Cosmopolitanism — Where the World is Your Home

Cambria recently released a new strategic framework for developing global leaders — which I detailed extensively in a new white paper, Beyond Borders: Developing Globally Adaptive Leaders.

Our globally adaptive leadership focus is on helping leaders navigate global challenges and develop global leadership capacity. The framework details five attributes of globally adaptive leaders: Cosmopolitanism, Sensible Fearlessness, Insatiable Curiosity, Suspension of Judgment, and Graceful Ease.

Exploring Cosmopolitanism

Let’s explore the first attribute: Cosmopolitanism — why such a big word and what exactly do we mean by it for globally adaptive leaders.

First, Cosmopolitanism is the most accurate word available to describe one of the key characteristics we see in effective global leaders. It literally translates as, “citizen of the world.” And that’s exactly what we mean.

Cosmopolitanism, the ability to be at home anywhere in the world, is one of the golden threads that enlivens global competence.

One of the leaders we’ve worked is the CEO for a mid-size insurance company in Central and Eastern Europe and he demonstrates this attribute especially well. Regardless of his setting — whether it’s conducting a business meeting to buying local food from a street vendor — he fully engages with the people and situations around him. After twenty-five years working outside his home country of the United States, he’s still fascinated by the swirl of cultural variety that surrounds him in everyday life. And he’s the first person to reach out to those around him to authentically find out about other people and genuinely connect.

This is a leader who, without hesitation, identifies as an American. Yet he isn’t confined by his nationality as a point of reference for understanding, describing, or engaging in situations. You won’t hear him compare a place, an experience, or a person from a US-centric point of view. For him, things are viewed and considered with a broader sweep — one that spans a multitude of cultures.

A lover of history and languages (he speaks at least four, that I know of), this leader leverages his natural talents and interests to create windows into other cultures. He navigates his way through formal study, informal inquiry and lived experience, without solely relying on any one of them.

And it’s not that he doesn’t see cultural differences or that he tries to force-fit similarities where they may not exist. It’s that his horizon of perspective has expanded to the point that the spaces in and between countries have blurred over time. It’s a bit like looking at the map in the airline magazine that shows all the border lines between destinations versus the view out your window — the lines have disappeared.

So how can you develop greater Cosmopolitanism?

Merely wanting to read what follows is a start, actually. The first of two keystones to any leadership effectiveness is self-awareness. An ability to take an honest, interior view of oneself is an essential ongoing practice for any global leader. The good news is you’ve already taken a critical step just by reading to the end of this sentence.

The second keystone is the ability to empathize and understand the perspective of others. An obvious way to stretch seeing and understanding people and places from a variety of perspectives is to physically travel to other countries and experience other cultures, whether for business or for pleasure. Make it a deliberate action. Choose it.

You can also expand your horizons without leaving the country, or even your home area. Try seeking out those who are not in your normal circle of friends or colleagues. Find opportunities — socially, civically, professionally, spiritually — to stretch outside your own self-created boundary-making.

And once you’ve done this, take time to reflect on what it’s like for you to take these steps. What do you enjoy about it? What makes you uncomfortable? Where is your stretching point? What will make it easier next time?

And let us know, too. We’d love to hear from you on other ideas you have for developing cosmopolitanism.

Look for more blog posts on the other attributes in our globally adaptive leadership framework.

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