We’re facing an era of political division. Between nations and even within them, the differences among people appear to be increasingly stark. We can see that cultural mindsets exist, but in an ever-changing world, it can be hard to define our relationship to them. Certainly, a culture affects the perspectives and behaviour of those who belong to it. That we know. But how do you take cultural difference into account while also addressing people as they are - individuals?
The Financial Times defines a global mindset in terms of having “openness to and awareness of diversity across cultures and markets”, commenting that “cultivating a global mindset is a prerequisite to becoming a global company”. This requires leaders to think outside of their comfort zone. It’s about being open to otherness, embracing it and learning from it.
Michael Landers, global business consultant and author of Culture Crossing, agrees. He is dedicated to finding solutions for groups and individuals working in challenging global contexts. Over the past 15 years, Michael has designed programmes for global executives and managers to help them build essential skills in areas such as cross-cultural communication, leadership, team building, employee engagement, diversity, inclusion and international recruiting. So far, he’s conducted business in over 30 countries. In light of world events, I wanted to gauge his thoughts on the status of the global mindset.
How did you get involved in global consulting?
My life has been leading me towards this profession. I was born in Boston, but when I was three my father got a job in South America so I lived there until I was 18. I came back to Boston every summer, but was raised in Colombia, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. I became a ‘third culture kid’ - highly adaptable to different cultures but still searching for a home culture. Learning to adapt to lots of culture shocks each time I changed school allowed me to get on with people from all over the world.
Later I moved to Japan, then finally came back to the US to study for a masters’ degree in cross-cultural relations. I got my masters, then went to work in international HR for several years. And from there I was able to start my consulting career.
Are businesses as a whole embracing the concept of global mindsets?
We have to start with defining what a global mindset is. When I talk about it, I define it not as someone knowing every country and every region, but as someone who understands themselves related to their culture. When you don’t have that understanding, your cultural programming becomes a limit on what you do. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are lacking a global mindset and most are unware of this fact.
What is Culture Crossing about?
It is about discovering the key to making connections in the new global arena. Every time people from different cultures interact, a culture crossing occurs. When you get a culture connection, things go well and the impact you have on each other matches your intentions. But there can also be a culture crash. When this happens, you can unknowingly or unwittingly offend someone, or get offended yourself.
Before you can hope to connect with someone from another culture - and that connection could be as simple as handing over a business card - first you need to understand your own culture. You hear about national, regional and organisational cultures, but there’s often a lack of understanding one’s self and how one behaves.
What are the steps to achieving cultural connections that you describe in the book?
I have broken it down into three steps: recognising cultural cues, opening your mind to alternate ways of thinking, and identifying opportunities to adapt your response. This three-part method helps people to take some of the “cultural reflex” out of the equation and set themselves up for success. The methodology is widely applicable, whether the goal is to increase sales, build strategic partnerships or maximise the potential of a diverse customer base.
Do generalisations play a role in understanding a specific culture? How does one balance understanding a culture with respecting the individual?
Generalisations have a lot of power, but you still need to be aware of the individual that is in front of you. There are useful truths that come from good data, but not everyone’s the same. You want to avoid stereotypes. The stress is more on recognising yourself - your tendencies and how they link to your behaviours. Let your guard down, be open and you’ll find shared experiences that connect across cultures. If you don’t find something in common, be curious, not furious. When you ask questions in the right way, people are more open to sharing information about their cultures and themselves.
How does Culture Crossing help leaders and businesses adopt a global mindset?
What the book will do for leaders, businesses and individuals is make them aware of cultural programming. It will give them simple practical methodologies for avoiding culture crash, and promoting cultural understanding - which amounts to cultural ROI.
How does a leader benefit from having a global mindset?
From a leadership perspective, developing a global mindset is about moving from a place of unconscious incompetence to conscious competence, where you try to understand what you may not know. As a leader, this is vital. This is increasingly becoming an issue as markets and organisations become more global in nature. Big decisions are often made without considering the cultural implications.