The ability to acquire and develop multicultural talent is becoming a critical competitive advantage for multinational and national companies alike. As a corollary, the opportunities for those young leaders who have built in themselves multicultural capabilities are enormous.
The need for multicultural leadership is great and growing. In China, both multinational and Chinese companies are finding their dramatic growth goals constrained by the challenges of finding capable leaders at both the senior and middle management levels.
Similar dynamics can be found in India, Brazil, and other emerging markets, with the growing need for global business acumen just as acute in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. As for young professionals in developing countries seeking their own multicultural path, aging populations in Japan, the United States, and Western European countries such as Germany present both uncharted innovation and management challenges as waves of impending retirements in these developed countries create structural leadership gaps for a new generation of managers to fill.
In the past, bringing a multicultural approach to business leadership was often viewed as a lucky accident of birth or upbringing. Those with cultural fluency across multiple geographies were deemed winners of a “natural lottery” — for example, immigrants and their children, or those whose parents’ occupations in the military or the Foreign Service required frequent moves. But this passive dynamic of lucky individuals capitalizing only on windfalls of circumstance has changed, with the new paradigm rewarding self-development just as much as birthright.
Companies increasingly expect multicultural experience as a required attribute of managerial and executive talent. To succeed in this new world, individuals must proactively and comprehensively embed multicultural leadership skills into their career development plans. Certainly, there are opportunities within organizations to expand global skills. But one must recognize that passively relying on company leadership development programs and training alone may be insufficient. Most companies are years away from wielding the sophisticated, structured career paths and development opportunities that multicultural careers require, putting the onus upon employees to find or create opportunities for themselves. And given the need to build a multicultural track record over time and over multiple projects or roles, young leaders have no time to waste in launching themselves along a path of their choosing.
But how can young leaders be deliberate and explicit in building multicultural considerations into their career planning and decision-making? Here are a few suggestions for turning multicultural career goals into action:
1. Find environments that encourage global development. Make sure your company or school provides the support you need to reach your goals. Academic programs are increasingly offering opportunities for language study, cross-cultural business and history courses, and study abroad programs. With the rise in cross-border partnerships among universities, some have even opened international branches. Likewise, a diverse set of global companies, including InBev, McKinsey & Company, and Siemens, are more explicitly embedding multicultural aspects into their leadership development programs, whether through training, short-term projects outside one’s home country, or structured rotation programs that involve multiple geographies.
2. Let people know how to help you. Your colleagues, classmates, managers, and mentors can only help create multicultural opportunities for you if they know what you’re looking for. Start by being clear with others about what an ideal multicultural career path would be and the type of experiences that you seek. A performance review or professional development conversation could be a great venue to brainstorm future cross-cultural opportunities with your manager. Spend time conducting informational interviews with professors or executives whose geographic or cultural areas of focus most interest you, and express your interest in working with them. In all these conversations, be enthusiastic, explicit about your goals, and open to others’ suggestions.
3. Seize the opportunities around you. Now it’s time to start building your foundational skillset one brick at a time. Pursue even the smallest projects that would increase your exposure to both the specific business issues and the relevant leaders or thinkers related to the culture or region of greatest interest. For example, a research paper could provide a launchpad to interview leading executives in your geography of choice. There might also be opportunities in volunteer work or community service to develop a deeper fluency with another culture.
4. Be patient and flexible. Even with the best-laid plans, the greatest opportunities for learning often present themselves in unexpected and sudden ways, and may require short- or medium-term disruptions, such as geographic relocation or changing roles. Understand what tradeoffs your goals may entail, and reflect on which ones you are willing to make. And despite our efforts to create a master plan around a particular culture, sometimes an opportunity sometimes arises precisely because of one’s lack of familiarity and ability to bring a fresh perspective. In such a scenario, the investment in gaining fluency in an unfamiliar culture remains fruitful, as the lessons and skills drawn from a multicultural path will undoubtedly serve you well in the future.
Actively seeking a multicultural career path can give you the competitive edge in today’s global world. What else can you do to reach your multicultural career goals?
This post is part of a series of blog posts by and about the new generation of purpose-driven leaders.
|Developing Multicultural Leaders: The Journey to Leadership Success :: Amazon The authors identify three stages of leadership development: the early ingredients for success starting from childhood; the paths that curre|