Imagine the experiences of explorers such as Magellan or Cook as they scanned the horizon of the great Pacific Ocean for days; they had no reliable charts, an unfamiliar hemisphere of stars, shark-infested waters, a crew losing confidence with each passing day, storm clouds gathering in the distance, waves crashing over the ship’s bow, and wind howling. In many ways, the new business world is just as dangerous, filled with brutal storms of competitors, endless seas of change, seemingly strange cultures, confusing marketing channels, and unknown frontiers of technology.
The great difference, however, is that only a few great and courageous explorers were needed in the days of Magellan. Once the seas and their islands were charted, the coordinates didn’t change. In contrast, the islands, mountains, rivers, and valleys of today’s global business world are not static; they change. Markets, suppliers, competitors, technology, and customers are constantly shifting.Consequently, global business now requires all leaders to be explorers, guided by only the faintest glimmer of unfamiliar stars and excited by the opportunity and uncertainty of untapped markets.
At current growth rates, trade between nations will exceed total commerce with- in nations by 2015.1 In industries such as semiconductors, automobiles, commercial aircraft, telecommunications, computers, and consumer electronics, it is impossible to survive and not scan the world for competitors, customers, human resources, suppliers, and technology.
These forces of change help explain why leadership models of the past will not work in a global future. Provincial Japanese models of leadership have worked in Japan because Japanese leaders largely interacted with other Japanese. The same has been true for American, German, or French leadership models. In the future, a new breed of leader will be needed. Recently, Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, commented:
“The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure they have the training that will allow them to be the global leaders who will make GE flourish in the future.”2
Most companies lack an adequate number of globally competent executives.