• August 2013

Jennie Walker Helps Us Go Global

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Author
Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing The World

Inkandescent Intern Rachel Biderman contributed to this report.

Going global is not a new idea—but being able to handle the challenges of working within foreign cultures, well, that can be a challenge.

Fortunately, there is help.

In her new book Developing Your Global Mindset, Jennie Walker, PhD, provides a handbook for enabling everyone from entrepreneurs to corporate executives to become better global leaders.

Co-written with Mansour Javidan — a multiple award-winning executive educator and author whose teaching and research interests span the globe — the book provides nine steps to help us all work globally by developing our intellectual, psychological, and social capital.

Before we launch into our Q&A, here’s a little background on this Truly Amazing Woman..

Walker is the director of Global Learning and Market Development at the Najafi Global Mindset Institute at Thunderbird University in Phoenix, Arizona. She has worked in adult learning and performance since 1995, and has specialized in corporate leadership developments since 2002. She designed and delivered leadership programs for several Fortune 500 companies in multiple industries.

Her research and work focuses on the most effective methods to develop individuals and teams for success in complex, diverse, and increasingly global environments. She’s also a frequent presenter at professional conferences, including the Society of Human Resource Management, the Academy of International Business, the American Society for Training and Development, and the American Education Research Association.

Click here to listen to our podcast interview with Walker on the Inkandescent Radio Network, and scroll down to read our Q&A.


Be Inkandescent: Let’s start with the basics. What exactly does the phrase ‘global mindset’ mean?

Jennie Walker: Well, developing a global mindset is a concept that has been around the business world for quite some time. Starting in the 1960s, actually, this term was being used. At that time, business leaders acknowledged the need to have a global awareness, because there were elements of cross-cultural understanding that they knew would help them be more successful in their businesses. Of course, in the decades since then, we’ve developed a plethora of insights into what global mindset really means.

Be Inkandescent: Is that what you focus on at the Najafi Global Mindset Institute?

Jennie Walker: Yes, that is all that we really focus our studies on. How do we better define what it means to have a global mindset, how do we measure it, and how do we develop it? What we’ve come up with is that global mindset is really the key to building deep understanding and partnerships across complex global environments. Those complexities include culture, political environments, economic environments, and regulatory differences that can really be some obstacles for people trying to do business across borders. So global mindset encompasses a set of key capabilities to be an effective global leader.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us more about your book Developing Your Global Mindset. What is the goal, and who is your audience?

Jennie Walker: We have been measuring people’s global mindsets for quite some time, and have assessed more than 19,000 leaders around the globe. The question after assessing people in their strengths and their areas of opportunity has been: ‘So now what? What do I do now that I know where I stand with my global mindset? How do I develop myself?’ That’s why we wrote the book, because we wanted to provide practical, engaging ways to help business execs develop into global leaders. The book shines a light on the 35 capabilities within nine dimensions of the global mindset to help readers accomplish that goal.

Be Inkandescent: What sorts of ideas you discuss within each capability?

Jennie Walker: When we talk about cognitive complexity, for instance, we’re focusing on what it takes to be successful in that particular dimension. And then we break it down very practically into what people can do in a variety of different learning methodologies. We know that picking up a book is not going to cut it for a lot of people; they’re not interested, they have plenty to read in their day jobs. So perhaps, what are better ways of developing that by connecting with other people, say by having conversations. If somebody is already proficient in a particular area, we encourage him or her to coach and develop others, and contribute to their organization’s development in that particular capacity. So we explore each of the dimensions fully, as to how they can be developed in dynamic ways, and we’ve done that from a research standpoint, as well.

Be Inkandescent: In our Tips for Entrepreneurs column in the August issue of BeInkandescent.com, we outline the nine steps for developing a global mindset. This includes three key areas: global intellectual capital, global psychological capital, and a global social capital. This seems like a very holistic approach to being effective in the global marketplace.

Jennie Walker: It’s definitely a holistic model, and it’s looking at the full scope of capabilities needed to succeed in complex global environments. Based on our research—which has included interviews and assessments of thousands of people who are working in these real world, demanding global positions—we know this range of capabilities is what is need to inspire hearts, minds, motivations, and interests. It encompasses all of those so that people can really approach these cross-cultural interactions with their whole self.

Be Inkandescent: When we interviewed your co-author, Mansour Javidan, he talked about how difficult this mission is because most of us grow up in a monoculture. Then, as an adult you get thrown into an international multicultural environment and are expected to shine when you may afraid or inexperienced. Is that at the core of some of the things you were tackling in this book?

Jennie Walker: Yes, definitely. Growing up in one culture limits you in terms of your worldview, simply because you have little exposure to diversity. But I’ve been heartened by some of the audiences I’ve worked with recently in asking that question about their diverse experiences as children. More and more people seem to be raising their hands, so I think we’re doing a better job, in some cases in our educational system, but we don’t do enough.

Be Inkandescent: What could we improve on?

Jennie Walker: We certainly have a very large gap in diversity education, much less cross-cultural education. We look at the American educational system for sure, and others among countries, as well. We simply have gaps in this area around the globe, and there’s a whole set of generations who haven’t had a lot of exposure—and they’re having to play catch up. These are people who have now entered very senior executive roles, are responsible for global operations or a global arm of operations, and are feeling ill prepared. As a result, they may have some unintended consequences in their careers.

Be Inkandescent: That seems to be at the bottom of all of this, in my mind. For regardless of whether you’re working internationally, it’s so important to know how to work with other people from other cultures. And that’s a theme that I think you address beautifully in the book.

Jennie Walker: Thank you. We take the approach in each of these nine steps when we look at how to develop them—because having a global mindset is often critical in your own backyard. Where you live, in Washington, DC, is a perfect example. Anyone who has the luxury of living in a huge city is going to have opportunities to expose themselves to new people from different cultures, different languages, different ways of being and thinking, and new and diverse environments. You can go into different parts of DC, New York City, Miami, or Los Angeles and have authentic cultural experiences that you may not have grown up with yourself. For those who live in smaller cities or even in rural areas, there are still ways to develop the capacity to be successful in global roles; it just means being a little more creative with how you do that. We try to present a wide range of development activities in the book for considering those people as well.

Be Inkandescent: How does this fit in with Thunderbird’s Najafi Global Mindset Institute?

Jennie Walker: Our mission is to define, assess, and develop global mindset. We do that for corporations, not-for-profit organizations, government entities, and we also work with quite a few business schools to help them better prepare students for global realities, especially in the business world. The book fits directly into our mission because at the heart of Thunderbird’s mission we aim to create sustainable business worldwide.

Be Inkandescent: From that vantage point, what do you think business leaders most need to master?

Jennie Walker: The way that they interact at the ground level as managers and leaders around the globe is critical, because that’s where they make the biggest impression. It could be the first time that they’ve interacted with someone from a particular country, and they start to make associations about what people from that country are like, and what it’s like to do business with them. To be most effective, it’s critical to foster fluid, strong, cross-cultural business relationships, and that starts with having a global mindset.

Be Inkandescent: Now tell us more about you! How did you get into doing this work?

Jennie Walker: Years ago, I was working as a print and broadcast journalist, and one of my peers told me that he thought I would be particularly good in a corporate training environment. I didn’t even know what that was, and when I explored it more fully, I realized that it is about communicating well with others—and that has a lot to do with writing and speaking well, which is what I had been doing, and it’s also my passion. In addition, I love teaching what I know. So I transitioned into corporate training. I found that I had a real affinity for working with people from other cultures, and developing people around diversity and cross-cultural management issues. So it was a great fit.

Be Inkandescent: Where did you go from there?

Jennie Walker: I spent a number of years in corporate training departments developing leaders, and I was pursuing my doctorate in higher education with a focus on global leadership development methodologies when I met Mansour. I had looked at some of his research and contacted him to get some insight into some of his work, and I thought ‘I’m never going to hear from this person, he’s super important in the academics business world’ and I heard from him right away. It turns out that here at Thunderbird they had an interest in somebody that had an eye in the academic side of manage development, but they needed somebody that could really translate that into the practical working realities of business professionals. How do we take what we know from our research and develop people? So I was brought in specifically to do that.

Be Inkandescent: How has it been going?

Jennie Walker: It has been such fascinating and rewarding work, and I am consistently inspired by the people who I meet who are so very passionate about connecting with people across the globe, about doing good in business. They really have some higher motivations to work with diverse others, and that inspires me daily. And to know that I am able to play a part in guiding their development and providing them solutions to problems that they’ve really struggled with is rewarding.

Be Inkandescent: How has the work you are doing with Mansour and Thunderbird influenced your deep understanding about what it means to work globally?

Jennie Walker: Knowing that I can take my work and inspire and influence other business leaders around the world who have a lot of hands on interaction across the globe is incredibly rewarding. And, it has reinforced my understanding that we need to do a better job connecting with people across the globe because we have so much in common. We also have some differences that we need to work to resolve to have better understanding between our societies. But I am confident that with a little training, and introspection, it can be done—and done well.

Be Inkandescent: Before we let you go, can you give us three tips for entrepreneurs to know as they head out to pick up your book?

Jennie Walker: First, I would suggest that entrepreneurs really focus on their global psychological capital, and that is because having a passion for diversity, a quest for adventure — which really means an interest in engaging in new experiences and exploring new places — and building our self-assurance.

  • Tap into the heart of psychological capital. Really explore our motivations, values, and interests for working in the global space, it helps us develop. It helps us really get to the heart of the issues that may be holding us back from our career goals or from our personal goals that are around the globe.
  • Look at your networks. Who are you currently networked with in meaningful ways? Not just the head count that they have on their Facebook or LinkedIn, but whom do they regularly pick up the phone and talk to or Skype with. How diverse is that network? Diversity of network is going to create fluidity across the globe, and specifically in regions that a person wants to work in.
  • Increase your global business savvy. This is an area where people tend to score pretty low. The reason is that we often work with people who are specialized in a particular area. Sometimes if we focus too hard on our specialties, we’re not getting a good 30,000-foot view of what’s going on in the world, which creates some issues of credibility; not only is that about functional knowledge, but global business savvy is something that helps us grease the wheels where we’re doing work. People need to know that we have some foundational knowledge of the industry that we’re working in. Especially if we’re consulting, we need to know what’s going on there. We also need to be able to speak to, what are the current events? What are some of the regional or world issues that may be affecting business trends in that particular environment? Make it your mission to find out.

Be Inkandescent: Excellent! Thank you so much for your time, Jennie.

For more information:

Find details here about Developing Your Global Mindset.

Additional information on Najafi Global Mindset Institute’s research is at www.globalmindset.com.

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