When you are a global leader it’s sometimes difficult to admit that you are alone, not only because you are at the top of the pyramid, but also because you belong everywhere and nowhere. Actually, global leaders are sought-after by international companies because they usually demonstrate a high flexibility in local and global cultures. They also know how to be adaptable global citizens who understand both the headquarters’ orientations and the local challenges.
If you are an expatriate or if you are travelling on a regular basis, you may easily recognize yourself as a global leader… This is a huge strength in a globalized world but also a major personal challenge…
As a global leader, you may have experienced the feeling of not having a single home, since you feel at home everywhere. In this case you may be an “Anywhere” a term used by Kwame Anthony Appiah in his article “The Importance of Elsewhere”.
The question is: do you need to belong to a specific country in order to feel at home? The answer is no, but this “at-home feeling” is the result of a deep and long reflection on the question: “who am I?”. Of course, if you feel at peace with yourself, you could be at home anywhere.
Having lived in several countries, I have discussed my reflections with leaders I coach who have been expatriates for many years. I have noticed that there are two kinds of global leaders:
- Those who integrate with the local culture or with people of mixed cultures. They prefer to discover different cultures and look for contacts with locals and cultures different from their own. They often feel that they have at least two homes: one in their own country and one where they live and work.
- Those who prefer to limit themselves to their own culture and even if they are expatriates, would rather connect with people who are akin to them. In the host country they choose doctors and food suppliers of their own culture. For them “home” is often the country of their origins.
Whatever global leader you are, you may face some conflicts in your values or beliefs. As a matter of fact, being confronted with another culture often raises some questions about your own beliefs and values to the point where sometimes you may have doubts about which values are the most important: yours or the ones you see in the local culture?
This conflict may arise in the decision-making process, or in the way a meeting is held or in the way people work and interact.
Becoming a flexible global citizen makes you a better global leader
Thus, as a global leader, you will experiment the importance of having your own compass. And here we face a paradox: the more you embody who you are and what your values are, the more you can be flexible about others’ values and beliefs.
As a matter of fact, when you really integrate what’s important for you, you can more easily be in a logic of “AND” as opposed as a logic of “OR”:
“OR” logic: the logic of believing that YOUR solution must be accepted.
- “I need to convince him/her of my idea”
- I become judgmental about what I perceive of the other person’s values, instead of asking questions: “Americans/French/Italians/Whoever are that way”
- I need to achieve this objective the way I think it has to be achieved.
“AND” logic is the logic of a global leader: the logic of believing that a common solution is always possible, if you listen to yourself AND to the other person.
- My ideas AND the ones raised by another person: “great, we may find another idea, which is the combination of our respective ideas!”
- My values/beliefs AND the other person’s values/beliefs: “how can we find a solution which respects both,”; “how can I help the other person to explicit her/his values behind what she/he is saying, so they are clear to me?”; “How can I do the same with my own values?”.
- What is important for me to achieve AND what is important for the other person to achieve: “how do I make it explicit for me and for the other person?”
If you are honest about yourselves, even if you strongly believe in the “AND” logic (the one of the real global leader), sometimes you tend to be more on the “OR” logic side. It happens, for example when you are in a hurry to achieve a project, but you forget to include different stakeholders’ points of view. The consequence is the risk of not having the necessary involvement of people you need in the project either because they don’t understand your logic or because they don’t share it. At the end, your project slows down due to lack of important stakeholders’ commitment.
Finding other ways of feeling at home for a global leader
The other dilemma of a global leader is the “feeling at home” sensation. I remember that around my 10th year abroad I realized that I no longer felt at home in my native country. I could no longer relate to people who had always lived there. I felt like a stranger in my own country. I remember precisely this moment of great solitude when I started asking myself “where and what are my roots?”. Roots are important: they give us a sense of belonging, of transmitting to our children values and habits that are dear to us. They are also the foundation which makes us feel at home somewhere. But what if we don’t have them anymore?
When facing this dilemma, I realized that since I couldn’t relate to any specific national root, I had to find it inside myself. And here we come back to the importance of the internal compass. This is not an invitation to become self-centered, but, again, a way to find your foundations so that even when you face adversity or deep solitude, you feel centered and balanced. A successful global leader is certainly the one who knows perfectly who he or she is and who is completely aligned with his/her inner self.
Creating your own compass
Do you want to become a fully integrated global leader?
Creating your own compass is not a work you can do in one or two hours. It’s a six-month/one-year program of self-reflection. What really matters is not how long this self-reflection takes, but the intention you put into it and the way you do it.
The questions to ask yourself are:
- Which kind of friends do I want to have?
- What do I need to have in common and what are the differences which will enrich to me?
- Which kind of work environment do I prefer? Which kind of projects?
- What are the capabilities that make me unique/different?
- How can I use my difference as an asset instead of something uncomfortable?
- How can I use my capacity to respect my own culture and the other person’s culture in order to advance my projects?
- What is important to me when …
- What do I think about …
- What are the beliefs that I have or that guide me …
- What are the values I want to transmit to my children?
- How do they translate into my day-to day life?
- Who am I?
- What makes me believe in myself?
- What are the roots that I consider important to me?
- What is the added value that I bring to my projects?
- What is the core quality that others see in me?
When you are a global leader it’s sometimes hard to realize that you are alone not only because you are at the top of the pyramid, but also because you are from everywhere and nowhere. Therefore, it is important to work on your internal compass in order to become a global leader with strong roots and at the same time with a real openness to the world.
At Welead, we deal every day with global leaders like you. Find the Executive story that mirrors your own story! What are your challenges today?
 Article published on « Foreign affairs » on February 12, 2019