These are the types of personal qualities that tend to define culturally agile leaders. I say “tend to” because no two are exactly alike but, in general, culturally agile are flexible, adaptable, and comfortable in novel situations. They are curious about others and confident that while they may not know everything about a situation, they can figure out enough to get by, and do so in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way.
For global organizations or those that aspire to be global organizations, the implications are fairly clear. Whether seeking leaders to relocate and manage high-profile international expansions or simply to remain in their home country while managing a team of geographically and culturally diverse colleagues, organizations would do well to place culturally agile leaders in those important positions.
However, leaders do not act alone. The really good ones are effective because they empower, inspire, and support employees in order to deliver upon the organization’s value proposition. Moreover, they do all of that within the context of the larger organization, leveraging its systems, processes, technology, and other functional areas.
So taking a step back for a moment and thinking more holistically about global (or aspiring to be global) organizations, I would suggest that culturally agile leaders are an important component but that we should also think about the employee stakeholders and the extent to which they display cultural agility and a global perspective, as well as the overall organization (the enterprise) and whether it has the systems and processes in place to support effective and efficient global work. In other words, to improve an organization’s global effectiveness, we should address three levels:
- Leaders - In addition to having the basic KSA’s to do their job (wherever that takes place) globally, organizations need leaders that are culturally agile, possessing the characteristics that I described above and in a previous post. Interested readers can also refer to the recent publication by Paula Caligiuri – Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals.
- Employees - Not only should organizations select and develop culturally agile and globally minded leaders, they can do the same for their employees. This is important because employees are often the “face” of your organization. They interact more with external customers and are typically responsible for creating the very important first impression of your organization. So how do you create culturally agile and globally minded employees? I would suggest that the same characteristics that can be assessed and developed in organizational leaders can also be assessed and developed in employees. We also know from organizational climate research that leaders play an important part in shaping employees’ behavior through rewards, recognition, and by simply “walking the talk” with regard to what is important and valued.
- Enterprise – Given that vision, strategy, and objectives start at the top, C-suite executives can also play a critical role in creating the right organizational culture, structure, and processes to achieve the firm’s global objectives in an efficient and effective manner. Employees and leaders at all levels look upward for important cues as to what is valued so communication that talks about globalization and emphasizes the value of a multicultural workforce, and so forth, can help set the right tone. In addition to talking about what is valued, however, C-suite executives can reinforce the importance of globalization by putting in place systems, policies, and structures that facilitate global work. Finally, they can solidify that position by putting feedback mechanisms in place and creating an environment where local experts (country-leaders, for example), have an opportunity to influence those systems, policies, and structures so that a one-size-fits-all approach does not rule the day.
So it is worth it for organizations to think about global effectiveness at multiple levels. In subsequent posts, I will zero in on each level and talk about ways to assess and develop cultural agility and global effectiveness among leaders, employees, and across the enterprise.