"Such leaders can seamlessly work across traditional boundaries and effectively create change across the globe"

Recently, Tata Motors renamed its soon-to-be-launched car. It was to be called Zica. Then the Zika virus hit – not in India but distant South America. Yet Tata Motors thought it best to rename the car, which now be launched under the crowd-sourced name Tiago — a great example of acting ‘glocally’. We need to embrace this quality if we want to be effective leaders.

Thomas Friedman, in his book The World is Flat, wrote about how technology and globalisation have created a flat world. We do live in a flat world — but one with many gates. It takes glocal leaders to open those gates — those who can seamlessly work across traditional boundaries and effectively lead and influence teams by creating change across the globe.

According to a McKinsey article, by 2025 annual consumption in emerging markets alone will reach $30 trillion — the biggest growth opportunity in the history of capitalism. Organisations will need glocal leaders to tap that opportunity. In fact, irrespective of the industry type there is bound to be a glocal component that leaders will need to handle and harness.

For instance, in the BPO industry, a single transaction could follow the sun, starting in Sydney, moving to Manila, then to Mumbai, on to Warsaw and ending in San Francisco. Multiple handshakes happen between diverse teams to ensure a transaction is finished on time and is up to the required quality standard. The same is happening in other industries such as automobile, health, travel and so on. How do we go about preparing to be glocal leaders who can lead with confidence in any of these industries?

It's beyond just culture

Discussions on global leadership can sometimes get limited to points around culture sensitivity and appreciation for local customs and practices. While these are important, focusing exclusively on them is to miss the point. Being a glocal leader is about not being judgmental, but being open, having a willingness to listen and learn, training oneself to look beyond the surface.

I recall times in my own career, when on global conference calls — with people from over 20 different nationalities taking part — I would time how much we Indian leaders spent talking. It was a lot! Very often we mistook silence from a colleague in China or the Philippines as agreement, when actually he or she had quite a different view. But we did not take the time to really ask and listen. It isn’t just about being nice — it’s about avoiding real business problems. Stalled projects, misunderstandings on deadlines, teams working at cross-purposes.

Sometimes, the lack of glocal leadership can lead to companies getting entire product and market strategies wrong. For example, Hyundai showed good glocal sense when it launched the Santro in India, by fulfilling real needs and marketing it right. Some of their American and European counterparts took years of failure and different models to get the glocal piece right. Logan, for example, was a roaring success in Eastern Europe but flopped in India.

So, try a thought experiment: Assume when you walk into your classroom tomorrow and discover that it has suddenly become an all-Indonesian classroom. Everyone is talking in Bahasa. What are your reactions: Do you sit down, do you walk out, are you shocked into silence, do you try to pick up a conversation with the professor, with other students? The answers could give you clues about how ready you are to set out on the path to being a glocal leader.

It’s about being local AND global

Often, we think glocal means learning to adapt global products and processes to a local market. But that’s tapping only half the opportunity. As a glocal leader you are also looking for all the local magic that can be transplanted onto a global stage.

DHL launched University Express in India to help students to send their documents to foreign universities at an affordable cost in smaller packaging, even though it was counter-intuitive for DHL to offer such a service. The idea worked so well that DHL soon took the idea from India to China, Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries it operated in.

Unilever has done the same and so has Tata Motors – applying lessons both from its Indian and UK operations to the benefit of both. Glocal leaders will need to excel at making connections, seeing synergies and harvesting networks.

The trust quotient

Being a great glocal leader goes beyond mastering tips and techniques. The strongest trait of the successful glocal leader is the trust quotient.

Are we sincere?
Do we mean what we say and say what we mean?
Do we keep commitments?
Are we authentic in our relationships and transactions?

Take the case of a business leader talking to his client in a different country to close an important deal. He lost the deal simply because he cracked an inappropriate joke at his host’s expense, thinking the speaker-phone was off. It wasn’t and he’d lost trust with his client and the deal. This was a glocal failing with business consequences.

In reality, being glocal is intrinsically about being more human. Kindness, respect, concern for others, common courtesy, a smile. These have no boundaries. Ultimately, it is about being focused not on what separates us through our nationalities, our cultures, and our languages but about digging deep into our core to discover what unites us. That is both the challenge and the opportunity for the glocal leader.

Leo Fernandez

Leo Fernandez is CEO and Co-Founder of TalentEase Pte Ltd. Leo is passionate about making a difference. With 18 years of leadership experience, Leo has spent his career bringing together high-performance talent, crafting winning partnerships with clients and developing solutions for business change. Prior to founding TalentEase, Leo was a Partner with Accenture, based at Singapore.

He has an abiding interest in the Asia Pacific region and in showcasing it as the region to drive global innovation and step change. His current projects involve education and micro-entrepreneurship. He has a Bachelor’s in Economics and a Master’s in Business Administration. He currently splits his time between Singapore and India.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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