The growing need for employees with global leadership skills and cultural agility is widely known, and significant resources have been dedicated to impart these skills on the workforce. However, maybe the key to successful global leaders lies not within a course on culture or an immersion program, but with identification as part of the global community. A global citizen (GC), as Hugh Evans defines, is someone who does not identify as a member of a state, nation or tribe, but as a member of the human race and they are prepared to take on the world’s greatest challenges.
Being a true global citizen may seem extreme - to not identify as American or French or Indian – but this type of mindset is needed to acknowledge that our world’s problems and challenges, are not restricted within any country’s borders. The future of our businesses, communities and countries depend on global citizens demanding action, solving problems that seem unsolvable, on a global level.
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a 2014 interview* that “capitalism needs to evolve” and that “business is here to serve society”. Managers at Unilever and other large corporations possess the ability to affect change not only in their department or field, but also on a global scale. An employee who identifies as more of a global citizen than from a particular country may have a broader vision of what their product or service is capable of. At Unilever, the focus has shifted from short-term gain to long-term success. By turning the focus to global sustainability, employee engagement and motivation has noticeably increased as a result of knowing that their work is making a difference in life. Surely, employees at Unilever did not renounce their allegiance to their country, but by thinking just a little bit more like a global citizen they are slowly chipping away at major global issues like sanitation improvement.
Global citizens can also be more effective working abroad. Evans says that global citizens “embrace the amazing possibilities of the world we share”. Imagine an employee who has a global citizen mindset and possesses cultural agility. On international assignments they are not only capable of managing the cultural hurdles that will inevitably come their way, but they are also excited about the possibilities their stint abroad will present.
As expatriates, global citizens also approach their tasks in the host country with humility, cognizant of the importance of the local norms, values, and systems. Humility goes a long way as a foundation for lasting relationships with host nationals and also lasting success in the host country.
Please click here to watch Hugh Evan's TED Talk on being a Global Citizen
*McKinsey Article: Paul Polman