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.