By Promod Haque, Ph.D. and Joseph Handley, Ph.D.
The development of fresh Global Leadership models has accelerated over the last few decades.1 These models show promise as businesses increasingly engage diverse customers and work across multiple cultures and nations. Teamwork effectiveness and cross-cultural acumen are imperative for success.
Early in my career (Joe), I was hired to lead a bilingual global congress that spanned five continents. It was a challenge to keep such a diverse leadership group together. Some wanted us to emphasize planning, while others insisted on keeping vision front and center. Most members of the leadership group brought an ethnocentric point of view to bear, while those who had worked cross-culturally pushed toward a broader frame of reference.
The challenge of keeping such a complex team focused and on the same page led me onto a path of discovery. I became convinced that a new approach to leadership was needed. Following this path led me to form a new theoretical model for Global Leadership, Polycentric Leadership.2 This model gained traction as an ever-more-globalizing world grappled with rising polarization and the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
At Norwest Venture Partners, I (Promod) have been experimenting with aspects of this model for several years. There are some interesting aspects of polycentric leadership that come into play as we manage our firm. If you look at our firm in detail, you will find that we invest in diverse sectors that include healthcare and e-commerce, infrastructure for building enterprise software, cloud platforms, and cyber security platforms and applications. In addition, we work in multiple geographies, especially the United States, Canada, Israel, and India. Operating in all these locations with different entrepreneurs requires us to deal with leaders whose mindsets are different from one another.
The complexity of these ventures is immense. It begins with vetting the companies, some of which are startups and others are moving toward liquidity. Each stage brings its own set of challenges, requiring us to discern when we can help and what, in the end, will generate the most profit. To enable us to lead and discern well, we have multiple centers, with offices and leadership teams in each location.
The key for success is in collaborating across the different centers of operation, within and across our multiethnic teams, and working to assess the various entrepreneurs, sectors of the industry and cultural contexts. Essential to Polycentric Leadership is this ability to collaborate across these various centers of influence. We have several sector teams; the leader of each team draws from a wide spectrum of talent so that we can best ascertain whether that venture is worth an investment. They listen carefully to one another, oftentimes working in cross-sector situations, to gain further insight into the company that they may be working with.
I often pull from different teams–like our enterprise team or our Israeli team–and put them on a subcommittee to spend time on one particular investment, with the sponsor working to understand what they’re trying to accomplish. They each share their perspectives with the sponsor, offering suggestions on thing like assessing risk and potential next steps.
In addition to asking questions, collaboration also involves sharing experiences from the past. Team members can bring in previous experiences with other companies and founders, sharing both successes and mistakes, to mine what can be learned from past experience that could have application for the present situation. This type of collaboration can help my staff to discern whether or not a given entrepreneur is someone worth backing.
We collaborate with diverse teams across multiple locations. We build relationships and learn from one another’s mistakes and successes. The diversity of opinions and backgrounds come together to create a strong investment community–because at the end of the day, if that investment succeeds, we all benefit, and if it doesn’t succeed, we all suffer losses.
The entrepreneurs with whom we engage like our polycentric approach, because they know we’re talking to multipile entrepreneurs who come from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. The last thing they want is people from only one tribe or background assessing their proposals. Our diversity of leadership has given us a meaningful competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Norwest Venture Partners provides a great case study for Polycentric Leadership. The focus on relationships across multiple centers of influence, drawing from a variety of perspectives, genders, nationalities, sectors, and ethnicities creates a powerful leadership ecosystem giving them a competitive advantage in their market. The collaboration and learning from one another as they assess the proposals being pitched to them strengthens their business and leads them to greater success in their industry. The quality of their assessments rise as they discern the character and integrity of the entrepreneurs. This is a key attribute to Polycentric Leadership, what the GLOBE Study calls charisma: “Charismatic leaders inspire their followers
with a desirable and realistic vision that is developed based on appropriate analysis and high-performance expectations. They are viewed as sincere, decisive, and credible because of their integrity and willingness to sacrifice their own self-interest.”3
The power of collective endeavor draws from the robust studies in Polycentric Governance where collaboration is shown to be critical to leadership effectiveness.4 Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom outlines how this unity can be accomplished through a diversity of entities and players.5 The synergy that emerges makes the outcome stronger than any one individual part conveys.
Navi Radjou also captures the essence of what Norwest Venture Partners displays:
In our increasingly multi-polar world characterized by the inexorable rise of emerging markets like Brazil, China, and India, I believe multinationals (MNCs) must abandon their ethnocentric innovation model — which concentrated all their R&D resources in the West. Instead, MNCs must embrace a “polycentric” innovation model in which R&D capabilities are distributed globally to swiftly seize regional opportunities and yet are integrated into a loosely-coupled global innovation network to drive creative synergies on an international scale. This polycentric, networked innovation model is vital for MNCs if they wish to succeed…6
As Global Leadership continues to develop, Polycentric Models are showing increasing promise. We hope this case study from Norwest Venture Partners will inspire further discoveries as the research builds traction. To further learn and contribute to the theoretical model, visit https://polycentricleadership.com/
- Mendenhall, M.E., Osland, J.S., Bird, A., Oddou, G.R., & Maznevski, M.L. (2008). Global leadership: Research,
practice, and development. London and New York: Routledge.
- Handley, Joseph W. 2020 “Polycentric Mission Leadership.” PhD Diss. Fuller Theological Seminary, School of
Intercultural Studies: ProQuest; 27745033.
- House, Robert and Paul Hanges, Mansour Javidian, Peter Dorfmann and Mary Sulley du Luque. Strategic
Leadership Across Cultures: The GLOBE Study of CEO Leadership Behavior and Effectiveness in 24 Countries,
Kindle, 268, 335.
- Scholte, Jan Aart. “Globalization and Governance: From Statism to Polycentrism.” Globalization: A Critical
Introduction, 2004. Kindle, 3.
- Ostrom, Elinor. Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. December 8,
- Radjou, Navi. “Polycentric Innovation: The New Global Innovation Agenda for MNCs.” HBR. Nov 2009.
Promod Haque, Ph.D. is the Senior Managing Partner for Norwest Venture Partners. He has invested in more than 70 companies that have produced more than $40 billion in exit values. In 2014 and 2016, Forbes recognized Promod as a “Hall of Fame” investor. 2017 marked Promod’s thirteenth appearance on the annual Forbes Midas List, including 2004, when he was ranked the 1 venture capitalist based on performance over the previous decade. – https://www.nvp.com/team/promod-haque/
Joseph Handley, Ph.D. is the president of Asian Access, an NGO that develops leaders for mission acceleration. He has traveled to and served in over 70 countries and helped catalyze social enterprise initiatives in several nations. He and Asian Access have been given awards for their work in collaboration and communication. – https://asianaccess.biz/