Building Global Leadership Capacity – My week in Brazil


Today’s leaders are global and leadership development has to take into account and bring to life this global dimension.  As part of the Philips Octagon leadership development program, I spent a week in Sao Paolo, Brazil as part of a year-long program preparing the company’s top leadership.


26 leaders from the company from all corners of the world (Australia, Brazil, China, India, Netherlands, Germany, USA) came together in Sao Paolo for the second week of the program.

Day 1

The best way of learning is learning by doing – and Philips has one of the best programs I have seen in this regard.  The leaders work on a project together.  The results are presented at the end of the program to the CEO, CFO and head of HR of Philips.  Project presentations in the past  have developed into real businesses.  For the project members themselves, these project presentations can have significant career implications.

There could hardly be a more global approach than the 4 projects being prepared this year: Lighting Strategy in Brazil, Expansion of Oral Healthcare Products and Services, Domestic Appliances in Africa, and Home Health Service in India.  In addition, each of the teams is global in its composition.

Participants spent most of the day working on their project ideas, taking advantage of being physically in the same place at the same time and not having conflicting matters to attend to.

Day 2

Today featured a field trip into Sao Paolo to better understand the local market conditions in this fascinating fast developing economy.  The field trip was well organized by local Brazilian Philips staff.  It included visits to retail establishments, discussions with store managers, directors of hospitals and most memorable of all for me was a visit to an average Brazilian household.  Local Brazilians opened up their homes (receiving credits for Philips products in return) to the Octagon participants.  The purpose of such visits was to get an insight into the “typical” consumer.


Having grown up in Mexico, the environment that we visited was certainly not foreign to me.  Nevertheless, having lived in Germany for a couple of decades the exposure to this kind of reality is always eye-opening.  We visited a family with 5 daughters living in a space which at best was 80 m².  The family was extraordinarily gracious and from the looks of it, living a contented and rich existence.  Despite modest means, they had a plethora of appliances, including a microwave, blender and fully equiped kitchen.  We asked the wife what was the most valuable piece of equipment they owned and were surprised by the answer – a rice cooker (saves a lot of time!).



Spent the rest of the day reflecting on the learnings from the day’s visit.

Day 3

The inauguration of the new 360° instrument Global 6 (see my blog from Jan 26 and  Feb 2).  Octagon leaders got direct feedback from bosses, direct reports and peers on how their leadership style works or does not work in a global context.

We also included an interactive group activity – The International Trading Game.  The purpose of the game was to show how barriers and boundaries create difficulties in creating genuine collaboration.  Everyone cognitively understands the benefits of collaboration, but when put to the test, competitive, non-collaborative behaviors automatically come to the fore.  For the Octagon participants this was no exception.  We need to be constantly reminded how difficult collaboration is to achieve.


Much of the rest of the day was spent looking at leadership tools to enhance collaboration including aspects of influence tactics and political savvy.

Day 4

Spent mostly with local Philips Brazilian managers discussing what has been learnt so far and learning more about the local Philips businesses.

One of the highlights of the day was a presentation by an external speaker – an entrepreneur who has started an online distribution business selling baby products in Brazil.  This presentation led to a lively debate about how to incorporate elements of entrepreneurship into Philips.

Day 5

Wharton professor David Wessels looked at project finance as an input for the project teams.  The teams then proceeded to present the current state of their projects.  Final presentations will be in Amsterdam in May.  Stay tuned…



“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”        Pele


Global6 – Assessing Leadership in a Global Context – Part 2

The Global6 360° feedback instrument is a brand new tool for global leaders developed by the Center for Creative Leadership.  It is ideal for business managers who are leading global teams.  Like any 360° instrument, Global6 provides the opportunity for a leader’s boss, peers, and direct reports to provide him/her with direct feedback.  The focus of that feedback is on leadership effectiveness and Global6 helps a leader to note how their leadership style might or might not be effective in different cultures.

The instrument is based on the ground-breaking research conducted by the GLOBE (“Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness”) research program conceived and managed by Robert House of the Wharton School of Business. 17.300 middle managers from 951 organizations  in 58 countries contributed to the findings.  It is the most comprehensive study to date that has empirically researched the relationship between culture and leader behavior.

One of GLOBE’s major findings was to make explicit how other cultures conceptualize leadership. Leader effectiveness is contextual.  People’s expectations of leadership are shaped by their early experiences with leaders which in turn are shaped by one’s culture and upbringing. As a result, what consititutes good leadership across the world differs depending on your cultural perspective.  For example, compassionate leadership which is concerned with the well-being of others may be seen as effective or ineffective depending on what culture you come from.

The GLOBE study began by looking at 112 leadership characteristics such as trustworthiness, decisiveness, modesty, etc. This list was statistically boiled down to 21 scales of relevant leadership characteristics.  In turn, these 21 characteristics were conceptually grouped into 6 leadership dimensions.

It is these characteristics and dimensions that form the backbone of the Global6 360° instrument.  The SIX leadership dimensions in Global6 are: Hierarchical, Autonomous, Humane-Oriented, Participative, Charismatic, and Team-Oriented.  A leader gets feedback across all of these dimensions.

Let us take a look at the type of output generated by this instrument.  Below is a matrix which summarizes the information for the Hierarchical leadership dimension.  The leader in question had teams reporting to him in the Anglo-Saxon World, Latin Europe and Scandinavia.  The hierarchichal dimension incorporates various characteristics – among these are the degree of formality and status-orientation of the leader.   As can be seen from the table, this leader’s teams disagree with their perception of the leader’s style.  Whereas Latin Europe and the English-speaking teams would like to see more hierarchical behaviors than the leader is currently showing, the team in Scandinavia finds the style just right.  In addition, because the Scandinavian team is in the lower left-hand quadrant, they would find any more hierarchical behavior actually ineffective.

Sample A - Hierarchy - Regional Breakout

Similar data is available for each of the 6 dimensions with also detailed information on the 21 characteristics.  Data is also presented not just by region but also by role.  For instance, a leader can see how his boss, direct reports and peers are rating him/her and how this fits in with their perception of good leadership.

Below is a table which highlights where there is the greatest amount of disagreement of ALL raters with the leader’s style.


This wealth of information can provide valuable insights for today’s global executive. This is concrete and practical information based on the feedback from the leader’s own teams.

“Ask for feedback from people with diverse backgrounds. Each one will tell you one useful thing.”   Steve Jobs

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

edwardthall_1993Hofstede house_robert_rdax_192x226

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