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Ideally it seems a global manger should have the stamina of an Olympic runner, the mental agility of Einstein, the conversational skill of a professor of languages, the detachment of a judge, the tact of a diplomat, and the perseverance of an Egyptian pyramid builder. And that’s not all. If they are going to measure up to the demands of living and working in a foreign country, they should also have a feeling for the culture; their moral judgment should not be too rigid; they should be able to merge with the local environment; and they should show no signs of prejudice.
According to Colby Chandler, the former Chief Executive of Eastman Kodak Company, “these days there is not a discussion or a decision that does not have an international dimension. We would have to be blind not to see how critically important international experience is.”
International companies compete with each other for global executives to manage their operations around the world. Yet what it takes to reach the top of a company differs from one country to the next. For example, where as German and Swiss companies respect technical creativity and competence, British and French companies often view managers with such qualities as “mere technicians”. Likewise American companies value entrepreneurs highly, while their British and French counterparts often view entrepreneurial behaviour as highly disruptive. Similarly, whereas only just half of Dutch managers see skills in interpersonal relations and communication as critical to career success, almost 90 per cent of their British colleagues do so.
Global management expert, Andre Laurent, describes German, British and French managers’ attitudes to management careers as follows:
German managers, more than others, believe that creativity is essential for career success. In their mind, successful managers must have the right individual characteristics. German managers have a rational outlook; they view the organization as a co-ordinated network of individuals who make appropriate decisions based on their professional competence and knowledge.
British managers hold a more interpersonal and subjective view of the organizational world. According to them, the ability to create the right image and to get noticed for what they do is essential for career success. British managers view organizations primarily as a network of relationships between individuals who get things done by influencing each other through communicating and negotiating. French managers look at organizations as an authority network where the power to organize and control others comes from their position in the hierarchy. French managers focus on the organization as a pyramid of differentiated levels of power. They perceive the ability to manage power relationships effectively and to “work the system” as critical to their career success.
As companies integrate their operations globally, these different national approaches can send conflicting messages to success-oriented managers. Subsidiaries in different countries operate differently and reward different behaviours based on their unique cultural perspectives. The challenge for today’s global companies is to recognize local differences, while at the same time creating globally integrated career paths for their future senior executives.
There is no doubt the new global environment demands more, not fewer, globally competent managers. Global experience, rather than side-tracking a manager’s career, is rapidly becoming the only route to the top. But in spite of the increasing demand for global managers, there is a potentially diminishing interest in global assignments, especially among young managers. A big question for the future is whether global organizations will remain able to attract sufficient numbers of young managers willing to work internationally.
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