Leading Globally: Understanding Future Orientation

What do the terms Just Do It, Don’t Worry be Happy, Manyana and Hakuna Matata have in common? Each provides a glimpse into a person’s orientation toward the future. Nike’s Just Do It phrase connotes immediacy, importance and the need for self-determination. In contrast, Manyana suggests that we should live in the moment as there is always tomorrow.

Individuals and organizations each possess a bias towards one of these two styles. This is called future orientation and it is an ingredient which defines how we operate, individually, nationally and an organizationally. This blog will focus on future orientation and is part 2 of an 8 part series which will help you develop global leadership skills (click here to review the first blog on Performance Orientation).


Future Orientation is the degree to which we encourage and reward future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification. 

The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between cultures or individuals with high and low future orientation. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific high/mid/low future orientation results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study. Here is a list of the things which distinguish high versus low future orientation:

Future Orientation Overview











As you work with individuals, here are some practical ways to identify whether your coworker has a higher or lower future orientation:

Future Orientation Individual







An interesting lesson from this research is that almost every country places a very high value of future orientation. However, the difference between high and low performers is execution – the ability to act on your plan and delay gratification. The study also revealed that being a rich country does not necessarily correlate to having a high future orientation. There are many poorer countries with high future orientation that are not wealthy.

Overall, higher levels of future orientation is an ingredient for personal and organizational success. For example, my blog earlier this week (Hello My Name is Agility) demonstrated that the most effective companies have time planning horizons of more than 5 years. Therefore, we typically want to help people increase their future capacity.

The ability to identify future orientation helps you work with individuals or organizations more effectively. Here are a few tips on how to use this information as you work with others.

  • Begin with awareness. Is the person/organization you are working with able to self-identify their time orientation? Awareness is the first step!
  • Be positive! Remember that most people/organizations want to have a high future orientation!
  • Stay focused. Help those with low future orientation establish clear future goals. Consistently remind how about these goals and the need to delay gratification in order to achieve them.
  • Keep it personal. Help those with high future orientation maintain healthy social relationships. People matter!

In our next installment of Leading Globally, we will discuss how gender affects cultural norms.

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.

Future Orientation Country

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M, Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

The Problem with the Wrong Side of The Road: Eight Lessons for Global Leaders

My trip to South-East Asia taught me a major life lesson – there is a significant difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘different’. In Indonesia, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of North America. While navigating  heavy traffic, I recall telling my wife that it was strange to drive “on the wrong side of the road”. Later that day I pondered my comment and questioned the assumptions that it carried. What makes the left side of the road ‘the wrong side’? Our cultures invisibly shape our perspective and beliefs. As we interact with people who see the world differently, we have a choice to see them as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’.

For the next two weeks I have the privilege of working with a client in Lithuania. As I prepared for my trip, I spent time reviewing the most extensive global leadership project to date, The GLOBE Leadership Study [1]. This extensive research project provides insights about how beliefs differ between 62 different countries around the world. The results summarize eight areas which are viewed very differently as we live, work and interact with different cultures.

1. Performance Orientation: This is the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, and performance improvement. Some regions have a high performance orientation (Switzerland ) while other countries do not place much emphasis on this (Greece).

2. Future Orientation: Some countries place high value on the collective encouragement and reward of future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification (Singapore) while others do not (Russia).

3, Gender Egalitarianism: This is the extent to which we seek to minimize or maximize the differences between men and women. A country such as Russia has a very high level of gender equality while South Korea has a low score in egalitarianism

4. Assertiveness: This refers to beliefs as to whether people should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive and tough, or nonassertive, nonaggressive, and tender in social relationships. The country of Nigeria has a high level of assertiveness while Switzerland has low assertiveness.

5. Individualism vs. Collectivism: Individualism pertains to ties between individuals which are loose while collectivism embraces the integration of strong, cohesive in-groups. Brazil is a highly individualistic nation while South Korea is a very collective culture.

6. Power Distance: This exemplifies the extent to which the community accepts and endorses authority, power differences and status privileges. Nigeria has a high power distance score while Denmark has a low score.

7. Humane Orientation: This category explains whether a society possesses the values of altruism, benevolence, kindness, love and generosity as motivating forces in a person’s behavior. The Philippines has a very high humane orientation while Germany scores low.

8. Uncertainty Avoidance: This is the extent to which ambiguous situations  are threatening to individuals, to which rules and orders are preferred and to which uncertainty is tolerated.  Switzerland has high uncertainty avoidance while Russia has low avoidance tendencies.

The ability to be a cultural catalyst is a skill which is increasing in demand in today’s global business world. The ability to understand and respond to major cultural differences such as the ones highlighted in the GLOBE study are essential skills for modern leaders!

[1] House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.