Lessons Learned from a Global Life & Career
Diversity is on every corporate leader’s mind today. I’m proud to work for Palo Alto Networks, a company that challenges all our leaders to reflect on why diversity and inclusion matters and how to authentically imbue it into how we hire, how we nurture our teams, and how we build future generations of leaders after us. I encourage my own teams to do this thoughtful exercise too, as it helps to translate abstract concepts into the daily actions that make a real impact in our culture.
When I reflect on the ways I bring diversity alive in our organization, I always come back to a few fundamental principles I’ve learned from a life and career navigating global differences.
Hire by checking people, not boxes
Unfortunately, many of us instinctively look to check familiar boxes when we hire. I know from experience that often leaders tend to associate with people who are like us and who we personally connect to, whether it’s a fellow alumni or neighbor. I’ve seen the flaws in this strategy first-hand as a long-time foreigner who has lived in many countries, from the US to South Africa and Dubai. Instead, I encourage fellow leaders to seek out those who can challenge us to evolve along with our changing business and talent landscape - and the direction is certainly multicultural and multigenerational.
For me, this doesn’t mean substituting one set of checkboxes for another. I’m naturally drawn to people who fill gaps, think differently, bring unique passions or interests, and of course can do the job at hand. Being intensely interested in the whole person allows you to pick the right people to round out your team instead of those who simply look the part.
Find and nurture differences within the team
I come from Scotland, a country of just over 5 million people. With that naturally comes the mannerisms, culture, and voice that’s often unfamiliar to all others in a room. Being so frequently the Odd One Out, I know the power that just one different voice can hold in breaking down groupthink and catalyzing change.
For this reason, I always encourage my teams to own their differences and leverage these to be stronger leaders and collaborators in any situation. For example, one of the first things I did in my role at Palo Alto Networks was sign my team up for a personality assessment which indicates how people perceive the world and make decisions. These exercises naturally highlight the many hidden ways we think and behave differently from others, allowing us to positively leverage those differences to move each other forward.
In doing this I often find the people who appear the most alike are actually quite different, as well as the reverse. When leaders are attuned to these nuances within their team, they’ll naturally attract diverse cultures, genders, and backgrounds into the team as well. More importantly, those people then feel welcomed to thrive here as their authentic selves.
Foster tomorrow’s globally-minded leaders
I’m a massive believer in the importance of mentorship; it’s not only a gift but a responsibility leaders have in helping their employees grow into future leaders. Due to my own experience creating and expanding businesses across the globe, I especially love to nurture global career paths in my people. It’s incredibly important in any role managing a global workforce that leaders have personally seen and been challenged with navigating different cultures.
When I mentor those who want to build that experience but can’t relocate, my first recommendation is to seek out projects with a global scope, build networks across geographies, and even to join our Employee Network Groups internally. All these experiences develop that necessary muscle to empathize and understand the different work habits, norms, and personalities of our colleagues globally - an important stepping stone to being a leader of multinational teams.
In short, develop teams instead of pie charts
At the end of the day, I approach diversity as an inherently people-centric activity rather than one of numbers and metrics. That simple, daily action leaders can take to diversify their organizations is to understand the unique experiences of their people and identify the missing pieces that can elevate everyone’s collective strength. The larger-than-life concept then becomes a real exercise in putting your people first.