Mining of the Treasure of the Global Nomad Experience: Global Nomads as Global Leaders

By Kathleen Daniel

Experience in managing multicultural teams is the most valued attribute of a manager, more so than industry knowledge, company experience or an advanced degree from a top business school. The most sought after managers are the ones who can integrate across cultures, geographies and disciplines and get the job done. (Price Waterhouse Cooper, CEO survey, 1999)

The phenomenon of globalization &endash; the movement of goods, services and people across national boundaries; appears to be a well-established trend for the long term, integrating peoples and cultures and stimulating new ways of working together in 'borderless' organizations. Nonprofit organizations, governments, humanitarian workers, corporate managers and individuals are forging partnerships and building institutions, learning to collaborate as global citizens toward achieving common goals. In the business arena an increasing number of transnational corporations rely on their overseas operations for more than half of their revenue. According to Windham International, these corporations recognize that their greatest challenge for future growth is finding people with the global skills to build teams that inspire cooperation, information sharing and innovation across cultures.

As results from the 1999 PriceWaterhouseCoopers CEO survey suggests, multicultural knowledge, experience and expertise are the number one assets businesses are looking for in their global managers. Studies from the Center for Creative Leadership suggest that in addition to core management skills, four pivotal capabilities are key to successfully managing across borders: international business knowledge, cultural adaptability, perspective taking and skill as an innovator. At a personal level, qualities of flexibility, skill with managing change and tolerance for ambiguity are vital. As it's become a truism that these skills can only be learned in the global arena, recruiters are increasingly looking for candidates with experience living internationally.

In my study of US global nomads, I find that by virtue of their rich experience of culture, language and mobility instilled in them at an early age, global nomads possess enormous potential for assuming roles as effective global leaders. They are world-minded, skilled in cross-cultural communication and practiced at taking note of cultural cues, naturally shifting mindsets and behaviors to respect local norms. Influenced by highly educated parents, nearly 90% of global nomads receive post-secondary education with over 40% having completed a graduate degree; 80% maintain their foreign language skills; 80% are professionals, executives or managers/ officials; and over half continue to maintain some international dimension to their lives. Global nomads feel at home everywhere (and nowhere) and often act as skilled mediators, problem-solvers and cultural informants in their communities.

The present study examines the characteristics of global nomads and their global leadership capabilities, identifying the experiences and support systems that influence and cultivate the development of their global skills.

Kathleen Daniel is president of Metis International, a coaching, training and development consultancy that works with organizations and individuals in the areas of change and transition, personal leadership, expatriation, team facilitation and career development. A Hungarian immigrant and US global nomad, her career paths have included acupuncturist, seminar leader, writer and founder of an innovative Mind/Body studies program. Currently completing a research thesis in Organizational Development at Johns Hopkins University, Kathleen is exploring how the experience of living internationally influences the development of global nomads, specifically with regard to how their experiences contribute to their capacity to work in leadership roles across national and cultural boundaries. She is committed to developing models and trainings that cultivate personal leadership in a global world.

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