What does it take to lead across cultures?

Written by Rachel Mellors, Business Psychologist
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

It’s mind-blowing to think that only 10 years ago, the smart phone didn’t exist. And yet many of us take for granted the impact it has had on our social and working lives. In the same decade, the expectations placed on business leaders have also changed beyond recognition.

Success as a leader is no longer predicated by deep technical skill and personal experience of having ‘been there, done that’. Furthermore, operating in increasingly global and cross-cultural contexts requires more than a traditional set of leadership behaviors such as setting direction, delivering results, building capability, and inspiring others.

Cross-cultural leadership: The essentials

The most successful cross-cultural leaders demonstrate a desire to understand differences and a willingness to be flexible.

There are many stories about a leader from one country who failed spectacularly to achieve expected results, because their fit with the new country’s culture hadn’t been considered. For example, an American leader’s desire to make big decisions quickly and implement swiftly being met with resistance from her Japanese team, who expected to take time building consensus around the organization before any action was taken.

Developing an understanding of differences, whilst reserving any automatic (bias-led) judgment, requires dedicated effort from even the most skilled practitioners in global organizations. Particularly as leaders simultaneously need to be attuned to their own leadership style, so they can consciously prepare to flex it when appropriate.

A leader’s style is influenced by 3 things:
  • Their own individual personal style and experience
  • The expectations and corporate culture of their employer organization
  • Their national identity’s background culture(s).
  • The second of these is relatively easy for leaders to pinpoint, but they may need some help with the other two aspects. When needed, assessment specialists can use advanced techniques to identify leadership attributes and preferences. And research has highlighted specific dimensions on which national cultures vary, for example Erin Meyer’s Culture Map and Hofstede’s 6 National Culture Dimensions.

    Successful cross-cultural leadership is far too complex to be simplified into a basic equation, but what would it look like if we were to try?

Building better organizations through inclusive leadership

The topic of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is an area of emphasis for many organizations right now.

Organizations that have been successful at creating sustainable change in D&I have had strong commitment, and action, among their leadership.

In this whitepaper, you will learn about the role that leaders play in creating an inclusive culture, one that strives to create allies, or champions for diversity, as well as the leadership competencies and characteristics that contribute to inclusive behavior and climate.

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