Leading By Example: Global Influencers and Language
Speaking another language is an invaluable skill for anyone, and even more so for leaders of companies or countries for its ability to open the doors for future expansion into foreign markets or ease relations between foreign countries, to name a few up-sides. It is safe to assume that most leaders agree that it is beneficial to speak another language and employees who can speak more than one are useful. Though it may surprise you how just many CEO’s do not command another language, read on to learn more about some of the most influential world leaders and their language skills.
As CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft, he lamented to Reddit that he wished he spoke another language, he said, “I feel pretty stupid that I don’t know any foreign languages. I took Latin and Greek in high school and got A’s, and I guess it helps my vocabulary, but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese.” He admittedly has used Duolingo to learn French recently, but commented that he has lost focus.
To the surprise of many including his in-laws, Mark speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently and brandished these skills at a Q&A with students at the University of Beijing. Constantly one step ahead of the game, you could assume his intention was to woo China’s 1.6 billion citizens to become Facebook users–definitely not a bad way impress future clientele.
CEO of PepsiCo was born in India and speaks Tamil and English. Ranked year after year in Forbes as one of the most powerful women in business, it’s undeniable how her ability to speak Tamil or any of the numerous languages of India can help her dominate ⅙ of the world’s population.
The Chancellor of Germany grew up in the German Democratic Republic so she learned to speak Russian at an early age and won several awards as well. As Russia is one of the dominant neighbours to the East for Germany, it must come in handy when negotiating with the very stalwart Vladimir Putin. Angela also speaks English, but often chooses not to speak it in public.
The ex-mayor of New York speaks Spanish adequately. During hurricane Sandy his Spanish speaking ability was useful, especially when he addressed the Hispanic community for evacuation plans. Likewise with the Hispanic business community being such an integral part of many industries, it must be a show of good faith for this business magnate that he can get by on Spanish.
The President of the United States recently admitted in a town hall that his long-term plans include improving his Spanish-speaking skills. He had previously used his daughter Malia to translate from Spanish-English when they were in a restaurant in Cuba. Despite the fact the president faltered while speaking in Spanish during a town hall in Argentina, the effort was not lost on the crowd.
Diane von Fürstenberg
The CEO of the Fürstenberg fashion line speaks several languages: French, English, Italian, and Spanish due to moving several times throughout Europe for education. There is no doubt that this fashion icon has utilized these languages to expand her business throughout Europe and the United States.
The ability to speak another language as a leader enables you to access more resources and strengthen new and old business ties. Thus many of these leaders and CEOs know, whether it is during an emergency, business meeting, or conversation with the locals, the ability to maneuver effortlessly in another language is advantageous for everyone involved. Chew on that as you contemplate learning another language!