Forget Global – What Leaders Really Need Is A “Worldly” Perspective

Learn why leaders need a “worldly” perspective instead of merely a global one to connect with employees and drive growth.

The following is a guest piece from McGill Professor (and fellow Montrealer) Henry Mintzberg.

Do we need more globalization on this globe? How about more worldliness in this world?

In our International Masters Program for Managers, the 10-day worldly mindset is devoted to the social, political, and economic issues around the companies. We call it that because we want the managers to come out of our program more personally worldly than commonly global. Global implies a certain cookie-cutter conformity—everyone subscribing to the same set of beliefs, techniques, and styles. Is this any way to foster the innovation required by so many corporations? We should be celebrating managers’ uniqueness, not their sameness.

Consider these definitions of the two words from the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary:

global adj 1 worldwide … 2 all-embracing.

worldly adj 1 of the affairs of the world, temporal, earthly … 2 experienced in life, sophisticated,practical.

Global may be “all-embracing,” about the whole globe, but worldly is “earthly,” bringing together the “sophisticated” with the “practical.” To repeat what bears repeating, the big picture need not be set from on high; it can be better constructed from experiences on the ground.

The worldly mindset takes place, not coincidently, at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. India is another world for the non-Indian managers in the program; indeed, in some respects India is other-worldly. Arriving at the first running of this module, I shared a taxi from the airport with Jane McCroary, an American manager who worked for Lufthansa. Judging from her reaction to that ride, it was a good thing we were not in an autorickshaw! A few days later, she asked one of the professors: “How can you possibly drive in this traffic?”

He replied nonchalantly: “I just join the flow.” Welcome to the worldly mindset! That’s not chaos out there but another world, with a logic of its own.

At this module the managers are not voyeurs, touring some foreign country. They are hosted by colleagues from that country, just as they host these colleagues at modules in their own countries. More recently, at the Bangalore module, Professor Srinivasan started her presentation on the Cultural Dimension of Doing Business with “I want you to see this through my eyes!” Here again is the spirit of the worldly mindset.

How global is global? I have asked many groups of managers all over the globe how many of their companies have more than half their sales outside their home country. You would be surprised at the number that don’t. Think about how much retailing, banking, food, and real estate is local.

Moreover, the headquarters of many “global” companies are populated by people whose mindset is decidedly local. And that can include the CEO, no matter how many tours they may have had abroad. Companies don’t need managers who roam the globe to spread the local word. Down the hall as well as around the world, companies need a worldly perspective, promoted by managers who appreciate different worlds, in the spirit of these famous lines from T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, the winner of awards from the most prestigious academic and practitioner institutions in management, and the recipient of twenty honorary degrees from around the world. His latest book Bedtime Stories for Managers is available now on Amazon (and for Canadian readers). To learn more about Henry’s work, visit and follow Henry on Facebook and Twitter.

Excerpted from Bedtime Stories for Managers. Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Copyright © 2019 Henry Mintzberg.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.