindset is an organizational development issue, not just a leadership development issue.

So what are people doing to move towards a global organization? I heard a few things from a fantastic lineup of speakers, including:

  • Building cross-cultural work teams. These might be traditional or virtual work teams, but getting some exposure to different people, different business cultures, and different ways of thinking is key.
  • Spending time in-country. Most of the speakers agreed that there is no substitute for spending time in another culture. If you want to do business in Japan, for example, you need to get over there and really get a first-hand feel for the way things work. This is difficult and expensive, but also provides tremendous development.
  • Debriefing past experiences. After projects are implemented, the project teams sit down and replay the scenario, debriefing what decisions were made, and how things could have been done differently. This is probably good practice for any significant project, but hearing the story from others with a different cultural perspective can provide valuable insight that might not have been acquired through the process of just getting the work done.
  • Targeting global mindset specifically through development programs. This is relatively new, but seems like a great idea. The GMI and other assessments are being integrated into development programs to help people recognize their own tendencies (individual and cultural), and how to think outside of those constraints.

It’s a cliché – but no less true – to say it’s a global business environment. Those who can adapt to this playing field will be more successful. Those who impose their ways of doing things onto other culture will struggle. Developing leaders who can be successful in the global business environment will be critical, and the Global Najafi Global Mindset Institute is doing a lot of great work to help organizations meet this challenge.