In many ways, Americans are playing catch-up to the rest of the world with regards to their international sensibility. We have certainly gotten lucky in this regard, however, given that more often than not English acts as a global language, especially when it comes to conducting business. Until recent decades, there hadn’t been much of a pressing need for us to reach outside of our national capabilities to expand our knowledge of other cultures. This is no longer the case. For a leader to believe that his or her business is immune to globalization is to make a foolish oversight that can ultimately hurt their competitive advantage.
Some people have already had the luxury of being exposed to different cultures, whether through travel opportunities in high school and university or through early life experience. What about those that have not? How can you develop a larger global sensibility as a leader, and how can you encourage and provide the tools to do so to your people?
Formal education is just one means to an end. There exist some MBA programs that allow students to learn more about global business, and some still that will send its students overseas to conduct business elsewhere. Not all learning has to be formal, however. It may be as simple as monitoring the information you consume; consider your media “diet.” What sources do you turn to when taking in news, for example? Does it encompass a global perspective, or is it highly national? Expanding even where you reach for current events can begin to paint you a larger picture of the world. Whatever you can do to take more than your national perspective into account is a start.
Given this expansion of business, it is important to hire for global sensibility. This transcends simple language and travel, although those are two good places to begin. Look to candidates who have overseas work experience, who have spent time abroad, or otherwise have an exposure to a culturally diverse set of circumstances. There are also softer skills that may suggest a candidate would be able to handle an international business opportunity. Is this person comfortable in difficult or ambiguous situations? Do they have interpersonal savvy? Are they inclusive and collaborative? Are they able to consider varying points of view before making decisions? And most importantly, are they willing (and eager) to learn?
As much as possible, provide your people with the chance to learn about or gain experience in working with businesses outside of their home country, and encourage them to take advantage of said offerings. Having contact with different cultures is often described as an upending experience, or at very least transformative. Beyond providing your business a competitive edge, gaining increased exposure to different ways of life can help develop you as a person, and ultimately a leader.
What is your attitude toward globalization? How do you make your people more internationally sensitive?