On a flight back to India from Europe, I was seated next to the head of a firm that supplied to some of the largest automobile manufacturers across the world.
He handed me a business card that spelt his name in Hindi as well as in English. I flipped the card to notice the same information in Mandarin and English. He explained how he lives in Shanghai and shuttles between India, China, Japan and the US, spending a week in each country. He alternated between Hindi and English effortlessly and showed me the three Hindi movies on his iPad that he had watched last week. I noticed he had ordered a “Hindu non-veg” meal on the flight. That was a clincher.
I asked him how he had gone about building a global team. He said, “I give my team members two tests – the music test and the food test. I ask people how many of the songs they actively listen to, are in languages or cultures they are not familiar with? When I travel with them, I notice if they try out the local cuisine in a new country or crave for a restaurant that serves home cuisine?”
People who have a global mindset are open to actively challenging themselves to operate beyond their comfort zone.
The Conference Board asked more than 700 CEOs across the world about what their top challenge was this year. It was about how to build the human capital necessary to operate in a global world. Their results get captured in a report called, ‘DNA of Leaders: Leadership Development Secrets’.
The global mindset is too complex to define. Its essence lies in a sense of curiosity and openness to learn about cultures and business environments beyond the familiar.
Living and working in a foreign land does not automatically build such a mindset. Several people who have lived in another country for years seek out the familiar even after they have been in their adopted country for years. The people they socialise with at work are all from the home country. Weekends are spent meeting people from back home.
Being immersed in an unfamiliar world frightens most of us. Familiarity is a warm blanket. A global mindset is about actively seeking the unknown.
A global mindset needs the bandwidth to handle such diversity. To live in a world where there are multiple truths could mean understanding the laws of different countries and the ability to work in a regulatory environment different from what the person may have learnt in the home country over time.
A global mindset also means learning how to operate in an unfamiliar environment. Global leaders have to define business processes that will work seamlessly across different parts of the business.
Simplifying complexity is a skill such people build. Global organisations need the simplicity to remain agile.
The biggest challenge is never about the tangible elements like regulations and business processes. It is about getting a global view of people and cultures.
That means having to deal with people who are products of different educational and social systems. The biggest lesson in building a global mindset is about getting results while working with people with varying levels of skill. It is about operating effortlessly for long stretches of time in unfamiliar environments.
Think about this as watching different movies while switching channels and still being able to follow the storyline in each one. For most people, even thinking about such a scenario is exhausting. Such a mindset is easy to learn, but is hard to teach. That is why an organisation must hang on to this rare breed of global employees.