[OVERSEAS VIEW]Global or worldly?For the last decade and longer, executives have been urged to be more global. “Get with it,” the gurus and professors preach, “adopt a global mindset.” I believe that this is virtually impossible, even in global firms.
It has to do with the mind of the manager.
Over the last decade, a group of academic colleagues and partners has been running a master’s program for practicing managers from global firms. The students, including many Korean managers, travel to McGill, the Insead business school, Lancaster University, the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, and the Korea Development Institute in Seoul.
The participants come from global firms around world, including Lufthansa, Alcan, British Telecom, Microsoft and LG among others.
It is a truly global program, and our observations are revealing.
A key lesson is that we can only help senior management participants become more worldly in their outlook, but not global-minded.
We believe that a global manager is simply a myth. They don’t exist, in our experience. Simply, everyone that we have worked with is rooted in a particular country and culture. Where we grow up has a profound impact on how we view the world.
For most this means where you were born. The major exceptions are the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which are the great immigrant nations of the world. All have large numbers of citizens who were born elsewhere but when they were small children, their parents brought them to one of these countries.
If they arrive young enough they become indelibly stamped with the culture of the country they settle in.
America is most famous for this, often called a melting pot ― the vast majority of immigrants are quickly melted down to blend in with American culture!
Research suggests that it is by the later teenage years that culture is set in our minds.
I grew up in Canada, lived a number of years in the United States and later in Europe.
Though I certainly understand American and British culture, which, along with Canada, are three of the most culturally similar countries in the world, I am still, without a doubt, predominantly Canadian.
One can think of how close Finns, Swedes and Norwegians are but a Finn is still a Finn, and a Swede is a Swede. I have done a great deal of work with Nokia and Volvo and the culture of their respective home countries still matters.
By the same token, Korean and Japanese businesspeople, while in their own countries, readily emphasize the differences between their cultures. However, after spending some time overseas, they are more ready to admit to their many cultural similarities, but will still insist on their unique defining characteristics.
Our cultural foundations can be modified somewhat throughout our lives as we learn and grow, but, for most of us, our mother culture forms the bedrock of our world view.
This firm rooting in often vastly different cultures runs counter to the current popular idea of globalization. The latter assumes ― and indeed, encourages ― a certain homogeneity of behavior.
A closer look reveals something quite different.
Far from a grey uniformity, this world is made up of all kinds of shades. I believe then that we should be encouraging our managers to be more worldly, more experienced in life, in both sophisticated and practical ways.
In other words, should we not get more involved in worlds beyond our own in order to understand other people’s circumstances, habits and cultures, so that we can understand our own world better?
Can anyone be global in their outlook?
What we can become is what the British call being “worldly.” The British are particularly good at this; mainly, I think, because they retain a wider interest in the world than most, certainly more than the average North American.
Perhaps this comes from having had the world’s largest empire in the not too distant past and having been a great spawning ground for immigrants, which means many British citizens have relatives in Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa and other scattered points on the compass.
I am always surprised by how many British citizens in their 50s were born or lived part of their childhoods in India.
A person with a worldly outlook is someone who has a deep appreciation of other cultures, speaks other languages, has travelled considerably and has lived for a year or two outside their home continent.
These experiences tend to create the type of person that has considerable empathy for people with significantly different views from their own.
We see this trait in the best global managers in outstanding firms like Nokia, Samsung, IBM and others.
They display a world view firmly rooted in their mother culture but open to wide world views.
Global no, worldly yes.
* Karl Moore is a professor at McGill University in Canada. He works on developing worldly managers in the International Masters Program in Practicing Management www.impm.com.
by Karl Moore
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