In an era of continuous transformation and evolution, we must always be up to date. CEOs know this better than anyone else. They must always keep up with new opportunities and with the environment in which they live and work. CEOs, by definition, have the task of guiding and inspiring others. Therefore, it is very important that they are not only reliable, but also have their antennae always up.

With social media and in an increasingly globalised world, the characteristics that have traditionally defined the role of a CEO will no longer be sufficient. New ones will be needed. Our focus should be on the CEOs of the future, and on how to help them develop the global skills they need to face the world of tomorrow.

The three questions that define 21st-century leaders

We are living and working in an age of rapid shifts and globalisation. CEOs must know how to take and face risks in this fast-changing global arena. As leadership expert Rosalinde Torres explains in her Ted Talk, the world is full of innovation and great leaders must know how to keep up.

Torres spent a year traveling to different parts of the world to learn about effective and ineffective leadership practices in companies, countries and non-profit organisations. She wanted to understand what the characteristics of leaders who are thriving are, and what they do differently.

She discovered that, “in a 21st-century world, which is more global, digitally-enabled, and transparent, with faster speeds of information flow and innovation”, leadership is defined and evidenced by three questions:

  1. Where are you looking to anticipate the next change?

  2. What is the diversity measure of your stakeholder network?

  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past and look for new solutions?

Great leaders dare to be different. They are able to read the room and anticipate future challenges and opportunities. Their responsiveness and ability to adapt to new situations allows them to course-correct their strategies towards success while taking steps to shape the future of global business.

In order to do this, however, they need to develop relationships with people that are very different from them. A CEO must understand that having a more diverse network is a source of better solutions, because it gives you access to people that are thinking differently than you are. Ultimately, diversity allows you to become more agile and able to adapt to different cultural situations.

It can also make you more prepared to deal with the uncertainties that this age of rapid change will continue to throw at us. 21st-century CEOs must understand that what may have worked in the past may not work the same way in the future. They must be ready to face the unknown possibilities of tomorrow, often revising plans in order to build new realities.

In this scenario, understanding how to build relationships, communicate and cooperate with such diverse people and manage unpredictable situations is key. The ability that allows you to do this is called cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence for a global mindset: The skill to unlock all other skills

Cultural intelligence revolves around “a person’s capability to adapt to new cultural contexts”¹ and have the competence to “grasp, reason and behave effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity” ².

CEOs need to be able to apply their leadership and entrepreneurial skills in diverse contexts. According to David Livermore, the founder of the Cultural Intelligence Center, “leadership today – in a globalized world – is a multicultural challenge”.

Malta is a good example of that. The increase in migration and cultural diversity can present challenges and uncertainty for leaders. Our work at Global Mindset Development is exactly this: helping CEOs and their organisations develop their cultural intelligence and, together with it, the right tools to reach an open and global mindset and manage the complexity of the workplace of the future.

Cultural intelligence can help leaders to perform effectively in culturally diverse conditions. It supports leaders to become aware of their own cultural prism as well as their cultural biases in order to remove them and promote effective interactions and communication. For Livermore, this is the variable that will determine whether or not you will be a successful leader.

Companies should plan sustainable leadership strategies which consider the experience and knowledge of various people as resources of value. Leaders bear a responsibility in this because they have the ability to bring about positive transformative change by promoting an inclusive multicultural environment. Only then one can be referred to as a leader who has “acquired the cultural sensitivity necessary to bridge cultures.”

A human-centred approach: cultural intelligence and diversity

As Jonathan Kaufman, contributor at Forbes and Diversity expert, said in an interview with GMD: “Diversity & Inclusion is fundamental to human experience. The richness of different experiences drawn from culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc. allows for a wide perspective of ideas and thoughts that can be applied in various ways through business, education and beyond. It can also be a way to show that despite difference, we as humans share a common bond as well.”

According to Kaufman, diversity and inclusion also allows companies to have a broader perspective, both externally and internally. Externally, diversity and cultural intelligence galvanise organisations to think about untapped markets and find ways to leverage diversity as a competitive advantage.

From an internal perspective, having a diverse workforce is reflective of a wide range of innovative ideas, imagination, and ways of thinking that shape everything, from corporate strategy to management practice, etc. There are many studies that have shown that diverse companies are more creative. If people feel included in a company, if they feel that their opinion counts, then they will give more. They will be more creative and less afraid of innovation. This is why, in addition to being globally-focused, the future of business must also be human-centered.

We are facing more and more challenges and changes. Inclusion, social cohesion, and making people feel valued are essential conditions to successfully navigate out of times of crisis. The pandemic has shown us that a culturally intelligent, human-centred approach is something all of us need. What we found out is that sharing our experiences and resources gave us strength and made us feel more connected, enhancing our capacity to adapt and be resilient.

Evidence shows that more inclusive and diverse teams led by culturally intelligent CEOs are more likely to anticipate shifts in the global market and create more adaptive, effective solutions. In fact, the ability to lead a team with cultural intelligence, understanding the needs and drivers of each team member, can exponentially increase the level of innovation and success of your company.

Leaders and businesses of the future have to make this switch towards a more human-centred approach. It is truly something that can give the company tenfold returns. It opens opportunities, new markets, new solutions, new projects and new networks. 

How to develop a global mindset

To be an effective global leader with a global mindset, you need to develop your cultural intelligence. But how exactly do you achieve that? Luckily, there are many platforms and experts who can teach you how to achieve the necessary skills. Global Mindset Development is one such example. However, if you don’t plan to have training in place in the near future, there are still actions you can take right now to become leaders of the future:

  • Expand your horizons. The best global leaders are those who are comfortable in diverse cultures and understand the nuances of doing business outside their home country. A good way to do this is to experience what it’s like to live in another country. This will help you appreciate cultural differences, incorporate what you learn into your work and life, and build networks of global relationships.
  • Have an open mind. Great leaders are able to see different viewpoints and ways of doing things and have empathy. They listen to all ideas with intent and work with others toward a goal, without prejudice or ethnocentrism. This gives them the flexibility to quickly adapt to different contexts and situations. Global leaders must learn to recognise that what works well in one culture could be unintentionally alienating in another, causing a rift between a manager and his or her team. Being able to adapt your approach to specific dynamics and to the shifting standards of multiple regions is an incredible competitive advantage that will give you the upper edge over others.
  • Share your experiences. Tell your network about the discoveries you make as you travel, read global news and books, work. Share what you learn as well as your challenges. It is not easy to navigate across cultures and showing your vulnerability will help you to create trust.
  • Build relationships. Great leaders spend time on developing their relationships with others and learn about the local culture. By showing an effort to learn about your new colleagues and clients’ culture, you’ll gain respect and build the trust you need to be able to negotiate, collaborate, and cultivate long-lasting relationships.
  • Be self-aware. Effective global leaders know their management style and how it might be received by different cultures. In some cultures, teams will expect a manager to keep the reins tight and will feel abandoned by a leader who allows more independence. People in other cultures are the opposite. Other differences to be aware of include how decisions are made, how recognition is given, how feedback – especially negative feedback – is provided, and how time is viewed.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. Training, mentoring and coaching programs can be highly effective in providing you with the tools and support to quickly develop cultural intelligence and a global mindset. This will multiply your own and your company’s results and give you the capability for success. Because, at the end of the day, business is about people and human relationships.
  • Practice empathy. Leaders must be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They must focus on respect, appreciation and empathy, and tap into the full potential of cultural diversity.

The author would like to thank Sara Ferrari and Lucrezia Baldo, GMD interns, for their support in the research and writing of this article.

¹ Earley, P. C., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions across cultures. Stanford University Press.

² Ang, S., Van Dyne, L., Koh, C., Yee Ng, K., Templer, K. J., Tay, C., and Chandrasekar, N. A. (2007). Cultural intelligence: its measurement and effects on cultural judgment and decision making, cultural adaptation and task performance. Manag. Organ. Rev. 3, 335–37.


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