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Global Leadership is not Western Leadership with a Passport



Last week, in asking the question, “What does it mean to be global?” we saw that belonging to a worldwide family requires the decentering of Western ideas (no longer making them the standard) while giving equal status to ideas from around the world. That is more difficult than it sounds especially when it relates to leadership. In fact, most of the time when you hear the phrase “global leadership” it refers to Western leadership indoctrinated around the world. While Western leadership texts, translated and distributed abroad, offer helpful information, they cannot represent a truly global leadership.

In my summer course on global leadership we utilized two different books to gain perspective: Being Global: How to Think, Act, and Lead in a Transformed World by Angel Cabrera and Gregory Unruh and What is Global Leadership? 10 Key Behaviors that Define Great Global Leaders by Ernest Gundling, Terry Hogan, and Karen Cvitkovich. These authors reveal liabilities of Western leadership concepts, with respect to a world that is inclusive, multidirectional, interlinked, and complex. Western institutions, seeing these wider realities as an inconvenience, tend to underscore similarities while underestimating differences. For instance, this mindset is manifested in questions such as,

  • “Aren’t we all basically the same?”
  • “Aren’t others becoming more like us?”
  • “Isn’t the world converging toward common standards?”

In other words, most Western leaders assume—either directly or by default—that leading a global organization is not very different from leading a local or regional one, that the same approaches apply to securing resources, building, and motivating teams, creating and applying new models, understanding and serving different situations, and so on. What they don’t realize is that the Western position is not neutral in a global context. It can actually cause harm.

Global leadership, on the other hand, recognizes the complexity of executing in a cross-national, cross-cultural context. A new set of skills is required to navigate today’s complex world. Surveying leaders from many countries, the authors have found that global leaders:

  • Lead with a natural curiosity about the world and with an interest in people different from themselves.
  • Inspire visionary initiatives and organizations that span national boundaries.
  • Recognize the impact of their actions on surrounding communities and constituencies.
  • Understand that personal prosperity is dependent upon the prosperity of others.
  • Craft solutions by bringing together people and resources across national, cultural, even organizational boundaries.
  • Address worldwide challenges and social injustices that have been ignored or long deferred.
  • Identify and call on individuals who together possess the pieces necessary to make the vision a reality.
  • Discern the cultural, social, or political differences that divide contributors and find ways to connect them despite, and sometimes because of, those differences.

Such leaders, in short, have developed a global mindset, entrepreneurship, and citizenship. Leaders with a global mindset are able to interpret challenges from a variety of perspectives, and as a result, they are highly effective in collaborating in a multicultural environment. Global entrepreneurs bring together people, ideas, and resources from different parts of the world to create new forms of value. Global citizens recognize the interconnectedness of humanity and they act and decide accordingly.

In the context of a truly global Christianity, leadership training must value indigenous perspectives, as opposed to parroting those of the West. While the West (a minority of Christians) still speaks with the loudest voice, Christians of the Global South (the majority of Christians) are producing new and exciting perspectives on leadership, delving into different cultures and connecting them to address the world’s most pressing issues.

These perspectives differentiate a global organization, one that is polycentric in its decision-making, from an international organization, which radiates its leadership from its home country (usually in the West). Which is your style of leadership? Global leaders and their organizations will be the ones that show the way to mutuality and solidarity in our endeavors.