Global6 – Assessing Leadership in a Global Context – Part 1

What is considered good leadership practice  in Germany may not be considered good leadership in Japan or may need some modifications when dealing with US Americans.  Intercultural differences have been the subject of much study since the 1950s.  I have always been fascinated by the insights derived from these studies given that I am thoroughly multicultural person myself.

As an aside – I was born in Panama, raised in Mexico, and studied in the US and Germany. My mother’s side of the family is French, my father’s US American. I have worked in Mexico, US, France, Belgium and Germany.  My work as a strategy and leadership consultant over the past twenty years has taken me to – at latest count – 30 different countries.  I truly think of myself as a World Citizen.

My first encounter with the intercultural literature was reading Edward T Hall – considered the founding father of intercultural communication as an academic field of study.  During the 1950s he worked for the US State Department,  teaching inter-cultural communications skills to foreign service personnel.  He came up with the concept of low-context versus high-context cultures – a concept still much in use today.  Low-context cultures such as the Germanic culture transmit information explicitly – i.e. through language and tangible information.  High-context cultures such as the Japanese culture transmit messages implicitly – the context, the body language and other non-verbal clues provide the information.  A spoken ‘Yes’ does not necessarily mean ‘Yes’ – it depends on the context.

The Three H’s of Intercultural Communication – Hall, Hofstede and House

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Obviously leadership in these very different cultural environments needs to take on different forms.  Ever since Edward T. Hall various further attempts have been made to codify the differences between cultures.  As our economy has become more global, understanding how to navigate in these diverse waters and currents of culture has received increasing attention from both public and private sector leaders.

In the 1970’s Geert Hofstede significantly expanded the framework from which to look at different national and organizational cultures.  Using survey data from over 100.000 individuals from over 40 countries, he developed a model composed of 5 different dimensions of culture.  It was a great honor in the year 2004 to have Geert Hofstede talk at a Forum which was organized by my colleague Ted Baartmans and me in Maastricht.

This work has been continued through further studies.  The most recent and comprehensive being the GLOBE Study led by Robert House, professor at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania.  The GLOBE study included 170 countries and established 9 cultural dimensions.  I was also very fortunate to be present in London in 2011 when he received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association.

Yet despite all of this information, how can business leaders truly know how to change and adapt their style globally?

This week I had the privilege to be one of  the first people to be certified in the brand new 360° instrument – Global 6 created by the Center for Creative Leadership. It is the first instrument I am aware of that provides business leaders with practical information directly from the people they work with.   It gives them pragmatic advice on how they need to adapt their leadership style globally.  In my next blog I will explain how this instrument works.

If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.”  Margaret Mead

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Communication, Communication, Communication (aka Leadership made simple)

When a painter considers what to paint there are two primary factors that he/she needs to take into account before beginning to paint on the canvas – form and color.  The approach to these two factors has influenced the style of painting throughout the ages.

Leaders also have two main ingredients with which to work –  Energy and Information.  The latter is so essential, that leadership without communication is unthinkable.

I recently assisted a mid-sized company to address the issue of effective communication at all levels.  This company is a family business in Germany’s Westphalia region which is specialized in the area of technical gases.  Over time, the number of products and services which the company offers has multiplied. As a result, the geographical footprint of where these products and services are sold has also expanded into 6 different countries.  With this much sought after and desired expansion, both the complexity of the business and the challenge of optimizing effective communication throughout the organization have increased.

As with any company, communication is at the heart of co-ordination, effectiveness and efficiency. But how do you go about adressing this key issue?

The first step in the process is to create a collective awareness of the specific issues at hand.  By doing so, the foundation is being established for taking decisive action and implementing concrete measures.  140 managers from across the organization were invited to participate in a 4 hour large group participative dialogue. During this dialogue, they discussed and mutually agreed on the communication issues which are of greatest importance for their work in the company. The following Word Cloud captures the key issues that were discussed.  (FYI – the larger the words, the more importance which was placed on the issue by the managers).

word_cloud_communicationAll of the 140 managers explored these issues together and identified concrete recommendations on how to improve the communication within the company.  The following mind map summarzies the managers’  key recommendations. A detailed data base of the individual entries were used to create this overview. The numbers adjacent to the recommendations record the number of suggestions made in this category.

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Through this large group dialogue process, the communication issues within the company was made visible to everyone.  The platform to launch a systemic change in the way the company communicates with each other (as well as with clients) has been established. The next step is to prioritize the issues and create working groups of managers throughout the company to put these ideas into action.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”     James J. Hughes

3rd Industrial Revolution and Leadership

Let me start 2013 with a macro view of leadership…

I was in Philadelphia last year as part of the delivery team for one of the acknowledged top leadership development programs in the world – the Philips Octogon program.  It is a program involving 32 selected top performers at Philips.   The program takes place over 8 months in three locations.  The first session was at the Wharton School of Business.

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Steinberg Conference Center – Wharton School of Business

Of course I felt quite comfortable coming back to this location.  Back in the 1980s I obtained my MBA at Wharton – one of the more prestigious business schools in the world.

I had the privilege to be able to listen to a presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on the first day of the program.  Mr. Rifkin established the Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) .  Among many of his activities, he is a valued advisor of heads of state in Europe (including Angela Merkel) and has had very direct impact on European economic policy.  He is the author of the concept of the 3rd Industrial Revolution which is a road map for long-term economic sustainability.  This concept was formally endorsed by the European parliament in 2007.

This concept has fundamental implications for leadership in the 21st century.

His talk began pessimistically enough.  We are in the end phases of the Second Industrial Revolution and the only way out of this dead end is to completely change the fundamental infrastructure on which our current civilization is based.

Each industrial age is characterized by two fundamentals: energy and information.  Mastering a new energy process provides the means to create a new form of information dissemination.  The First Industrial Revolution centered around coal-fired steam-driven power generation.  This new energy regime also enabled the advent of mass produced newspapers and magazines based on steam-powered rotary press and linotype technologies.

The Second Industrial Revolution began with the advent of the internal combustion engine powered by fossil fuels.  This revolution was complimented by a communication revolution based on the creation of an electric grid infrastructure which eventually led to telephone, radio and television.

This Second Industrial Revolution is reaching its limits according to Rifkin.  The most important recent economic occurrence in the past five years is not the financial crisis of 2008, but the rise of oil prices to over 140$ a barrel in 2007.  This rise in the price of oil represents a major threat to the welfare of human society on the planet.  So many of current modern materials are based on fossil fuels (from plastics to fertilizer), that this price has seismic implications for the economy.  Rifkin concludes that the current economy is doomed to limited growth for decades to come.  Every time the price of oil goes over 120 $ a barrel, a new global recession is virtually assured.  The problem is not the amount of fossil fuel available.  There are still plenty of reserves.  The problem is that getting at those reserves is becoming more costly over time.  This limit threatens ALL economies including emerging economies such as China and Brazil.   It is a global phenomenon.

What is the way out?  What are the implications for leadership?  Stay tuned for more….

“One thing I have learned over these last 30 to 40 years is that people make history.  There is no fait accompli in any of this.”         Jeremy Rifkin