When it comes to cultivating a global perspective, some people get lucky. Gregory Unruh had a Swiss roommate in college who grew up speaking five languages, while Unruh – like many Americans – only spoke English. “For a lot of people born in polyglot nations, or for children of expats or diplomats, there’s an advantage,” says Unruh, co-author (with Angel Cabrera) of Being Global: How to Think, Act, and Lead in a Transformed World. “But we found that you don’t have to born that way – you can make yourself into a global leader through conscious decision at any point in your life.”
Unruh, now a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, made a choice in his mid-20s to embrace an international perspective – and whether your goal is to lead the new Shanghai office or simply become a more cosmopolitan person, here are his tips for how you can become a better global leader.
- Learn a new language. Though English is the most commonly used business language, you can still turbocharge your career and understanding of other cultures by developing foreign skills – even rudimentary ones. You can sign up for a class or make an effort to learn on your own. “There are audio study courses you can use while you’re driving your car,” says Unruh, “so there’s no wasted time.”
- Watch international news. Thanks to the Internet, your media choices now go far beyond the “Big Three” networks and a smattering of cable talking heads. “The Internet allows you to watch English language version of news from Japan or Germany or the Middle East,” says Unruh. It’s a great way to understand what’s considered important in those countries – and a good barometer of how they perceive your countrymen.
- Make foreign friends. You don’t have to live abroad to cultivate a global mindset, says Unruh. Thanks to immigration and work visas, many of us already have colleagues from other nations. “You can seek out people from other cultures in your office or your community,” he says. “Even something as simple as having lunch at an Afghan restaurant can begin to stretch you. Pick an afternoon to invite a co-worker who’s an immigrant out to lunch or coffee.”
- Understand the global aspects of your company. It can be hard to win an international posting if you don’t already have international experience. To break out of this catch-22, Unruh advises that you dive into other global aspects of your company, such as the supply chain. “Is your company sourcing material from a specific geographic region? Are new customers emerging in specific parts of the world? Look for an opportunity to become part of those projects,” he advises.
- Take international vacations. Sure, you could book that beach vacation to Florida. But why not use your travel time to learn about new cultures, instead? Unruh suggests looking into service opportunities during travel, or tours focused on the indigenous culture. “You want to go to smaller communities and get close to locals, not just a bunch of rich tourists,” he says.
Becoming a global leader doesn’t happen without effort. But the personal and professional rewards of developing an international outlook can be tremendous. The real test of success? When you’re going to a new country, you recognize your limitations – and your new skills. “It’s not that you understand and know everything,” he says. “But you know you have the resources and capacity to make things work out.”
How have you developed your skills as a global leader? What advice do you have for others?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on June 4, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.