Transnational Leadership Development: Preparing the Next Generation for the Borderless Business World

Transnational Leadership Development: Preparing the Next Generation for the Borderless Business World

by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, Kathy Dee Geller

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As the global business world changes, so do the cultures that compose it. But many traditions and cultural mores are longstanding, and their influence on business practice does not come and go with new developments- even the kind of sea change that is rendering much of the business landscape borderless.  See more details below


As the global business world changes, so do the cultures that compose it. But many traditions and cultural mores are longstanding, and their influence on business practice does not come and go with new developments- even the kind of sea change that is rendering much of the business landscape borderless.

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INTRODUCTION a do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. a want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.



It is difficult to walk past a section of business books today and not see the words international or global in the many titles on the shelves. The globalization heralded for more than 25 years has arrived and, with it, our experiences in working across borders and cultures is changing forever.

Advances in technology offer increased personal accessibility, and the traditional separation of our personal and professional lives is changing, as the boundaries between the two become less distinct than at any time in our experience. In the world of today work flows fluidly beyond the boundaries of the office. People communicate 24/7 on Blackberries™, I-phones™, and other personal communication devices; whole cities are now wired for mobile communica-tion (wi-fi); and written and spoken communication access is seem-ingly endless and timeless.

As of result of these advances, the way business is conducted has been changing. The cumulative effect of these changes has im-pacted the ways in which leadership needs to be thought about and acted upon. In the networked world of today, organizations have open access to the human resources and talents of the world, and business alliances, employees, and clients are frequently drawn from borders beyond the corporate home country. In addition, as the pop-ulations of the developed regions retire (e.g., Japan, North America, Singapore, and Western Europe) and national birth rates are insuf-?cient to provide an adequate pipeline of talent, new immigrant populations are arriving to take on key professional roles. The face of diversity in our workplace is rapidly increasing.

These changes herald a transformation from a multinational business model to a transnational model. Samuel Palmisano, Chairman and CEO of IBM, encourages a view of the corporation today as a “globally integrated enterprise,” suggesting that by reframing our view from the multinational perspective (i.e., headquarter structures with minireplications around the globe) to a transnational context, our focus shifts from “products to production—from what things companies choose to make to how they choose to make them, from what services they offer to how they choose to deliver them.”

In this ever-evolving transnational environment,organizations relocate jobs and people worldwide with the goal of “moving work to the places with the talent to handle the job and the time to do it at the right cost.” Work moves fluidly across borders and reporting lines reflect the transformed horizontal and global nature of business.

In these transnational settings, leaders may find that a team mem-ber who was previously in the next cubicle, the Systems Analyst they used to meet with on the eighth floor, the monthly budget review meeting with finance team held in the 5fth floor conference room, or the conversation with the Georgia call center has shifted. Today, that team member is based in Singapore, the Systems Analyst is a member of an alliance partnership in Wales, the accounting func-tion is outsourced to a vendor in Mexico City, and customer service is being done from a subsidiary in Bangalore. In this environment, the transnational leader is likely communicating with people and teams from multiple cultures and worldwide locales, and his or her ability to work successfully with these colleagues requires effective communication in a world that is truly diverse.

Unlike the multinational model of organization that assumed that everyone would assimilate to a specifc set of values and beliefs drawn from a single culture, transnational organizations are recognizing the importance of diversity as a key factor in the ability of the organization to be sustainable and successful in the world of today. In this milieu, the paradox of working effectively across cultures becomes evident.


Globalization, as we are now experiencing it, is based on the confluence of three variables:



Speed of change

Deterritorialization describes the manner in which cultural conssiderations are able to transcend territorial boundaries. It reflects the increasing number of social activities that take place among people regardless of the geographic locations of the participants. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapid development of on-line social networks in the past 5 years: “Facebook™” and “YouTube™” are two of many popular examples of this. These on-line environments provide a platform for instantaneous, transnational interactions with both synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to share in-formation and space and to work collaboratively.

This is similarly apparent in the increase of virtual work teams across the globe, where team members based in many different locations throughout the world work together on joint projects, sharing notes, diagrams, and conversations in virtual space and time. De-territorialization supports the development of horizontal networks and brings together virtually the best people to get the job done.

A second key element of globalization is the significant interconnectedness of people, processes, systems, and organizations across the world, with the realization that decisions made in geographi-cally distant locations impact local life. This phenomenon is evidenced when organizations reconfigure themselves from a collec-tion of businesses, products, and country-based subsidiaries to a series of specialized functions that can be performed within the boundaries of the organization or outsourced to providers; these or-ganizations can be located anywhere around the world to take ad-vantage of local expertise and advantageous economic conditions.

The third critical element in this globalization is the speed of change in which these activities are taking place. As mentioned, technological advances allow for communication and a flow of information at ever-increasing speeds. Globalization, as we know it, has been occurring over the past two centuries, but it has taken a more intensive turn in recent years because of improvements and inno-vations in communication, transportation, and information tech-nologies, and the speeds at which they are conducted. The impact of these changes is felt economically, politically, and culturally. So-cially and culturally, globalization manifests itself in ways as ordi-nary as consumer-purchasing habits. Youth around the world today share tastes in music and clothing that are more similar than ever be-fore. Financial transactions that move money across the world rep-resent the economic evidence of globalization, and political move-ments gain momentum with support of quick information access on-line.

The confluence of these variables and the recognition of globally integrated transnational organizations are creating an increased sense of urgency to address the changing demands. One challenge for organizations is to balance being global with operating locally across borders and boundaries. In the intersection of global and local, organizational core values and actions require an approach that recognizes the diversity of the cultures within which they are operating.

Two views on the impact of globalization offer contradictory perspectives on how it is influencing the world. Some believe that as a result of globalization corporations are increasing Western-style consumerism around the world and making common commodi-ties developed in the West—Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Louis Vuitton (LVMH)—desired worldwide. They propose that this flow from West to East diminishes cultural diversity and produces a homoge-nization of culture.

Alternatively, others believe that the increase in cross-border transactions increases cultural diversity and spreads pluralism. Cul-tural attributes take on different forms depending on their contexts, which are referred to as glocalization. One example of this can be seen in the branding and advertising efforts of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). Since the beginning of the twenty-?rst century, it has been possible to land at airports across the globe and be introduced to their “glocal” approach to business as their advertisements asked you to consider the broadened ways in which we can understand differing points of view.

We at HSBC, the world’s local bank, strongly believe in the potential of difference. In a world of increasing sameness, we believe it’s im-portant to value different points of view and there should be some-where everyone can air these views and see the views of others.

People in organizations today have a wide variety of exposure to global diversity, with some being more local and others more inter-national. To respond to this environment, transnational organizations need to create robust learning functions across the globe. The Amer-ican Society for Training and Development, in its State of the Indus-try address, claims that globalization is one of the most significant challenges for organizations wanting to address and expand their learning functions to service their locations outside of their home countries. So how do we best lead in this organizational milieu?

Excerpted from Transnational Leadership Development by Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Kathy D. Geller. Copyright © 2009 by Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Kathy D. Geller. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission.

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