Michael Going Knows What Makes a Global Leader

CNH Industrial’s CCO believes emotional intelligence is an essential characteristic for an effective global leader

Michael Going interacts with cultures from multiple countries despite being based in the United States. He jokes that he may have blocked out any major faux pas made while learning to navigate these different business environments, but what he does remember was a meeting he refers to as “an astounding revelation.”

“Maybe that’s dramatic, but it really stuck with me,” says Going, chief compliance officer (CCO) and corporate secretary at CNH Industrial. The publicly traded industrial group in the agricultural equipment, construction equipment, commercial and specialty vehicles, and engine and powertrain businesses formed in 2013 as a result of the merger between CNH Global N.V. (where Going was general counsel) and its controlling shareholder, Italy’s Fiat Industrial.

Going previously worked at Volvo Construction Equipment, part of Sweden’s Volvo Group. During his time there, Volvo acquired Renault’s truck business, which included Mack Trucks. The legal department at Volvo brought in a consultant to facilitate a department retreat. Essentially, three different cultures were represented in the room: American, French, and Swedish. It was no coincidence the consultant’s specialty was integrating different cultures.

The consultant went through a list of stereotypes for each culture’s business style, saying, for example, that Swedes always seek consensus and abhor confrontation. Everyone who wasn’t Swedish in the room nodded their heads as the Swedes looked on, confused, Going says. When the consultant went on to say that the French are overly concerned about résumé credentials and prone to “paralysis by analysis,” the French in the room looked perplexed as the rest of the attorneys nodded in agreement, according to Going. Then the consultant declared that Americans value action—“shoot from the hip”—and adjusting as they go. This time it was Going, an American, who looked puzzled as the attorneys from other countries agreed.

“It was eye-opening to me, because I realized that cultural stereotypes can be broadly accurate, but they’re never entirely correct,” Going says. “It’s a matter of perspective, but it’s important to know these perspectives exist and to think about where they come from. You have to think about how you can leverage these different perspectives and not allow them to be an obstacle or be divisive to your team.”

Going began his career in 1987 at Philadelphia’s Duane Morris LLP before migrating toward roles that enabled him to focus on the business side, eventually leading to his current role with CNH Industrial. The industries have been diverse and the experience extensive, but Going says one thing all of his employers have had in common is a commitment to doing business “the right way,” meaning they didn’t cut corners. It was a great way to come up, but working on matters in “resource-challenged” environments and in distressed financial situations, where more had to be done with less, taught Going the most important lesson: the most efficient way to handle problems is to avoid them entirely, by anticipating them in advance.

Since being appointed as CCO in October 2014, Going has focused his efforts on the development of CNH Industrial’s compliance and ethics program.

“I believe compliance tends to be more proactive, in that a significant objective is educating others about legal and other parameters they can’t go beyond because it will create a problem,” Going says. “By contrast, legal can tend to be more about reacting to problems once they’ve manifested.”

The willingness or ability to take on a leadership role isn’t something everyone has. As Going points out, there’s a plethora of literature attempting to teach people how to be leaders, but there’s no silver bullet. The CCO is quick to add that most people can learn to be a relatively good leader, but the ability to feel comfortable with taking on a leadership role, and being effective in that role, is a different story. He asserts that the more experience you gain, whether in the form of formal education or on-the-job training, the more comfortable you become and the more effective you are likely to be.

Going was “reasonably comfortable” with leadership roles, he says, but taking a more democratic management approach has definitely been helpful for the CCO. Characterizing his leadership style as team-orientated, inclusive, and promoting the free flow of information, Going says he relishes the idea of surrounding himself with top talent, because it helps him make the wisest decisions.

“I think sometimes people are afraid to have the best and brightest around them because it threatens them, but you can leverage their knowledge and perspectives while also experiencing the satisfaction of acting as a mentor and helping to develop young talent,” Going says. “It’s very rewarding personally and improves the team’s effectiveness. When you take an authoritative approach, you’re fostering an environment where you never hear dissent, but you also never hear different ideas or insights.”

Going’s approach is thoughtful, which is beneficial in certain business environments. Emotional intelligence is something the CCO says is important for everyone in a leadership role, but especially those in multicultural environments. Going is humble, saying he doesn’t have it all figured out, but what he does know is that when you’re working in a business that comprises different cultures, effective communication becomes all the more critical. Not just the ability to be articulate, but to communicate in a way so people really hear what you are trying to say.

Part of the process is taking the time to understand the recipient of your message. How do their experiences, age, culture, role, etc., impact how they hear what you’re trying to communicate?

“This is all related to emotional intelligence,” the CCO says. “For example, if you’re a global company, like CNH Industrial, trying to set up a compliance hotline for reporting violations, it’s critical to consider the various cultures of the population you’re dealing with, as it should impact how you set up the system. Different cultures will view the act of reporting violations differently.”

There are some approaches that will always go over well, no matter the culture of the population, according to Going. Remaining open and receptive will always be embraced, for example. Talking less and listening more, being respectful, being polite—these are also helpful attributes when entering an unfamiliar culture, he says.

When taking their first assignment abroad or entering a new culture, few people take the time to learn in advance as much as they can about the culture and its people. Going says it’s equally important to have a clear understanding of what is expected of you work-wise. US-based companies, for example, tend to use their internal counsel differently than European-based companies. It’s good to know whether your internal clients expect you to be a trusted adviser involved in strategic discussions or an internal means to document a deal.

“Recognizing the cultural and human differences is key. Making them an asset to your team rather than a liability is a significant step toward becoming an effective leader,” Going says. “With the world becoming a smaller and more interconnected place, it’s a skill more of us are going to have to master.”