It was 10AM on a splendid Monday morning in Hong Kong and I was in a sit-down meeting with two German executives, an American product manager, three Chinese engineers and a Chinese head of manufacturing partner. I was hosting my own meeting for an international company based there, and in true Hong Kong spirit I was host, translator (I don’t speak a word of German or Chinese), tour guide, wallet and facilitator. The customary, simple meet-and-greet, shake of hands and the exchanging of business cards ceremony soon ensued, or rather unraveled, and I firmly shook hands and gave good eye contact to Mr. Chung, the head of manufacturing. I briefly glanced at his name card, pulled my wallet from my back pocket, put the card in and returned it. STOP!!! (Mental brakes screeching.)
Those of you familiar with the Asian culture are probably shaking your heads in disbelief right now. As a colleague pointed out to me later, I should have never put the business card in my trouser pocket, ESPECIALLY, the back pocket. Always, always, always put the card in the chest pocket of your jacket, after reading it – ALL OF IT. This is not to encourage the psychotic behavior of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, but rather to emphasize that taking the time to read is very important in Asian culture and it shows great respect. And putting a card with someone’s name on it in your back pocket is a big no-no.
So personal ramblings aside, what would a global leader look like? Well, for starters (as we’ve just witnessed) he or she would be culturally knowledgeable and sensitive. Beyond that, it all starts with courtesy and humility. A CEO at a company I know very well personally greets people in the office every morning. A “good morning” or a handshake goes a long way, and a gesture as simple as this creates an extremely endearing connection that allows for a nano-second of personal time with a very busy executive who just made them feel like they matter. This makes the leader in this organization stand out as someone who cares for his people and is willing to make the time to connect – albeit briefly.
But the world as we know it is becoming an extremely complicated place – global organizations are conducting their business more remotely through audio, web and video conferences, webcasts and webinars. Communication from clients and prospects occur over social media networks. The working day, working hours and the global pressures that are put on anyone that works across time-zones are also getting more and more demanding. Team members, peers, subordinates, even vendors and clients come from different cultures and are based all over the world. This newly interconnected community brings with it common challenges such as limited face-time with more globally located staff and team members, a 24/7 need for mission-critical deliverables, as well as cross-cultural communication that requires the trust and support of global management teams. The global leader is no longer a C-level executive. In our world today, the global leader is everyone in an organization – the global leader is you and me.
So, the anatomy of a successful global leader really comes down to 7 things:
- Cultural knowledge
- Cultural sensitivity
This make-up allows a leader to:
- Efficiently communicate regardless of location.
- Effectively use remote collaboration tools – including audio conferencing, web conferencing, video conferencing,webcasts, webinars when engaging with others around the world.
- Wisely use social media networks to communicate with others.
Luckily, with the adoption of multiple remote collaboration tools – including telepresence on mobile devices – the traditional challenges of having “facetime” with others (developing trust, looking people in the eye and getting a read on body language) are easily removed. The true global leader must embrace, empower, engage and enjoy while appearing to be available and accessible through whatever means available from IM, voice, phone, email, and all of the social widgets now standard on laptops and tablets.