Great leaders recognize that in order to succeed in the long run, organizations doing business overseas must recruit, train, and develop a special breed of future multicultural and multinational managers. Traditional training and career development programs will not suffice; they will have to be re-examined to ensure that they are tailored to meet the needs of these future worldly managers. Such specially tailored programs are likely to require investment in training, overseas assignments, and career moves which are longer in duration, costlier, and more risky. They will also require creativity and some innovative approaches.
What if a person works for an organization which lacks career development programs, or lacks an international outlook? Or, what can one do if he or she did not receive a worldly upbringing or education? Clearly, it is an advantage to have been raised and educated in more than one country. For instance, Carlos Ghosn (President and CEO of Renault and Nissan) was born in Brazil of Lebanese parents, was educated in Lebanon and France, and worked in the USA, Brazil, Japan, and France. Similarly, Indra Nooyi (Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo) was born and raised in India, was educated in India and the USA, and worked in India, Europe and the USA. Or consider Sir Howard Stringer, the first non-Japanese Chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation, who was born in Wales, obtained his B.A. and M.A. in modern history from Oxford University, was awarded the US Army Commendation Medal for meritorious achievements in Vietnam, and moved to the USA to work in various positions at CBS for over 30 years, ending as its president from 1988 to 1995.
Unfortunately, not many people have these types of opportunities. So, what is to be done? For a start, I believe, a strong desire and motivation to adopt a new attitude toward foreign cultures is required; one that is inquisitive, non-judgmental and empathetic. Below are some specific suggestions from which you can select the most feasible and realistic for your circumstances, keeping in mind that some of them are not easy to implement:
- Seek positions (managerial) in the international division of a multinational firm, or with a company that has overseas branches and subsidiaries.
- Request or apply for overseas assignments (not visits) with considerable and specific responsibility for a complete project, preferably working with other multinational staff. While overseas, do not spend time only with your compatriots; go out of your way to mix with other expatriates and locals.
- Enroll for further education (MBA or shorter Executive Programs) at an overseas institution. For example, if you are an American executive, consider London Business School (England), INSEAD or HEC (France), IMD or IMEDE (Switzerland), IESE or ESADE (Spain), Queens or McGill (Canada), to name a few. These institutions attract executives and young managers from all over the world, and therefore give attendees a golden opportunity to interact in depth socially and academically with people from other cultures.
- Design a career development plan that includes mentoring by a worldly leader, or lateral moves to broaden knowledge and experience (vertical career moves do not necessarily develop long-term or worldly skills). Opt for a plan that allows learning from mistakes; learn the skills and roles of your manager(s) in order to become eligible to stand in for them when they go on vacations or business trips.
- Learn the "Helicopter View": The skill of seeing the forest for the trees, seeing events in a historical perspective, and understanding their broader cultural context can be learned at any stage in one's life.
- Play an active role in negotiation sessions with international counterparts, overseas partners, affiliates, suppliers, or customers.
- Carry out best practice benchmarking assignments in international organizations abroad. Even local benchmarking projects can be valuable in broadening knowledge and getting rid of the NIH (not invented here) syndrome.
- Make it a habit to read about foreign cultures, history, and literature or to read translated foreign books. To save time and money, take advantage of the tremendous amount of information available on the Internet.
- Watch and read international news from a wide spectrum of news agencies, if American, for example, watch or read the news from international sources (in addition to CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News). Using the Internet, one can access the latest international news from English speaking countries; for example, try Reuters (international edition), The Guardian or British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), From the UK, and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) from Canada. One can also look up the English websites of news media in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or whichever part of the world one is interested in.
- Learn a foreign language; at least at the social conversational level. Watch foreign films (most of these films will have subtitles in your own language). Acquire a taste for foreign cuisine, and listen to foreign music. Learn a little about the national sports of other countries (for instance, learn about soccer and cricket, if you are an American; baseball and American football, if you are not from the USA).
- Make a point of taking your annual vacations overseas; avoiding as much as possible touristy cities and spots so you can mix with locals. Make sure to devote time for museums and historic sites in order to appreciate the history and culture of the countries you are visiting.
- Join, or volunteer to work for, international non-profit organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There are literally thousands of these organizations worldwide working to feed and educate children, to eradicate diseases, to clear landmines, to protect the environment, to spread peace, and many more humane and charitable activities.
I acknowledge that some of the above suggested action plans are not easy to implement. Some require sacrificing considerable time and income (time out for further education, for example)-not to mention a new lifestyle. Others may not be available within the organization you are currently with (overseas assignments, for example). But some of the suggested actions, which may still need time and effort, are within the reach of most people. A wholehearted dedication, along with strong motivation and determination, are required to accomplish these action plans. Finally, if your circumstances do not allow you to do any of the above but you still feel it is a worthy cause for your subordinates or associates, then you can influence their career development plans to ensure they get the exposure and experience to prepare them for future global assignments.
What if you were asked to give advice on this matter to others, say, to your own children or other younger people? I would strongly recommend that they be encouraged to study abroad for a stretch of time. Perhaps they can enroll in an overseas exchange program, opt for a semester abroad, or join international field visits during their high school or university years. Once again, at the very least they should be informed about the great benefits of learning a foreign language and get into the habit of reading foreign authors, listening to or reading foreign news, attending international musical and theatrical productions, watching foreign films, and joining international social or students clubs.
Published by Dr. Ramsey Hakim - Meirc Training & Consulting