Global Inclusive Leadership

Are you a Global Inclusive Leader?

There may have been a time when successful business leaders could have (relatively) safely answered this question, “No.” Today, however, anyone who leads or plans to lead organizations, teams or initiatives, needs to develop and exhibit the ability to work with others across national borders and across cultural lines.

There may have been a time when only a jet-setting subset of the business world faced global challenges. Today, however, these challenges are faced whether we travel to the corners of the Earth or we manage increasingly diverse teams in our hometowns.

There may have been a time when being a Global Inclusive Leader was an option or a luxury. Today, it is required that we are Global Inclusive Leaders if we are serious about being any kind of leader at all.

So, what is a Global Inclusive Leader?

In order to be a Global Inclusive Leader, there are three things we need to be:

  • Authentic
  • Agile
  • Aligning

Before we explore the 3 A’s (Authentic, Agile, Aligning) that define Global Inclusive Leadership, we need to take a look at the word at the center of the diagram: Honoring. In this context, honoring means displaying genuine respect by acknowledgement, valuing and considering all perspectives.

Without honoring the cultures and individuals we engage, we may be any combination of the 3 A’s, but we will not be Global Inclusive Leaders. We will not be able to optimize the talents, perspectives and, ultimately, value of those from around the globe who enter our culture or those whose culture we enter.

To be a Global Inclusive Leader, there are three things we have to:

Be Authentic

We need to preserve a core identity while leading in different contexts. As we find ourselves operating in an ever widening range of cultural contexts, we need to be clearer than ever as to who we are.

As leaders, we need to be open. However, we can move from flexible to flimsy quite easily if we don’t exhibit the kind of consistency that leads to our colleagues and business partners experiencing us as trustworthy. The key is to step back from practices — and habits! — and focus on underlying values and principles as our guide.

The leader who is authentic will:

  • Foster trust and loyalty. If no one follows, are we really leading? Whether a part of our own org chart or sitting across the negotiating table, people trust those they believe to be honest. That includes being honest about who we are. If a leader is experienced as inauthentic, they will not inspire loyalty. In fairness, what would others be loyal to, if they don’t know who we are, fundamentally?
  • Set clear expectations. What does it mean to be effective? professional? respectful? We know that clear expectations have a profound effect on evaluation as well as execution. To determine success, we must know by what standard we are assessing results. When working across cultural lines, it is all the more imperative that we have this clarity because parties could make conflicting assumptions about how a given matter “obviously” will be handled.
  • Empower. Clear on expectations, individuals feel empowered to take action. If an individual is unsure as to how they will be evaluated, assessed or judged, how likely are they behave proactively? By being authentic, leaders develop a culture in which individuals are empowered to add full value to the initiative, team and/or organization.
  • Inspire authenticity. If we are honoring while being authentic, we make it easy for others to be authentic as well. With both or all parties operating from an authentic place, there is an opportunity to develop meaningful, long term business relationships.

Be Agile

We need to be able to recognize differences and unique circumstances and adapt to them well and fast enough. A research study of 454 global leaders illustrated that higher performance was directly correlated with the embracing of agility.

To be sure, faced with “differences and unique circumstances,” many of us might have a reaction. It is the leader who can move “well and fast enough” from reaction to response, though, who will perform at the highest levels.

The leader who is agile will:

  • Manage biases. A bias, simply, is a preference for or against. A Global Inclusive Leader has to identify understand their biases (including Unconscious Bias — hyperlink to article or provide link) in order to effectively navigate other cultures or engage individuals from other cultures. One might have a bias against “wasting time” on relationship building before “getting down to business.” In that case, we need to develop strategies and approaches that allow us to manage that bias, whether through articulating our preference and moving toward a process with which we are more comfortable or adapting to a less comfortable process that prioritizes “getting to know you” and builds trust with the other parties involved. Managing biases leads to increased effectiveness across cultural lines and minimizes the likelihood of costly blunders.
  • Adjust effectively. When operating globally, an old saying comes to mind: Expect the unexpected. Whether we are selling globally or managing a diverse team locally, we will inevitably be surprised by the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors of those who come from a different culture or who operate in a different cultural context. One person might believe that humor is a great way to develop rapport, while someone else could see jokes in a business context as disrespectful. Whichever side of a given divide a leader is on, their ability to adjust could, and often does, mean the difference between an opportunity missed and an opportunity seized.
  • Handle unexpected circumstances well. Regardless of how well we plan, in a fast moving, ever changing, global world, things will happen that we did not expect. As Global Inclusive Leaders, we resist the urge to strategize as if we “know it all” and prepare ourselves to manage and navigate the unknown.

Be Aligning

We need to connect all constituents in a meaningful and impactful way to drive outcomes. Whether across a conference table or across continents, a Global Inclusive Leader enlists support and inspires reciprocal adaptability by aligning the interests, needs, and viewpoints of all involved. This is “win-win” thinking “on steroids.” By connecting constituents in an impactful way, the effective leader goes beyond business results and impacts the experience of all involved, promoting the cultivation of strong, lasting business relationships.

The aligning leader will:

  • Reconcile contrasting values, interests, and objectives. One way to be nurturing, to show that we are being nurturing Global Inclusive Leaders who value and consider all perspectives, is to include those perspectives in our dialogue and the solutions we generate. We’ve all had the experience of being asked our opinion only to watch it be dismissed or ignored. The damage could be exponentially worse across cultural lines, where opportunities for misunderstanding are greater. Leaders who reconcile contrasting values, interests and objectives, foster increased engagement from business partners and colleagues.
  • Unify global constituents around a common vision, mission, or goal. One way to manage difference is to foreground that which business partners should have in common: a common goal. The leader who connects and continually reconnects themselves and others to a common goal makes it most likely that challenges to the deal don’t become deal breakers. Further, unified around a common vision, mission or goal, all involved will be properly motivated to overcome those challenges, to execute effectively with people from around the world, to be Global Inclusive Leaders.
  • Effectively localize global strategies. There was a time when globalization consisted of taking what was working in one cultural context and transplanting it, whole cloth, into other cultural conflicts. Those leaders who are and will be most effective, globally, understand that is not the best way to get the best results. Rather, Global Inclusive Leaders do more than replicate the “right strategy;” they develop the strategy that is right for a given culture context.

Business leaders all over the world are being tested. Our world continues to shrink and expand, simultaneously, at mind blowing rates. Where we once entertained the possibility of engaging cross-culturally, we now face a certainty. The realities of the changing business landscape will test our ability to be Global Inclusive Leaders. We’ll need “3 A’s” to get a passing grade.


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