Are You a Global Thinker?

maya hu chan

Creating the mindset for outstanding global leadership

By Maya Hu-Chan

You would think that with the financial havoc caused by the 2008 economic meltdown, most companies would think twice about expanding into new markets. Ironically, just the opposite was true. Many companies looked at emerging markets like China and Russia as opportunities to broaden their consumer base, and the rise of online commerce and social media gave them a window to reach customers in ways that weren’t possible in the past.

And yet, just having access to your customers doesn’t guarantee success. Reaching those customers requires a distinctly different skill set, one that requires cultural agility and an ability to adapt quickly to market behavior.

Here are five key steps to becoming an effective global thinker:

1. Understand your company’s global strategy and ambitions

Go back to basics: ensure you understand not only what your company’s objectives are from a global operations standpoint, but, importantly, how your role fits in to this vision.

Too often, leaders become immersed in the day-to-day demands without having an opportunity to fully explore what they are there to achieve or truly understand the different markets of importance to the business.

Much like climbing a mountain; when you are at ground level you cannot see farther than, perhaps, fifty feet; but as you get higher you can see more and more. By elevating your thinking, you will be able to see the forest through the trees, and spot storms approaching or others encroaching on your territory.

2. Embrace a global mindset

When moving from a local role into a global one it’s natural to look for opportunities to apply your previous knowledge and experience to the new environment.

For the newly promoted global leader this won’t work. It’s essential that global leaders mark their new appointment with a fresh approach; a new, global mindset.

Embracing a global mindset involves opening up the way you see the world and how this knowledge affects your actions. The global thinker adapts their behaviour and decision making to the realities of the global marketplace and doesn’t expect each market to fit within their existing model of how things should be done or have been done before.

3. Get out there! Gain global experience and exposure

Global thinkers are relentlessly curious about what the world is like for others, devouring global businesses news and volunteering for opportunities to broaden their experience.

The Chinese proverb about the frog who lives at the bottom of a well is a perfect example. He looks up and all he sees are walls and a small circle of sky. As he never leaves the well that is his perspective of the world and he believes that is how it is for everyone.

One of my clients Wendy is a rising star. She was recently promoted to an executive role in a global retailer. Her development goal was to gain global experience and exposure. I suggested that she not only sit on global meetings, but also actively participate in them to increase her profile and understanding. I also suggested that she expand her network, and build alliances with other organizations and individuals for the benefit of the business. Within six months, she became an internal go-to person for shaping business strategy. She built strong partnerships and as a result, her division became the #1 profit center worldwide.

4. Build a support system to sharpen global thinking

Effective global thinkers are connected into a powerful support network which informs and adds perspective to their decision-making. They access information and are open to feedback from their teams, peers, superiors and mentors, using feedback to help them develop.

Build a strong team around you that can manage the day-to-day operations, so you can focus on broader, strategic global challenges. The support network should also provide you with the resources you need to be truly effective in the global decisions you make.

5. Help others to think globally too

Harness your global thinking by sharing your expertise and knowledge with your colleagues and partners, particularly your team. Equip them to think beyond their own territory or area of responsibility and in doing so help to build their ability to think globally.

Modern leadership is all about inspiring others. In my experience the most effective global leaders are those who share their knowledge willingly, inspiring others to follow where they lead.

Communicate relentlessly and encourage dialogue and resource-sharing, using technology to maximum advantage. The workplace is now highly effective on a virtual basis; with file sharing, webinars, Skype and other online tools enabling close collaboration amongst colleagues who may meet in the real world only a handful of times each year, if at all.

These are the first five of 100 success factors for leaders and they are unarguably the most important, as they provide a mindset which underpins everything that is required of the modern global business leader and encourage a style of leadership that is honest, compelling and inspiring.

You can find more about the development of these essential steps to thinking globally in my book, Global Leadership – the next generation.

Maya Hu-Chan was rated one of the World’s Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50, and one of the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus in 2013.


Maya is an international management consultant, executive coach and author. Harvard Business School has chosen her book “Global Leadership: The Next Generation” to be one of their Working Knowledge recommended books. She is also a contributing author to 10 leadership and management books.

Maya was born and raised in Taiwan and lives in San Diego, California. She has worked with thousands of leaders in Global Fortune 500 companies around the world.


To contact Maya Hu-Chan, please email her: , or visit her website:

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