A few pieces of advice for American business leaders in global companies:
“HQ doesn’t want to hear the truth,” he said as he explained the disconnection between what the company’s California headquarters thinks is happening in the business versus what this regional leader sees in the field. “They live in a bubble of their own making,” he continued. “It’s sad.”
I hear this often when visiting offices away from California. The refrain is the same, we Americans are so insular and frankly arrogant that we miss the local nuances. We don’t respect the cultural or historical truths that exist in the rest of the world. The result, we mis-execute when we take our products or services global. The good news, many of our companies learn and adjust. One of the reasons we end up succeeding more often than not.
But here’s the challenge. As the world catches up with us both on innovation and execution, our inefficiencies are going to move from being fixable to being crippling. Instead of being nuisances on our market and product roadmaps, they will be killers. This is universal, it doesn’t just apply to the big name companies.
What to do (Possibly replace it with “The advice”?)
So what can we do as Americans, with our innocence about the world and short history? We are who we are after all. We opened our first international office in Dublin almost three years (update?) ago. It’s an ongoing education, here’s what we’ve learned so far:
- Understand the difference between negativity and truth. Be non-judgmental about regional presentation styles. Instead listen for facts, data, and historical lessons.
- When you deal with locals, ask yourself whether you learned something, not whether you got a great deal.
- Go there. Be on the ground. Talk with locals not just leaders. Remember the world is not black and white. We Americans are raised in a “what’s right is right” world. The world is far more complex and nuanced. Know that.
- American exceptionalism. Stop it. Enough said.
- And finally, enjoy the world. It’s full of complexity, wonder, and learnings. Be that rare American. Open to change, to new ideas, to being challenged, to growth. This doesn’t mean you are compromising on your values. Instead it means you are a citizen of the world. Enjoy it.
This next chapter for American business leaders will be an interesting one. Instead of being the dominant “one voice” on the world stage, we will now have viable competitors. If we’re going to continue to earn our way, we need to adjust and learn.
We are limited, in some cases crippled, by our upbringing. We need to be truthful with ourselves about this and open to the truths of the world. We do that, we’ll continue to succeed. Now get to it.