My neighborhood is a global village. I have (rough estimate) neighbors originating from at least a dozen countries and representing two dozen diverse groups within a five minute walk from my front door. An Italian-American couple are my neighbors to the right, a Jamaican/Czechoslovakian couple with two kids to the left, and a retired couple across the street are from the UK. The "think global/act local" mantra has been around for a while, but it remains resonant and necessary in our day-to-day lives and in today's global marketplace.

The benefits of institutionalizing the practice of building more inclusive and culturally competent leaders are not limited to global and multinational organizations or to leaders and teams from diverse regions. With increasing global migration and other factors instigating demographic shifts, local leaders are frequently in need of cultural skills that go well beyond traditional development programs.

But how much cultural competency and inclusion training do your local leaders receive? Not nearly enough, and experts, such as Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis agree in Preparing U.S. Leadership For the Cultural Demographic Shift:

"Efforts to date have proven to be inconsistent and insufficient to say the least. Leveraging the cultural demographic shift calls for a business model and full-scale strategy that fully prepares an organization to leverage today's reality of a rapidly growing diverse workforce and diverse consumer groups – and the previously unseen opportunities associated with them."

Andres Gonzalez, chief diversity & inclusion officer for Massachusetts-based Baystate Health, featured in the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) latest study, Diversity & Inclusion Practices that Promote Market Performance, says that although his organization operates primarily within a three-state U.S. region there's no reason not to pursue inclusion in the same way as truly global players. "You have to have that mindset," he said. "The reality is that we operate in a global market, so the patients we're serving here are from all parts of the world. It requires the same type of attention and commitment on our part that would be needed if we were operating outside of the U.S."

Gonzalez describes Baystate's home office location in Springfield, Massachusetts as a resettlement city, with large African, Asian and Central/South American communities. "For many of these individual this may be their first encounter with a formal healthcare system," he shared. "Helping them to navigate it and for them to have that first good experience is key." This can be especially important for promoting preventative care--the best financial option for both healthcare providers and patients. For this reason, many D&I professionals in the health services industry must promote a level of cultural and linguistic competency that rivals any global firm.

Baystate Health's approach to D&I, as well as those of American Airlines, Kelly Services, and others, are explored in the new study, which sheds light on the diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs that support organizational strategies to improve market performance, which i4cp defines as consistent growth in profitability, revenue, market share, and customer satisfaction over a five-year period.

One critical factor in that discussion centers on developing inclusive leaders who seek awareness of cultural differences and then seek to build relationships with people from other cultures, countries, races, and backgrounds to help them build understanding of those differences.

By focusing on development options with a strong link to improved market performance, two specific programs that learning and D&I functions should encourage leaders across the board to participate in stood out:

  • Education on cultural, societal, and business etiquette customs in key markets
  • Recognition and management of conscious and unconscious biases

D&I and learning leaders can also influence leadership development through four other practices with strong ties to market performance that are less programmatic. They are:

  • Recommending or facilitating opportunities for leaders to make connections with influential groups in key communities or sectors
  • Providing advice/guidance on go-to-market strategies for new markets or demographics
  • Generating new product/service ideas that resonate with specific markets or demographics
  • Influencing talent or employer branding decisions

Another thing to keep in mind when putting together training for leaders is the reciprocal need for regional insights among leaders on global assignments, as was found in the i4cp/AMA study Global Leadership Development: Preparing Leaders for a Globalized Market. That study found that, to be effective, global leaders need local knowledge. Specifically, leaders need cultural and linguistic competencies in combination with customer insights for the markets they serve. They also need to be able to teach/coach individuals with diverse learning styles and should be skilled in collaboration, which requires openness and understanding of diverse perspectives.