Wanted: Global Leader – Humble Visionary for Incremental Change
Global leadership is all about effective communication. Three physiological processes involved in human communication are listening, speaking, and thinking. These essential functions allow us to receive, share, and process information, but – when developed to their greatest potential – they become the defining characteristics of today’s global leaders. We rarely talk about leadership in these terms, but when we do we find that these are the basic elements of global leaders’ success – as humility, as vision, and as piecemeal action.
The old adage goes: “Show me a good conversationalist, and I’ll show you a good listener.” Effective leaders in today’s global business environment are receptive; they listen to their companies from the bottom-up and stay open to good ideas – wherever those ideas may come from. This type of listening requires the important, yet rare, quality of humility. Jim Collins describes this quality in his book, From Good to Great, as it occurs with the mirror and the window: When good things happen in the company, a leader should look out the window and pass the credit along, but when things go awry, a leader must look into the mirror and take the blame individually. Global leaders must not get swept up with prior successes, but instead stay tuned to the current environment and be willing to learn and adapt.
When a global leader speaks, he is not just manipulating resources to get a job done efficiently and effectively, as is a manager’s role. Instead, he is communicating a common purpose. As author Seth Godin says: Managers have employees. Leaders have followers. Writer Simon Sinek explains that the reason people follow a leader is not what they do, but rather why they do it. This “why” is the top tier of Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs. It is something for people to believe in. On the global stage, effective leaders must be able to cross international borders with their messages, to communicate something human that transcends both language and culture. When Steve Jobs and Apple created the iPod, for example, they were coming up with a device that spoke to human love of music, but also defined a new type of human interaction with technology. Jobs’s slogan of “1,000 songs in your pocket” was something the entire world could appreciate as music moved to toward the digital present.
The final critical piece of good global business leadership happens only when what is heard and said can be translated into action. This occurs through a type of thoughtfulness on the part of a leader that permits feedback to events on the ground. It requires patience and a real understanding of local conditions. “Think globally, act locally”, the saying goes. Global leaders have to understand how their ideas can fit the bigger picture, but they should focus on achieving incremental change over time. What made Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign remarkable was not the roaring rally cry of “Yes we can!” It was the grassroots movement, the local interactions he had with the public. As Obama grew his popularity locally, he also visited foreign nations to speak about the United States as a vital piece of a global puzzle. He moved incrementally – right into the Oval Office.
Effective communicators who are able to listen to their customers and employees, who are able to translate their simple, powerful inspiration across cultural boundaries, and who are willing to think about how their global ambitions play out locally – these are the real leaders today’s global business environment.