Tips for 21st Century Global Leaders

The impact of globalization on businesses of every type and size is being increasingly felt throughout the business world, especially by their leaders. The organizations that succeed in this perpetually changing global arena are those that develop people who can lead and implement business strategies across borders, cultures, and a host of logistical and legal complexities. The following tips from AMA’s seminar The 21st Century Global Leader  will help leaders gain key cross-cultural communication and managerial skills to help their organizations:

  • Effectively execute global business strategies in rapidly changing, cross-cultural environments.
  • Align global and cross-cultural project teams to leverage distinct business advantages.
  • Identify new and constantly emerging global trends that will impact their business.
  • Establish and expand their reputations in both local and global commerce.

Leveraging Cultural Differences in the Workplace
Learning to leverage cultural differences creates synergy where the whole is much larger than the sum of its parts. This creates an environment where innovation can thrive. In order to leverage cultural difference in the workplace leaders need to:

  • Acknowledge and allow for differences. A leader’s expectations and behavior are influenced by their background as well as their own unique style of working with others.
  • Accept that each of us has a unique way of working and interacting with others. Leaders are different because of culture and personality. Learning to accept these differences will help in building good business relationships. Once the fact that differences exist and can be greatly beneficial is accepted, it allows each individual to be more open towards unlimited new business potential.
  • Create a more inclusive corporate environment. Examine your organization’s values to determine if they are biased towards a certain point of view.
  • Create a common ground for communication. Conducting training programs that specifically explain the dimensions of cultural differences and how these differences impact our everyday work. Make it clear that the purpose of understanding other’s cultural values is not to learn to accommodate them or to change them but to create an environment for better communication where everyone contributes based on their strengths and qualifications.
  • After you understand the differences, focus on similarities. The human heart is the same all over the world. We have similar wants and needs although we might express them differently. Make your corporate culture more inclusive, and it will be the bond of respect and affection, motivating your leaders and managers to work with commitment and passion towards achieving global corporate goals.

Tips for Better Communication with Your Global Team Members
The responsibility for effective communication is shared among all parties involved. Miscommunication can occur even when everyone has the intentions at heart.

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. When someone says something that seems weird or wrong, ask yourself how else you could interpret the person’s words and actions.
  • Be patient. If you do not understand, explain what you don’t understand and ask your counterparts to communicate their point in a different way.
  • Communicate. Write minutes of every meeting and circulate them quickly. Emphasize action steps and decisions made during the meeting and action items with names of people responsible for carrying them. Don’t worry about their format—speed and accuracy are more important than presentation in this case.
  • Be thorough. When everything seems to fit except for one minor detail, don’t let it go; address it. It may be just a detail; it may also be the tip of a misunderstanding iceberg.
  • Follow the 24 hour rule: As a decision maker involved in implementing a global initiative, do not take action in the first 24 hours following communication with your global counterparts. Give people who need to communicate individually with their team leaders the chance to come back on what they said during the meeting.
  • Make sure people understand. Communicate the same message through multiple means and check that it was received the way you meant it. Avoid humor and slang. Explain to your global counterparts how Americans perceive and interpret their actions, words, and behaviors.
  • Do not assume negative intentions. Ignorance or misunderstanding may be the cause of the problem.
  • Cultivate relationships with your international counterparts/colleagues.
  • Meet face to face when possible.
  • Stay in touch. Hold regular face-to-face team meetings. For example, consider holding team meetings on a quarterly basis.

Providing Effective Cross-cultural Feedback
Giving and receiving feedback in a way that is understood is an integral part of any organization’s development. Because the way feedback is given and received varies significantly from country to country, many cross-cultural issues originate from feedback misinterpretation.

Keep in mind:

  • Giving and receiving feedback effectively is critical to the success of a global initiative.
  • Often, feedback is not heard by from different cultures people the way it was intended by the average American.
  • Feedback is not provided in the same manner in all countries. Different cultures have different scales for interpreting feedback.
  • Personality attributes are valued differently by different cultures. (For example, assertiveness is perceived as a positive trait in the U.S. and as a negative in China.)

Americans and Candians tend to divide negative feedback into four categories (see below) that indicate the severity of the situation. In many cultures there is no equivalent to positions one and two; feedback is either positive or negative, but it is not both. As a result, the feedback provided by American team leaders is often misunderstood. Conversely, the feedback provided by many other cultures is often perceived by Americans as too strong and disproportionate with the situation.

Types of Negative Feedback
Category #1: This is a small concern.
A change in behavior is expected, but it is not a big deal. In this situation, the average North American manager will usually start with some positive comments, followed by negative comments, and end with positive comments. This approach confuses many people from different cultures, who leave the meeting wondering what they should remember from the conversation. In such a situation, they may miss the fact that the key message is the negative feedback and that the employee is expected to change his or her behavior.

Category #2: This is a more serious issue than position #1, but still not a problem.
In this situation, the average North American manager will go directly into the negative
feedback, meaning that the issue mentioned requires prompt attention, but end the meeting on a positive note with a positive comment. As in the previous case, a culturally different employee may not realize that he or she needs to focus on the negative feedback. He or she may ignore the negative comments and hear only the positive comments.

Category #3: This is a problem.
Here, the average North American manager only talks about the negative. A North American manager often uses this feedback intensity when he or she has previously mentioned this type of issue to the culturally different employee or when this is the first time that the employee makes a significant mistake. Either way, the employee needs to make a quick change in his or her behavior.

Category #4: This is a crisis.
The absence of strong corrective action will have major negative consequences such as an employee being fired, demoted, or side-lined, usually within a few weeks.

Building Trust and Credibility
Trust is a key component of multicultural management and is essential for effective team communication and cooperation. The level of trust impacts employee’s morale and productivity and their willingness to step outside of their comfort zone to explore new possibilities and work effectively in a multicultural business environment.

There are cultural differences in building trust as well as judging trustworthiness. Global leaders must understand the dynamics of building trust across cultural lines as well as how cultural differences dictate how trust is developed and extended to others.

General trust- and credibility-building tips:

  • Communicate your credentials and your facts up front and back them up with written documentation.
  • Get a formal introduction.
  • Establish that your authority comes from the highest level.
  • Be consistent; don’t change your story mid-stream.
  • Show that you care about the other side and their special circumstances.

© American Management Association

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