Saturday, December 31, 2011

Global Mindset Part I

Larry Parker (not his real name) was a marketing executive for the Asia Pacific division of a multi-national company.  He would hold regular teleconferences with his marketing directors in Asia and, according to him, he found it difficult to make much progress with them.  Asking for my advice, he commented, “Why is it that when I tell them that they need to meet a certain deliverable by a certain time, they all say they will do it, and yet nothing happens by the deadline.  I can never tell if they have agreed to do something or not.  Why can’t they just be straight with me?”
Does Larry have what many management experts are calling “global mindset?”  What is global mindset, anyway?  How do we know when someone has it?  Professors Anil Gupta and Vijay Govindarajan define global mindset as “combin(ing) openness to and awareness of diversity across cultures and markets with a propensity and ability to synthesize across this diversity.”  And The Thunderbird School of Management says that global mindset is made up of your:  intellectual capital (e.g., your global business savvy, your cosmopolitan outlook), psychological capital (e.g., your passion for diversity, your quest for adventure), and social capital (e.g., your intercultural empathy, your diplomacy).    

These are certainly reasonable.  As implied, global mindset is a mental attitude, an inclination.  It is not a behavior, but it should predict behavior.  In my own experience and interviews with executives and students, I would say there are four components which can be easily remembered with the acronym FACE:  Flexibility, Acceptance/openness, Curiosity, and cross-cultural Empathy.

I asked my students near the beginning of my course in Cross-Cultural Management to describe what global mindset means to them.  Here is a sampling of what they wrote:   

“Global mindset means that you are aware of your environment, of others and the impact of ideas and events in your business, strategy or position.”

“Taking a more macro look at things … understanding that things won’t work the same all over the world, and taking that into account.”

“Having an understanding that countries have different cultures, and going into each country, one must always be aware and sensitive to that country’s cultural ways.”

 “Someone who understands or has an open mind to understand different cultures and how these affect the outcomes of decisions.”
“Putting yourself in the other culture’s shoes.”

“Listening and resisting reflexive judgments.”

“Your way is not always the right way.”

“Understanding that different countries/cultures have different ways of doing things.  They value certain things differently.  A global mindset has to take all of that into consideration and be open-minded and willing to compromise.” 

When I asked Larry (a mid-westerner who had only begun to travel to Asia) what he thought was going on, he said that it was either because Asians don’t have the same sense of urgency as Westerners, and/or that they are not as candid.  Six months later, Larry requested a transfer from his position and eventually moved to a staff job in headquarters.

We can reasonably assume that Larry did not have a global mindset and was perhaps a poor fit in his global role.  He showed little curiosity for the geography he was managing, was not willing to explore other ways to accomplish his objectives, and could not imagine viewing things from his direct reports’ perspective.      

Developing a global mindset, on the other hand, is not easy.  Traveling to other countries, or reading about different cultures, may help, but is not sufficient.  And of the four components, developing inter-cultural empathy is probably the most difficult.  In a subsequent article, I will explain why, and also some of the ways you can develop global mindset.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Leadership of Steve Jobs

By now, many of us have read, watched, and listened to many accounts of Steve Jobs’ many contributions can achievements.  There is a passion from consumers about Apple and Steve Jobs that is rare in the corporate world.  Not long ago, I walked past an Apple store in Soho and saw hundreds of Post-It notes and flowers from so many thanking Steve Jobs.  As his biographer Walter Isaacson and others have pointed out, however, Steve Jobs was far from perfect.  I’d like to comment in particular on his leadership and management style.  It is well-known that Steve Jobs could be arrogant, dictatorial, and mean-spirited.  Yet he was a great leader.  So does this invalidate the claims of some management writers and thought leaders today that effective business leaders today need to be nice, kind, humble (Level 5 leadership), and practice “servant leadership?”  Does this mean that executive leaders should now not worry about being ruthless, imperial and aloof?

Not at all.  I think this apparent contradiction can be explained by two sets of factors.  One, we have to recognize that leadership style is situational.  A style that might work under some circumstances might not work in others.  Of course this concept has been around for years, but I am still surprised at the claims being made about “universal” leadership characteristics and behavior.  Those of you who have worked overseas and led cross-functional global teams will surely recognize that your leadership needs to be adapted to specific cultures.  I believe that Mr. Jobs’ leadership style (not to mention his genius in design) was a key ingredient in Apple’s success; had he used a different style, he might not have achieved the same spectacular results at Apple.

Two, despite the observations of some about Mr. Jobs’ arrogant style, I believe that he had at least three qualities that great executive leaders have:  a clear vision, a passion for the company and its people, and an ability to inspire trust.  This is what I would consider his leadership character.  In fact, Mr. Jobs not only had a vision, he made sure that everyone in the company bought into that vision, and this created a “higher purpose” for the company that really excited Apple employees.  Of course, his passion for the company and its products is legendary.  And employees trusted Mr. Jobs – not because he founded the company but because he showed time and again his competence in many areas, especially product design and marketing.  And because employees saw - through his behavior - that Mr. Jobs was not driven by his own ego or by some self-interested needs (like the outrageous pay packages of some executives), they trusted him.  So if Mr. Jobs was at times arrogant, even nasty, employees viewed these behaviors in the context of these underlying qualities.

I think the lessons for executives today are clear.  Leadership style is situational – your behavior can and should vary depending on circumstances.  What is important to consider is the character of your leadership.  Do you have a clear vision for your team or your company?  Do your team members believe in that vision, and are they excited enough to become part of the journey towards achieving that vision?  And do they trust you to do what is ultimately best for the company, the stakeholders, the customers, and employees – not what’s best for you?                      

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lessons for Mr. Buffett

Recently, I spoke to my class in Organizational Behavior about what I would advise Mr. Buffett after the recent incident with Mr. Sokol.  Here is a summary of what I said.

Number one, be aware of your cognitive biases.  You like people who are like you.  So do most people.  But don’t let that color your judgment.  You liked Sokol because he came from the same school as you, has had a good track record and is results-oriented like you.  You have many things in common with him.   But you still need to judge him based on his performance AND his values.  In OB, these are called "similar-to-me" and "knowledge-of-predictor" biases.

Number two, make sure you get multiple sources of feedback – preferably using a 360-degree  process.  Recognize that you are the boss, and information to you gets very filtered – sometimes you are the last to know.  Jack Welch recognized this early on, and this is part of the reason why he created the Crotonville Management facility.  By the way, if you reach out and ask people two levels down what they think of their boss, chances are you won’t get the straight scoop - at least not right away.  In many cases, after a manager is fired, people will come to you and say, thank you for firing him – he was a terrible leader; what took you so long?  So having a process like 360-degree feedback will help you get a more rounded view of your team.  

Number three, adapt your management style, and specifically your decision-making style, to the situation.  You like to delegate.  It seems that you spend most of your time in your office, reading or talking on the phone.  You don’t generally manage by walking around.  You trust your direct reports.  You like to empower them.  This suits your personality and is understandable, given the diversified nature of your company.   That’s fine in most circumstances.  But when there are yellow or red flags, or when the situation changes, you have to be willing to change your style also.  Sometimes as a boss, you have to dig deep and you need to ask a lot of questions.  This is not the opposite of delegation nor does it suggest that you no longer trust your people.    This is to make sure you have a good understanding so you can best support your team.  In my experience, your team will not view this as "interfering" but as a positive perception that you are interested in their business and willing to help.  It will also help you connect the dots among your various businesses and see where you as CEO can truly add value.