True Global Leaders get out of their Comfort Zone

Nita Korsten

Recently I attended a greatly inspiring talk at Baruch College in New York City. Ian Cook, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Colgate-Palmolive, disclosed how the company does its business globally. With a presence in 220 countries and territories, Colgate-Palmolive is the epitome of a global brand.

When I listened to Ian describing what the important drivers are for the more than 200- year-old company (established in 1806 in New York City), my neighbor whispered with a great amount of respect, “I can see why he is where he is.”

Completely at ease, very clear, and with his British sense of humor that proved to fit a broad international audience, Ian explained how important it is for a global business to have a coherent strategy, healthy growth of gross margin, and an innovative R&D department. However, what struck me most about his story was his emphasis on culture, integrity and attributes of global leadership. I share three of his ideas that resonate with me the most:

1.     Build a Distinct Corporate Culture; Ian explained that, “How we get stuff done is as important as what we establish. We have and express clear core values. In the case of Colgate-Palmolive those are: Caring, Global Teamwork and Continuous Improvement.”

2.     Be Explicit about how Important Integrity is in your Company. Everyone in the company should know what that means. Therefore the very practical and behavior oriented Code of Conduct is translated into 40 languages and there is continuous training of people in how to deal with various situations. It has been essential for the leaders of the company to model the company’s code of conduct because, “It is not in the words but in the people.”

3.     Develop True Global Leaders. Ian emphasized that it is extremely important for leaders to get out of their comfort zone to discover themselves and the different perspectives that are out there in the world. He consequently only wants people in global leadership positions whom “have lived and worked in cultures out of their own and who understand the power of Global Teamwork.”

What was so strong about this talk, besides the clarity and humor, is that it didn’t feel like Ian Cook was just holding a politically correct management-talk about how corporate culture should be. Rather, it was the demonstration of a highly genuine, driven and convincing leader who needs potential global leaders to understand what they should do to succeed in the global corporate world:

“Get out of your comfort zone and live and work in cultures other than your own!”