Forty years ago, a Taiwanese woman like me would not be leading an international mission organization. However, today, I mirror the globalization of missions. Forty years ago in the 1970s, non-Western missionaries totalled less than 1,000.1 Today, missionaries from non-Western countries outnumber missionaries from Western countries.
For decades after the Edinburgh 1910 conference, a dualistic mission worldview perpetuated the Western church self-identifying as the sending church and the non-Western church self-identifying as the receiving church.2 All this has changed. Mission is no longer a ‘one-way street’ from the West to the rest of the world.3
Mission is now a ‘traffic jam’, with workers coming from every country, going to every country, and converging in every country. The Christian church is increasingly a global church. Whereas only about 30% of Christians came from the non-Western world in 1960,4 about 80% of the global Protestant and Catholic population will be in Africa, Asia, and Latin America by 2050.5
The Christian church is a global phenomenon, and mission is a worldwide endeavor.
Global mission leaders will also be leading in an increasingly volatile world of dramatic shifts:
- Economically, the majority world is already contributing 70% of global investment growth.6
- Political power will shift from the Western-led G-7 countries to diverse players, including non-state actors empowered by the rise of technology.7
- By 2050, most of the population will be living in non-Western countries, with only 12.6% of the world’s population in the West.8
- By 2050, 71% of the world’s population will be living in cities, but only two of the ten largest cities will be in more developed regions.9 There will be nearly 2 billion slum dwellers, fueling potential outbreaks of pandemics.10
- By 2050, another 170 million migrants will pour out of predominantly majority world countries.11
Missions today and tomorrow will be concentrated in the majority world where much of the world’s resources, jobs, and population are increasing, but also where confounding socioeconomic issues are intensifying. The mission workforce that will complete world evangelization in this generation is going to be a mosaic of global leaders, with diverse—even clashing—backgrounds, skills, and experience. In this increasingly complex world, every mission leader is going to have to be a global leader who masters key global leadership competencies.
Who is a global leader?
In their outstanding book Being Global, Angel Cabrera and Gregory Unruh paint the profile of true global leaders:12
Global leaders craft solutions by bringing together people and resources across national, cultural, even organizational boundaries. Global leaders are visionaries inspired by a worldwide challenge that remains unsolved, an ignored social injustice or a business opportunity that has gone unexploited.
Therefore, global leaders lead across great divides. They have the remarkable capacity to pool people and resources to make the impossible possible:13
They can identify and call on different individuals who together possess all the pieces necessary to make the vision a reality. . . . Global leaders understand the cultural, social, or political differences that keep contributors apart and find ways to build, cultivate, and connect them despite, and sometimes because of, those differences.
Global leaders therefore have developed the key competencies to connect, create, and contribute value across boundaries.14
Many have written about global leadership, and most of them have taken one of three approaches: the universal approach that focuses on leader as leader, the contingency approach on leader as local manager, and the normative approach on leader as global manager.15 None of the approaches are definitive, but as a global leader, I have found each to be invaluable.
The universal approach considers leadership to be a generalized, universal behavior, regardless of culture.16 Many of the Western leadership theories, especially value-based charismatic leadership (also known as transformational leadership), have taken this approach.17 18
Therefore, although I adapt my demeanor as an Asian woman leader to the different cultures that I encounter, I enter most cultures confidently because I have fostered the charismatic leadership abilities of casting vision, inspiring others, leading a high-performance team, and exemplifying concern and integrity.19
Similarly, I conduct a regular self-check of the 22 leadership attributes identified by the GLOBE project—which surveyed more than 17,000 leaders in 62 national societies—as being universally desired in most cultures:20
- Motive arouser
- Effective bargainer
- Team builder
- Plans ahead
- Has foresight
- Confidence builder
- Win-win problem solver
- Administratively skilled
- Excellence oriented
Similarly, especially in trying seasons, I self-evaluate how the eight universally undesirable leadership attributes may be undermining my ability to lead effectively across cultures:21
Knowing and developing these universal leadership attributes and eliminating undesirable attributes are vital for mission leaders as we lead across multiple national boundaries.
A second approach is the contingency approach which assumes that there are no leadership universals and asserts that leadership is a culturally embedded and contingent process. Key works include Geert Hofstede’s research and the GLOBE project on the varying dimensions of national cultures and local leadership styles.22
As mission leaders, we must learn from the contingency approach because research has shown that, firstly, ‘leaders behave in a manner consistent with the desired leadership found in that culture’ and secondly, ‘leaders who behave according to expectations are effective’.23
Before I visit a country I would, as a simple first step, thumb through Richard Lewis’ When Culture Collides: Leading across Cultures which profiles many national cultures.24 I assess the predominant style of leadership, communication, social interaction, and decision-making in that country.
Then, I look up Hofstede’s cultural index to gauge if it is a hierarchical culture, a collectivistic culture, or a time-oriented culture. Is it a masculine or feminine culture? Is it shame and honor-based, or is it guilt-based? I look up GLOBE articles to ascertain if the country prefers a participative or humane or autonomous style of leadership.
Of the various global leadership approaches, this contingency approach takes into account local leadership expectations and comes closest to seeing leadership as a cultural construct.
The normative approach is the most practical for mission leaders and focuses on cultivating global leadership competencies, such as acquiring a global mindset or cultural intelligence.25 Leaders who possess global leadership skills are able to activate strategies, business plans, operational processes, and leadership styles that transcend multiple national boundaries and teams with diverse backgrounds and motivations.26
Among the most practical global competencies are the ten leadership behaviors that Ernest Gundling, Terry Hogan, and Karen Cvitkovich have identified. These fall into five successive stages—Seeing differences, Closing the gap, Opening the system, Preserving balance, and Establishing solutions (SCOPE).27
Seeing Differences in two ways:28
- Cultural Self-Awareness is to realize that one’s leadership practices are preconditioned, and that there are alternative ways of seeing things and accomplishing the goal.
- Invite the Unexpected is the global leader’s learning posture through asking good questions, immersing oneself in the culture, and acquiring knowledge about history, politics, values, language, cultural insights, and points of local pride.29
Closing the Cultural Gap in two ways:30
- Results through Relationships is when global leaders understand that in most cultures getting things done comes through developing key relationships and social networks, not through formal channels.
- Frame-Shifting involves leaders modifying their perspectives and behavior to fit the culture, including their communication style, leadership style, and leadership strategy.
Opening the System is vital after the cultural gap is closed:31
- Expand Ownership is extending leadership to people normally excluded by social and organizational barriers, and crafting processes that are systematically inclusive so that more people can access information and engage in shared goals.
- Develop Future Leaders is when global mission leaders proactively identify and develop high-potential leaders who can help a global organization grow in key ways.
Preserving Balance between local values and one’s own values:32
- Adapt and Add Value is to balance adapting to local practices with asserting a different perspective without imposing one’s views.
- Core Values and Flexibility is when global mission leaders authentically incorporate other values into their own belief systems, behavior, and leadership style, without compromising their core values.
Establishing Solutions by drawing contributions across multiple boundaries:33
- Influence across Boundaries requires mission leaders to serve as ambassadors with political acumen and subject matter expertise across several functions, and to effectively facilitate cross-boundary collaboration.
- Third-Way Solutions draw on all of the behaviors to create global solutions.
Global mission leaders must know when to exercise which cross-boundary skill at different times.34 Having times of cultural self-reflection is helpful for gauging each situation. I make cultural self-awareness my starting point to examine my own prepackaged ideas and practices, and then decide what to set aside for the situation.
Wherever I go, I try to bridge boundaries by putting relationship first—not tasks—and forging genuine connection and trust. I inquire by asking all kinds of questions and expecting to be surprised.
In leading global organizations, we as leaders must facilitate the creative tension between centralization and decentralization, sometimes standardizing a single policy or process uniformly worldwide, and other times selecting with local leaders to screen and apply outside information that is locally relevant.35 Sometimes, we adapt pre-packaged information to local conditions; other times, we adopt by applying an idea from a field location to other locations.
In the process, I have been astounded by the innovations produced by combining ideas from centralized and local sources or by integrating diverse contributions to create a new norm.
We mission leaders are called to be world-class global leaders. We must cultivate global leadership competencies in the greatest global endeavor—to complete the remaining task of world evangelization in this generation.
1 Cho D. ‘Kingdom mission: DNA of the missionary task’. Tokyo 2010 Global Mission Consultation Handbook. Pasadena: 2010. 27-34.
2 Cho D. op. cit.
4 Cho D. op. cit.
5 Johnstone P. The Future of the Global Church. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2011.
6 National Intelligence Council. Global Trends 2030: Alternative worlds. 2012. NIC 2012-001.
7 National Intelligence Council. op. cit.
8 Johnstone P. op. cit.
10 Johnstone P. op. cit.
11 Johnstone P. op. cit.
12 Cabrera A, Unruh G. Being Global: How to think, act, and lead in a transformed world. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012. 12.
13 Cabrera and Unruh. op. cit.
14 Cabrera and Unruh. op. cit.
15 Steers RM, Sanchez-Runde C, Nardon L. ‘Leadership in a global context: New directions in research and theory development’. Journal of World Business. 2012. 47(4): 479-482.
18 Dorfman P, Javidan M, Hanges P, Dastmalchian A, House R. ‘GLOBE: A twenty year journey into the intriguing world of culture and leadership’. Journal of World Business. 2012. 47(4): 504-518.
20 Northouse P. Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2013.
22 Steers, et al. op.cit.
23 Dorfman, et al. op. cit.
24 Lewis R. When cultures collide: Leading across cultures. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2006.
25 Steers, et al. op. cit.
26 Gundling E, Hogan T, Cvitkovich K. What is global leadership? Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2011.