Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leading in a Globalized World

Written by: on October 24, 2013

Two questions:

  1. Where was tempura invented?
  2. Where was the Caesar salad invented?

If you answered Japan and Italy, you are of course wrong.  The correct answers are Portugal and Tijuana, Mexico.  Portugese missionaries brought tempura to Japan in the 16th century.  Meanwhile, the Caesar salad was birthed by American-Italians who opened a restaurant in Mexico during prohibition so they could still sell alcohol to hungry and thirsty San Diegans.

The idea of globalization is actually nothing new.  Cultures and peoples have been mixing, meeting and creating new things and tribes for a long time. I can trace my family history back to the Viking invasions and settlements of Normandy at the turn of the last millennium.  They would eventually become French, then American by accidental travel.  Tribes and tongues bumping in to each other creating evolution and change.  What is new is now the intensification and rapidity of globalization.  Through technology, the lowering of political, trade and work barriers, and the ability to travel anywhere in the world combined with a truly global economy, the world is fully connected to itself, everywhere all the time.  As Bono sang on the cusp of the techno-global world in 1993, “Faraway, so close.  Up with the static and the radio.  With satellite television, you can go anywhere: Miami, New Orleans, London, Belfast and Berlin.”  Sociologist Roland Robertson offers up one of the more cogent definitions of globalization as the “compression of the world” specifically through “the interpenetration of what are conventionally called the global and the local… and the linking of localities. (30-35)”

Our reality is that in our work, life, family, and even church settings we will come into contact with other cultures. Houston, Texas for example is now the most diverse city in the US, surpassing both LA and New York.  Increasingly, as Christians and Christian organizations we must begin to think how to lead in this setting.  I work for a global organization.  I have one director who is Spanish, another whom is Irish (and his director is from New Zealand).  My wife and I lead a team of people from Spain, Catalunya, Argentina, Columbia, the US and Lithuania.

Manfred Kets de Vries in his expansive The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise tackles the broad topic of modern leadership from both the perspective of psychoanalysis and management.  De Vries defines leadership as showing “fellow travelers the way by walking ahead (2).” Moreover, he claims that the role of a leader is twofold: charismatic and architectural.  Simple enough, but de Vries goes on to expound how this definition can play out in our modern global world of discontinuity and neurosis.  Particularly, he delves into the factors that will delineate good global (cross-cultural) leadership.  Here de Vries centers on the need for global leaders to be essentially, anthropologists.  They must understand culture, and not only the cultures of others, but their own as well.  Ultimately, a global leader will know how to bring teams of varying cultures together

Culture is the key here.  After reading de Vries, extrapolating the future of world global Christianity, and reflecting on my own experiences in missions and American evangelical life, I am convinced that the Christian leader of the future (whether they are in Midland, TX or Juba, Sudan) needs to have a strong cross-cultural/anthropological element to their core competencies. They need to understand culture, how it works, and they must have strong theological understanding of culture. Most of all, they must learn how to read and understand cultures, and be able to find ways to work through the barriers to meaning that culture can create without antagonizing.

This is a delicate balance for sure, and one that I am still very much learning.  But, more and more I am amazed by people in my own organization (and others) who will travel far and wide to work and minister in cross cultural contexts with little or no concern to the cultural context and barriers they will encounter.  It seems that in seminaries and organizational training, cultural awareness and intelligence are an afterthought in building the leader of the future.

As such, and in reflection on my one life intersected with de Vries, I would like to offer some important aspects of being a good global leader.

  1. Always be Learning: Never go into a cross-cultural situation without taking the time to learn and prepare beforehand.  Learn about the culture, and the history of the people.  I find that Lonely Planet guidebooks do a great job of summarizing key aspects of culture.  Watch movies and listen to music from that country.  Know what sports they enjoy, their food, and the famous people or contributions the culture has made to the world.  This will also open doors for you as well, as people will appreciate that you know about them.
  2. Love Cultures: This can be really hard.  But, we need to learn to love and appreciate the cultures that we get to work with.  We need to remember that culture is ultimately neutral, and has both positive and negative elements (depending on our perspective).  We must appreciate the different perspectives that other cultures afford us in seeing and understanding the world.  When we come up against cultural difficulties, we need to be able to hold on to the positive of the culture to work through the barriers.  God loves the diversity of all his people’s cultures.  We need to cultivate a love for cultures.
  3. Learn the Cultural Leadership Style: This is probably the most important, especially if you ultimately want to get anything done.  Learn what the expectations and understanding of a leader is in the cultures you are working with, and attempt to adapt as much as possible.  In Spain, leadership is often understood and tainted by a strong, top down, boss mentality.  As we felt that this was not going to be our style, nor was it something we felt was modeled in Christ, we attempted to find other cultural leadership forms that would speak to the hearts of Spanish staff.
  4. It is Going to Be Messy, So Go Slow and Be Patient: Working and leading cross-culturally is not easy, and we will make a ton of mistakes.

Roland Robertson, “Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity,” in Global Modernities, ed. Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash, and Roland Robertson (London: Sage Publications, 1995), 25-44.

About the Author

Garrick Roegner

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