Excerpted from Crossing Borders — Internationalizing Brands.
Marketing executives with a global mindset possess a level of cultural fluency which sets them apart from their peers. They have often acquired this as children, encouraged by their parents to be tolerant, flexible and to have “eyes wide open to the world”. Far from being fazed by situations that take them out of their comfort zone, they embrace new experiences and new markets, have a willingness to learn, and actively seek out opportunities to enhance their understanding of different cultures and markets. This cultural aptitude comprises several qualities which are outlined below.
The natural desire to exert influence in a new role needs to be tempered by a willingness to learn. Management pride is dangerous and the global marketing executive needs to be smart and confident enough to admit to what they don’t know. It forces them to be open to new learning and to consider the opinions of others in the team. In a situation of power, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking that you know everything or that you are supposed to.
One of the main reasons international executives do not work out is that they try to impose their own cultural or world view, trying to make everything operate the way it does in their own market (often company headquarters). Natural relationship-builders who don’t make snap judgments tend to have humility.
Sensitivity to cultural nuance is a critical quality for any executive operating on the international stage. It cannot easily be taught, but is most likely to be developed through cultural immersion. Effective global executives demonstrate low ego. They are prepared to listen and immerse themselves in the local culture to sharpen their understanding and insight.
Intellectual curiosity is useful at two levels. It deepens a person’s understanding of what drives the local business and what motivates its employees; it also helps develop an appreciation of the broader cultural context. Global marketing executives with a willingness and propensity to learn become increasingly valuable to their organizations over time.
Agility is a quality that every global marketing executive must possess. It has multiple dimensions: intellectual, cultural, social and emotional. The most effective executives can adapt their style and approach to what they see in front of them. Culturally agile people will use their guile and influence to locate the resources they need without trying to learn or do everything by themselves. They are prepared to work with what’s available and are interested in finding the best solution, regardless of whose idea it might be. In high-growth markets, agility is essential because you don’t have the benefit of time—things move so quickly. You have to be able to learn on the fly. Even the job scope can change. In a state of flux, the global marketing executive has to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity.
Another aspect of agility is the ability to apply learning to different situations, to sort through a myriad of data and make the right connections.
Excellent communication skills mean not only being able to articulate your vision in a different cultural setting and inspire others to executive that vision, but also the ability to win people’s confidence and trust and to develop insight through a wide range of different conversations.