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Being Global I: Global Leaders for Global Transformation

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Globalization has shaken up traditional leadership development. Language immersion, cultural etiquette tips and the like are wildly insufficient to prepare managers for the demands of today's global marketplace. Likewise, worrying about expat culture shock or the risk that employees "go native" are concerns of a past era. Today's global business needs truly global leaders. They can't just act global. They have to be global.

This post begins a series on what it means to be a global leader in today's economy. It is based on extensive research done by the Thunderbird School of Global Management and is documented in the new book Being Global: How to Think, Act and Lead in a Transformed World, published by Harvard Business Review Press.

Research shows that global leaders are a unique breed with identifiable characteristics. Successful global leaders have a curiosity about the world and interest in people different from themselves. This interest inspires visionary initiatives and organizations that span national boundaries. Furthermore, real global leaders recognize the impact of their actions on surrounding communities and constituencies. They understand that personal prosperity is interdependent on the prosperity of others and that they play a role in transforming not only their companies, but also the societies in which they operate.

Who are these leaders? Take Paul Meyer, co-founder of the mobile health services company Voxiva. While born in New York, Meyer grew up in California, Tunisia, Egypt, and Washington as he followed his mother, who ran World Bank relief programs in 50 countries. After college he worked for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and landed a White House job that took him to South Asia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Uganda, and Tunisia. These experiences led him to found a series of organizations, including the first Internet service provider in post-conflict Kosovo and initiatives that used information technology to help reunite families separated by war.

His focus would eventually shift towards creating profitable technology-based businesses that also addressed pressing human problems. Meyer has received both the MIT Technology Review's Technology Pioneer Award and their Humanitarian of the Year Award and is illustrative of a global leader's ambitions. Meyer exhibits all the qualities of today's global leader: internationally experienced with the ability to turn experience into value creating opportunities that serve both his organizations and the world.

Paul Meyer was drawn by life experience into being global, so does that mean only those that are born global can be global? On the contrary, what we have learned is that global leaders are not just born, but can be made. Global leaders become who they are by cultivating particular ways of looking at the world, ways of thinking about problems and opportunities and acting with integrity in pursuit of solutions.

Research shows that global leaders share three common characteristics: they have a global mindset which allows them to connect across boundaries, they are global entrepreneurs driven to create new solutions and seize opportunities, and they are global citizens inspired to contribute to the communities they touch. In coming posts we will explore each of these facets of global leadership.