IT leaders today know that to be successful they must stretch beyond their comfort zones. A strong foundation in technology is essential, but as I wrote about in \u201cIs the road to the C-suite a winding one?," true leadership requires critical skills not traditionally acquired through a technical education, specifically: big-picture and strategic thinking, effective communication, self-awareness and conflict management among others.\nIn today\u2019s global economy, it\u2019s also true that IT leaders must learn to stretch beyond their geographic boundaries. And that means more than knowing how to navigate foreign subway systems or quickly calculate currency conversions.\nIt means being open to understanding the factors that go into how business is done in other countries, why it\u2019s done that way, and why it matters. Learning about influences such as a country\u2019s culture, religion, politics, and history can offer insight into how business is conducted, how people might react to you, your team and business proposal, and what kinds of outcomes can be expected. Of course, gaining this understanding takes time and effort, but the benefits that come from doing your homework are well worth it.\nLessons learned in South Korea\nLet\u2019s look at an example. In January, I traveled to South Korea with Brown University\u2019s Executive Master of Science and Technology Leadership 2018 cohort and a delegation of Brown senior leaders to learn about innovation from some of the country\u2019s most influential industry leaders. One of the most important lessons that we took away is the importance of understanding the cultural and historical context of any place where companies want to conduct business.\u00a0 We also learned that there's more than one path to innovation.\nDuring our week-long trip, we met with executives and management from some of South Korea\u2019s powerful chaebols (large business conglomerates). We learned that these organizations, such as Hyundai and Samsung, have been instrumental in the country\u2019s transformation from an impoverished society ravaged by war in the 1950s to the global high-tech powerhouse that it is today. Few cultures throughout history have achieved so much technological progress in such a short amount of time.\nThrough partnerships with, and influence from, the South Korean government, the chaebols drove innovation from the top \u2013 leaders decided which business direction to go in, and employees quickly fell in line behind that goal. Due in part to the prevalence of Confucianism, which teaches that everyone has their place in society, and South Korea\u2019s dominant monoculture and shared values, everyone at these organizations moved in unison toward the common goal set by leadership. Speed of execution is one of the major advantages of this innovation model.\nThis is a very different approach than we typically take here in the U.S., where we embrace a \u201cbottom-up approach\u201d or entrepreneur-led model of innovation and belief that anyone with a good idea can land in the corner office. Also, there is a commonly accepted notion that diverse teams drives innovation. This strategy work in the U.S, a culturally diverse country, but we learned from our visit to South Korea that there are other ways to innovate and create growth. In some ways, each method of innovation is best suited to its own environment either is right or wrong. But it\u2019s important to understand these different contexts in which business is conducted to maximize the potential for success.\nGrasping more subtle differences in a foreign country\u2019s business status quo is important, too. For example, while we were visiting South Korea we not only learned about the transformation that built the country into the economic force that it is today, but also about signs of dissent. Weakened exports over the past few years has led to growing unemployment among young people. Add some recent political changes, and you\u2019ve got portions of the population beginning to wonder if this top-down approach is still the right one. This change in perspective could impact how you approach doing business in the country \u2013 for example, it could mean that it\u2019s a good time to explore the start-up culture.\nGlobal perspectives can solve local problems\nInnovation is emerging from all corners of the globe - South Korea is just one example. As you set your sights on fostering relationships with innovative companies around the world, it\u2019s important to recognize that approaches to business come in all shapes and sizes, and from different sources. Before attempting to enter new markets or build relationships with organizations in other countries, take some time to gain insight into what guides, motivates, and inspires the population. It will help you to interpret why people act the way they do. Without an understanding of the cultural, historic, and social influences that shape the country, you jeopardize your ability to successfully lead your organization into new territories and with new audiences.\nIT leaders can also apply what they learn from other cultures to their challenges here at home. Understanding that there\u2019s more than one way to solve a problem, to reach a goal, or to motivate employees can help leaders work through hurdles of everyday business. Being willing to take a step back and consider other options or approaches \u2013 even ones that aren\u2019t traditionally pursued by the organization \u2013 can unearth opportunities that otherwise may not have arisen.