Jul 6

Tips On Cross-Cultural Leadership

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

If you work for a multinational company in a foreign country, your cross-cultural leadership skills are critical to achieving success. This is not only true for the impact on business outcome and organizational performance, but also very much for the progress of your own career.

While working abroad in countries as diverse as the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Thailand, I have seen quite a number of  expatriates fail due to their inability to adapt to the local culture. Leaders must learn that the art of leadership and management differs in other countries.

According to the GLOBE study (Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness research program), Germany’s economic accomplishments in the 20th century were based on a “tough on the issue, tough on the person” leadership approach. The most pronounced German culture value was performance orientation. At work, there was a low level of human orientation. Compassion was low. It was a command and control style of leadership.

When I took up my first working assignment abroad in the United Arab Emirates in 1984, being a German, I think I didn’t differ much from the above described leadership pattern. I was still rather young (27 years) and inexperienced and had been influenced by the managers in our German head office.

Looking back, the first two countries abroad I worked in (United Arab Emirates and Nigeria), didn’t create a big sense of urgency in me to move away from the “tough on the issue, tough on the person” leadership approach.

However, all that changed dramatically in 1993 when I started working in Thailand, a country with a rather soft culture. Many experienced expatriates consider Japan and Thailand to be the two most challenging countries in Asia for Westerners to lead in.

I had to build up my cross-cultural competencies in Thailand fast in order to be able to succeed. I had to combine my performance orientation with a strong level of people orientation.

I had to build up my cross-cultural competencies in Thailand fast in order to be able to succeed. I had to combine my performance orientation with a strong level of people orientation.

Let me share with you some of the points that have helped me in working and living successfully abroad.

- You need to have an open mindset.

You should be curious about the culture and eager to learn from the new environment.

- You should like the foreign country and respect its people.

It’s even better, if you  l o v e  the country and its people.

- You need cultural awareness.

Recognize your own cultural profile. You need to understand how your own cultural identity impacts the way you look on things. You need to have self-awareness as well as other-awareness. Therefore, you must have a solid knowledge about your own culture as well as about the culture of the country you work in. You need to understand the background of the cultural differences. This knowledge will enable you to develop cross-cultural skills.

- You need to see cultural differences as an opportunity.

You need to have a positive approach. Recognize and appreciate the cultural differences and value them. Embrace cultural diversity and explore the upside potential in it.

- Build cross-cultural relationships with all stakeholders.

Engage your employees, your customers and the local communities.

- You have to be flexible.

Get outside your comfort zone. Show that you are willing to learn from the other culture and that you are willing to adapt. Create an environment of learning from each other. Be respectful and be patient.

The earlier on mentioned GLOBE leadership study concluded that a “tough on the issue, soft on the person” leadership approach seems to be the right recipe for German managers for the 21st century. I couldn’t agree more. I have made for myself the necessary leadership style adaptations quite some time ago.

Summarized it can be said that cross-cultural leadership competencies will help you to engage your employees, reach out best to your customers, connect with the local society, drive the business results of your company and, last but not least, enhance your career.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 6th, 2012 at 16:57 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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  1. Elan says:

    Another timely article.