One of the most valuable features of this book (and there are quite a number of them in its 183 context-dense pages) is the use of a hypothetical story to mirror the realities of what the book is about. The story is about Peter, pretty much an all-American boy, rational, functionalist type who sees management as engineering and is more comfortable with the securities of expertise than he is with the fluidity of personalities. But corporate fate intervenes and he finds himself assigned to managing an overseas affiliate in France and a second in Mexico. He is dreadfully unprepared for the complexities of a globalizing era, and even more so for dealing with personalities from other cultural systems. His first experiences in his new role are jarring, even embarrassing. But slowly, chapter by chapter he grows, keeping up with the lamp of cultural cognition that, mistake by mistake and challenge by challenge, leads him like a headlight into what a fiction reviewer would be called a satisfactory ending. Like any decent fiction or film reviewer, I won't reveal whether Peter rides off into a sun that never sets or is left burnishing his resumé in hopes of a life closer to home.
In principle (meaning the authors' intent) this book is a guide to the internationally inexperienced manager as he or she learns the complex world of global management. Note the word "management". This book differs from most books from a business press, which tackle the terrain of global "business". Blissful for their absence in these pages are the topics most business books are about -- economics, investment, trade policy, finance, taxes, labor factors, upsizing, downsizing, reengineering, accounting and accountability. Instead, there are terms like "global manager", "boundaries of distance, country, and culture", "cultural adaptability", "perspective-taking", and "ability to play the role of innovator". Where most business books are about seeing the world through the eyes of one's own goals, Success for the New Global Manager is about seeing the world through the eyes of others. Or put another way, understanding how and why other people see you differs from the way you see yourself.
Peter, with whom the reader presumably identifies, has a major ego-education task on his hands. He must learn to let his way of seeing the world -- not merely coexist with others' ways of viewing the world, but sometimes give his own view up entirely in order to conform to the view of others.
This is something of a revolutionary principle in an America-dominated business world, where most Americans assume prospective partners must think, act, behave, and motivate themselves like Americans if they are to "fit in". This idea may be arrogant, but it is a lot older than American business, and American business merely reflects it. The American "my way or no way" attitude originates very far back in Western culture -- in fact, as far back as roughly 2500 years in the myth of Odysseus. American business style is essentially the Hero Myth in suit and tie.
The Hero Myth recently was recently restated to great profit in that future-retro epic Stars Wars, in which the bright young thing heads off into the unknown to right a great wrong by vanquishing the malevolent force holding everybody back. He returns the saving hero, a plenitude of lauds fly his way, he gets the girl, and there the story ends. Add lots of explosions and sinister costumes and you, too, can make half a billion.
Now you just know that twenty years later this hero is paunchy and directionless, on a treadmill for a career, his kids play music he can't stand, and the erstwhile princess is overweight, whin3y, and plays a lot of bridge to get away from the house, meaning him. Odd how "The Sequel I, II, III, and IV" never reveal this.
Most American business leaders envision themselves as the hero in this scenario. They would be horrified to learn that overseas business owners and managers mutter that they behave like they lived in the second half.
Clueless managers are what this book seeks to nip the bud. It is revelatory how the authors (perhaps unwittingly even to each other) try to reach the naive hero before he heads out lance in hand, and to convince him to take a second look at what he is doing. The authors provide our would-be hero -- Peter -- with nothing less than an entirely new myth to go by. Peter accepts his new assignment confident that he pretty much knows all he needs to know (the lance). But soon he makes a misstep here, a blunder there, here and there and everywhere a misunderstanding or two, till he's all but squandered every opportunity he had.
The reason is that he shows little concern for the needs of others, or for how they perceive him. Not to fault him, he's been poorly brought up (what the French call mal elévé). If any one thing brings up young Americans poorly, it is the American educational system. If you want to witness first-hand a great portent, talk to an American young person about the world, then go talk to a young Asian. Asians know very much about America (including things Americans don't like to hear about themselves), while Americans know very little of Asia, be it good, bad, or indifferent. Then consider how diligently Asian young people study. Add to this the fact that Asia is discovering regional pride the way Europe did in the post Jean Monnet years, and you have the makings of a 75th to 150th Meridian Renaissance comprised half of a family ethos of "we all benefit from each other" and half of a mindset that thinks in economic cycles of a decade to a generation while Americans think quarter to quarter. Does one really need to put two and two together?
So poor Peter. Unlike the Lucas/Disney Hero Myth in which the sojourning hero picks up a couple of comic sidekicks and a guru clued into The Force, with Peter you have to watch him make an ass of himself before he learns basic, practical humility. You think this is new? Straight out of Sancho Panza and Rocinante..
Luckily, the authors of Success for the New Global Manager endow Peter with a willingness to adapt to others' needs (a quality that in this writer's 10 years in Europe and 12 years in Asia, most Americans do not possess). The Modern Hero Myth of Peter is that he realizes he has much to learn, and earnestly sets about improving himself through discerning and providing for others' needs. The Hero is made by modesty, not swordsmanship.
Modesty is about as un-Western a concept as can be found flowing off the pens of Westerners who don't happen to be Buddhists. The values of compassion suggested in Success for the New Global Manager are far closer to the Bhagavad Gita and Confucianism than it is to any legend wafted to sea from the shores of Greece. One wishes that many more books with these authors' set of assumptions could address the conduct of business itself instead of management alone.
All this not to say that upon reading this book a sunshaft of benignity will shine upon the bastardy world of business. The authors set forth their epistemological message in managerial terms. For them, Peter needs four "pivotal capabilities" -- international business knowledge, cultural adaptability, perspective-taking, and ability to play the role of innovator. Most of the book is devoted to acquiring these. However, they are not mere qualities one can study, pass an exam upon, and sage forth unto success; they are not ends in themselves. These four capabilities represent an attitude shift which is the psychological equivalent of a paradigm shift. Adapting to others' reality requires both motivation, specialized knowledge, and a particular set of skills.
The throughput of the book is about acquiring the motivation, knowledge, and skills which give rise to the above pivotal capabilities. The authors break the process into two major parts. The first focuses on what a global manager needs to know and do; the second outlines the learning pattern one must ingrain into oneself in order to develop the capabilities global management requires. Here let the authors speak for themselves:
"In Chapter One we examine the idea that global managers today work in a world that is globally complex. That is, they work across borders of distance, country infrastructures, and cultural expectations. We also present what we mean when we speak of effectiveness and provide a list of the questions that the bosses and direct reports in our study used to rate the effectiveness of managers who participated in the study.
"In Chapter Two we discuss the capabilities and knowledge that all managers need-what we term the five essential managerial capabilities-whether your work is global or domestic in scope. We explain how, though the specific roles and knowledge may be the same, the behaviors needed to fill those roles will be different in different cultures and countries. We also present a set of tools that illustrate how these basic managerial skills must be adapted when they are being used in other cultures and within a variety of legal and political systems.
"In Chapter Three we describe the pivotal capabilities for global management in terms of the skills, knowledge, and motivation that you need as a successful global manager to allow you to adapt and change as the situation demands.
All this said, this is not a theory of learning book, it is a research book. The four authors all work with a U.S. educational not-for-profit foundation called the Center for Creative Leadership. This book is, as are many Jossey-Bass business books, an expansion into the public realm what began as a private research study. In this case, the study comprised 211 managers from European and American businesses. The mechanics of the project are summarized in Appendix A, which is geared more for the reader trained in research methodology and statistical analysis. Luckily, the authors wrote the rest of the book in plain English. Indeed, the text is so shorn of techhie talk that most of the time you can actually understand what they are saying.
"Chapter Four presents a dynamic framework for developing the pivotal capabilities. We show you how to integrate who you are, what you already know, and the experiences available to you in order to develop the skills for global management. Given that many organizations are currently limited in their systems for developing global skills, managers must take greater responsibility for their own progress.
"Chapter Five is written for the individual manager, but it is also meant for those in organizations who are responsible for the development of others. Here we discuss the dynamics of learning and present a menu of opportunities and experiences that can be used by organizations to select and develop their current and future pool of international managers and executives.
"Finally, in the Epilogue we sketch the challenges that we believe represent the next step for global managers: grappling with the ramifications of global business within an even more complex world context."
Books -- like this one -- that address globalization in cultural rather than entrepreneurial terms are much needed today. Had the upper-mid managers of garment manufacturers like Nike known some of the basic tools described in this book, perhaps the fiascos related to Indonesian labor exploitation would not have occurred. For one, they would have been forewarned of the pitfalls of delegating management to third party organizations without also exercising strong oversight, in the manner many Western clothing manufacturers did with Korean subcontractors whose management style was ... well ... less than optimal.
But there is a bigger fish to fry than inept sports shoe manufacturers. It is that globalization is driven largely by American interests, whose managers view business in aggressive entrepreneurial terms and are largely unaware that a great many people value other ways of conducting business. In the Malay countries of Southwest Asia there is a mentality called gotong-royong ("everybody doing their part" or "we all pitch in") which can be described as task-directed consensus management. Shear away the patriarchal overlay imposed by ancient religions, and Asia's much-lauded family-focused social system is really nothing but gotong-royong.
Across the Atlantic, Germans value managers who demonstrate technical creativity and competence. It is much less profit-oriented but creates a world-famous perception of value. The British and French regard entrepreneurialism as socially disruptive and think "working with the system" is more important than an unceasing series of product roll-outs fueling the truly bizarre notion that consumption is culture. In both Asia and Europe, there exist very broad-based levels of cultural awareness, prompted by their regional identities, languages, religions, ethnic groups, and cultural ideologies. As any tourist can tell you, these parts of the world are kaleidoscopic in color and variety while the U.S. is a coast-to-coast progress of franchises, plastic-lettered signs, and dumbed-down media.
The U.S. melting pot has melted all too well, to the point where it is so narcissistic it does not realize the whole world is not that keen to melt with it. Success for the New Global Manager is an octagonal red sign. It reads, "Stop! There is danger ahead." There is nothing quite so scary as being ignorant of being ignorant. The cultural ignorance that this book addresses really should have been addressed way back in the early semesters of business school (and for that matter, as far back as secondary school). Why does a book like this one have to offer advice such as that on page 120, on which they counsel that if you are going to live in a country, you should listen to its music, read its literature and business books, and learn about the food.
The world knows a lot more about the U.S. than the U.S. knows about the world. Think about it.