Global Leadership Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

The Conference Board CEO Challenge® * reported Ten Big-Picture Trends based on 943 responses from global CEOs, presidents, and chairmen to The Conference Board’s survey. The Ten Trends include:

  • Being on the offensive on slowing global growth;
  • Focusing on the controlling the controllable and
  • Strengthening human capital through a grow-your-own strategy.

The eighth on the list notes “a surprising lack of emphasis on cross-cultural competency in strategic initiatives.” The report goes on to say:

“Mastering cross-cultural competence, even among the largest companies in our sample, is a relatively low strategic priority. This runs contrary to what we hear from human capital practitioners in our Councils across the globe, who say cultural sensitivity, or the lack of it, presents a major challenge to organizational alignment, performance management and measurement, and the development of effective global leaders.”

According to the report, CEOs see “an inseparable link between customer centricity, human capital and innovation, as well as the importance of diversity on innovation teams.” A recent McKinsey article entitled “Why diversity matters” also concludes, “More diverse companies are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.” Given global diversity of customers and workforce, it is hard not to notice critical connections between cross-cultural competence and customer intimacy, communication, collaboration and innovation. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, shines as a role model for new global leaders when he demonstrates:

1) Being interested in other cultures. In his book club announcement in January, Zuckerberg emphasized learning about different cultures, beliefs and histories. Cultural intelligence starts from cultural curiosity, accepting the fact “there are many roads to truth.” David Simon, former CEO of BP said, “Knowing some of the culture and the political background is half way, if not more than half way, to getting the solution.”

2) Seeking input from a global audience. According to the news media, Zuckerberg decided to crowdsource ideas for his New Year’s resolution. Albert Einstein said, “You can’t expect to solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.” Humility to seek input from others and openness to listen are great leadership traits. It’s creative, inclusive and entrepreneurial to invite different ideas and diverse perspectives from a large global audience.

3) Committing to mastering a new language. As one of the most successful, busiest CEOs, he has reportedly dedicated 30 minutes in the morning to learn Chinese from a tutor. Last October, he impressed his audience and (maybe future customers) in China with his 30-minute chat in Chinese at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. Global salespeople know the mantra, “I sell in your language, I buy in your language.” He took learning as a challenge and did stick to it despite his brutal schedule. He was willing to put himself in a vulnerable position by choosing to practice in public and overcome “situational shyness” which many foreign language learners feel when they aren’t fluent in the languages they are learning. Regardless of Facebook’s future in China, he must have earned some goodwill from Chinese citizens and certainly inspired many young global leaders.

Perhaps cross-cultural competence should be on every leader’s development goal, even if it is not on the list of his/her employer’s strategic initiatives. It will be worthwhile to follow the example of Zuckerberg.

*[2015 Survey based on results distributed between September and October 2014]

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