He was so excited when he got his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – Nigeria’s compulsory one-year national service scheme. The purpose of the scheme is primarily to inculcate in Nigerian Youths the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.
His excitement was not just about the opportunity to serve his country and connect to people of other ethnic groups, it was more about where he had been posted to serve – Rivers State. Rivers State can otherwise be called the Nigeria’s Oil capital. At this time, many Oil and Gas companies had their operational base in the state making it a very attractive location for young Nigerians.
As a graduate of Geology & Mineral Science, he stood a good chance of getting into one of the Oil companies who pay way above market average, hence his excitement and gratitude that he had been posted to Rivers State.
Well, things didn’t quite go as he dreamt but perhaps they went better than he thought given his current status. He didn’t get a job in an Oil company per se, he got a one in a growing Oil servicing company and afterwards, he settled for a career in one of the commercial banks.
He lived and worked in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, a place substantially different from, Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, Nigeria where he grew up and studied for many years. He’d honed his skills and most importantly had learnt to understand and accept people of other cultures and backgrounds. As a matter of fact, being a Yoruba young man who got married to a lady who’s from Port harcourt, his cultural agility was stretched beyond what he was used to but he survived.
He worked with a bank with presence across major markets in Africa and beyond and as a high performer, he was given an opportunity of a short international assignment in Namibia. That was a true test of the maturity of his cultural agility and he got a lot of lessons under his belt.
As far as West is from the South, so was Namibia different from Nigeria. They are countries on the same continent but different culturally, different in terms of approach to business and in fact different in terms of approach to life. He struggled at first, tried to impose his style to get work going with his team but he met with what he thought was ‘rebellion’ from his team but later realized was unconscious bias on his part and their part. He thought to himself, “they are laid-back” and they discussed among themselves “he is too aggressive and self-conceited”.
At the time, he did not realize that his Namibia episode was preparing him for a bigger global leadership career. The good thing however is that, although he struggled, he learnt almost every lesson possible and this positioned him for a global career that has now spanned many years working with various banks and energy companies across Africa, US, Latin America, Europe and Asia – Pacific.
This is a very short version of my global career story and the following are some of the key considerations that I believe are important for anyone willing to have a global career:
This starts with understanding your strengths and weaknesses and finding a job that helps you play to your strengths and natural talents most of the time. If you are good at what you do, people will naturally want to work with you or do business with you. Also, when it comes to working globally which of course requires working with people of other cultures and beliefs, understanding your own beliefs and knowing where they might differ from others’ is critical. This is a good place to start to be able to adapt to and tolerate the deep-seated beliefs of others. It will help you get over your unconscious biases.
Openness to Diversity:
You need to be willing to connect with people that have completely different world views. While you don’t necessarily need to agree to their world views, you need to acknowledge their world views and accept them as colleagues, counterparts or partners so that you can be productive. Be open to other people’s cultural beliefs, their types of meals, political affiliations, religious beliefs, sexual orientation etc. Beliefs and values are filters and they generalize, distort or delete anything that comes to your mind. So, you need to be sensitive and be aware that your definitions of others’ world view is only based on the beliefs and values you have gathered over the years and allow them to have their own world views as well.
I grew up in Nigeria where there a essentially 2 religions, Christianity and Islam. I however live an work with people of many other religions too numerous to mention, people who don’t practice any religion at all as well as people who practice all religions. The truth is while I don’t agree with all their philosophies about God, I work very closely and effectively with them. In other words, our world views might be different, but it shouldn’t stop us from working together effectively.
You must have a real interest in the lives and cultures of others, recognizing that your culture and background are not inherently superior.
You need to have a strong desire to learn and commit to life-long learning, if you don’t, you will be left behind and increasingly unable to converse, much less keep up, with your global peers. There’s nothing as stupid as only being able to speak about a matter from your country alone during a global conversation. Staying abreast of new learning opportunities requires a humble awareness that what you know is not enough and that you always have more to learn.
Global Strategic Thinking:
A successful global career requires that you can scale your approach, perspective and skills beyond the microcosm of your background and country to a wider global scale. Your frame of reference and benchmarking must be global. You need to be aware of global market trends and best practices as applicable to your industry and career by exposing yourself to the right sources of such information like global conferences and other global developmental opportunities.
How you show up determines how people will take you. If you want to be seen as a global expert then you need to demonstrate this to the relevant people. These are some of the ways you can do this:
- Make your skills visible: Make your skills visible by providing thought-leadership on global platforms such as conferences, online platforms, webinars etc. The thoughts you provide must be specific and generic at the same time; specific enough about a particular subject matter but generic enough to be relevant in multiple cultural contexts. This is one of the effective ways to position yourself as a thought leader who understands various cultural nuances and is qualified take up global opportunities.
- Raise your hand for assignments: If you work in an organization with footprints in multiple countries, you need to ensure that the relevant people know your mobility status as ‘available to travel’. Don’t assume people will bring these opportunities to you, put up your hands for projects and assignments. In fact, participating in the roll out of a global project in your own country successfully already positions you as a good candidate if such project is to be rolled out in another country and there’s an opportunity for your skill set. This is one good way to start a global career. It was a similar situation that got me to Namibia.
- Travel out of your own country: Roman Philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the younger) said, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” This is so true. If you want to learn and understand other cultures, languages and people, then travel. When I travel, I don’t only attempt to enjoy the sceneries, I also try to connect with people in my industry to learn, network and share my thoughts about our industry. I’ve enjoyed referrals to speak at conferences, join global communities of practice and in fact for some of the global roles I’ve occupied as a result. Whether or not the organization you work for have global footprints, this is very important.
Participate in Global Initiatives:
I have found joining global professional bodies, attending global seminars, webinars and being part of global communities of practice as a good way to learn and of course position myself as a global thought-leader. Even if you don’t have the resources to travel around yet, the internet has made this easier. I have definitely met more people in my career digitally than I’ve met physically. Of recent, because I provide thought-leadership on career matters on Linkedin, I have received multiple invites to speak at conferences both virtually and physically.
It suffices to say that, if you are interested in having a global career, you must be comfortable with traveling to connect with and manage teams but not just that, you must be comfortable and skillful at connecting with and managing teams virtually also.
Apply for global roles:
If you want a global role, then you need to search for and apply for it. Remember, like every other job, occupying a global role has some required skills set, some of which we have touched on in this article. It’s important to gain those skills and be able to demonstrate how you have used them even if its on a small scale before applying for these roles.
In my global career journey, I started by living in a city different from where I grew and I learnt how to tolerate people of other cultures and religions. Then I proceeded to work in a different country entirely and that gave me the courage to apply for my next role where I looked after 19 countries in Africa and subsequently, UK & New York was added.
Of course, being successful in that role and the opportunities I had to demonstrate value positioned me as a thought leader in my field and I was head hunted to lead the Talent, Learning & Development in an organization with presence in over 48 countries across Africa, US, Latin America, Europe and Asia – Pacific.
Like they say, “Rome is not built in a day” and life itself is a journey. So, if you are interested in having a global career, you need to build requisite skill set and communicate your readiness to the relevant people. While not exhaustive, some of the points in this article will definitely help you achieve your goal.