It is critical to respect and appreciate the differences between cultures. Through this, you will get the best out of the team
Be patient with yourself and be aware of the behaviours that you want to draw on to make this move a success
If this is your first time moving to a global role, then congratulations and welcome to an opportunity to learn and grow. I moved to my first overseas role 30 years ago and have been working in different countries ever since. The main challenges and pressures you will face while making the shift are largely behavioural and practical in nature and can be overcome be emphasizing a few key behaviours and attitudes.
In a global role, you have to understand cultural norms to be able to manage your team, understand your customers’ needs and manage information about multiple markets while ensuring that you meet your objectives. Whilst you do this, you have to balance your headquarters’ goals and the specific requirements of the individual markets you are serving. This requires essential leadership capabilities such as creating a shared vision, developing a global strategy, harnessing technology appropriately, building partnerships, defining supply chains and distribution channels and building competitive advantage. These are essentially knowledge-based skills that you can learn or where you probably already have significant know-how. In this article, I would like to concentrate more on the behaviours leaders can exhibit to make the transition to a global role effective.
First off, consider whom you will be working with and their cultural background and how you can most effectively work with each person. Given a team member’s cultural background, what might you expect their approach, communication preferences and general working style to be? Would one person want to work through a task independently and seek your involvement only when required and another appreciate frequent involvement? Is one person likely to be very direct in their communication and state what they need whilst another may prefer to imply and indirectly refer to their needs? Or would one person want responsibility for making decisions, whereas another would feel uncomfortable taking decisions independently? It is useful to have an appreciation of cultures and related behaviours to get the best out of the team and your interactions with team-members. It is also critical to respect these differences. Diversity in teams is a great attribute, if appreciated. Diverse teams have different ideas, allowing creativity to flourish and sparking innovation in thought, products and processes. Diversity also brings conflict, but conflict is also creative, so long as the ideas in conflict are articulated with respect and appreciated by the team.
Seek to Understand First
This is a behaviour required in any interaction, but is particularly important in a global context, where there is most likely a linguistic gap to bridge. Always hear the other person out and repeat back your understanding until you are sure you are clear. Many times leaders interrupt, thinking they have captured the essence of a point of view and proceed to explain the counter-argument. This wastes time for everyone and creates frustration for the speaker. On the plus side, by seeking to understand, you build mental agility and flexibility of thinking – assuming you are open to considering other people’s points of view. You need to be beware of one thing here—try not to link your assessment of a team member’s overall competence based on their linguistic ability. They might be super bright, but just not brilliant at speaking your language of choice. Obviously, the opposite also applies.
Again, this is a behaviour that is necessary in any leadership role. Here I am referring to openness in its widest sense, so actively encourage suggestions, sharing and feedback from the team and in return:
Be open to trying on new ways of thinking and doing things: You can always reject something later, but at least give it a try.
Be open to making a mistake: There are times when this will happen and that is understandable in a global context, but simply acknowledge this, learn and move on.
Be open to constant learning: In a global role, you will be looking at multiple markets, analysing data and building strategies, which will require constantly updating your knowledge bank, not to mention the cultural learnings you will absorb.
Be open to risk: There will be ambiguity in the information you collect and possibly ambiguity in the organizational hierarchy and the formal and informal power structure and at times you will not be in agreement with the consensus of opinion, but you must still make decisions, so be open to taking risks, in small steps.
Be open about values: There are clear organizational values, ethics, rules and expectations and there are also individual values, so seek to find common ground within the team on which to build
Be open in communication: Be open to input and be transparent in your communication and always check that people have understood what you intended to communicate.
Be sensitive: I have met people who have worked globally for most of their career yet have singularly failed to adapt to a multi-cultural environment or to the culture of a country that is different to their country of origin. And I have met people who have never set foot outside their home country and yet have been able to immediately adapt to a multi-cultural or new cultural environment. The sensitivity that an individual possesses enables this chameleon-like movement across borders. Take time to sense how things happen in a new environment – how people act, how things are done – and then act, as far as is acceptable to you, in accordance with this. Remember also that the people you are working with may also have done their cultural homework and decide to act in a way that is more in keeping with your cultural norms.
The Pressures of Moving to a Global Role
Pressure to perform: You may never have worked in a global context before, so in addition to having a wider remit, a diverse team and if a physical move is involved, the distractions of not yet having properly settled in to the new country, you are conscious that there is a target to achieve. Be patient with yourself and be aware of the behaviours that you want to draw on to make this move a success. If your boss has not experienced a global move or not lived in a similar country, then also share the experience so that he or she is aware of the challenges.
Fear of the unknown: If you have not worked with the team before, you are venturing into the unknown and have to navigate through the cultural differences. It is natural to have some concern about the unknown, but it is also natural to be curious and as a leader to welcome a challenge. If you can take some time to familiarize yourself with the culture(s), and mentally prepare yourself for how you want to be and how you want to be perceived, all the better. If you are a senior leader, although you may not know your team, your reputation may precede you. Take that into account, as you will want to show some flexibility whilst maintaining your authenticity.
Practicalities of a physical move: Be aware of how a move will affect all aspects of your life and how you will minimize the possible pain and maximize the upside. This relates to:
Family: Preparation for the family, the spouse, children and family pet--how best can they be supported during the transition period. Are there support groups in the new country for foreigners? Does your embassy help people settle in? Which school will your children attend? How long will it take to find an apartment? What do you need to pack for the first three months until your container arrives? Are you leaving any dependent relatives behind and how will they manage in your absence? There is a lot of planning that goes into a global move, so think ahead.
Support: Moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. Where will you get support during this time? Can friends help relieve the pressure? Do you need to get to the gym to wind down or have some alone time to rejuvenate? Whatever you or your family members need to do to stay calm and capable, make sure you take the time out for this.
Finances: Consider financial matters, whether that be in terms of mortgage commitments at home, investments, cost of schools and loss of spousal income, be sure you know how your finances will be affected.
Stress: Whilst you should think ahead, note that you can only manage how you are during the move to a new country. You cannot manage the speed at which your container arrives, the availability of suitable housing or the time it takes to open a bank account. So focus on what is within your control and let go of what isn’t! As you can no doubt imagine, that is easier said than done.
Moving to a new global role is an opportunity to appreciate diversity, grow in experience and gain awareness of your behavioural strengths as you further grow in your career. So, enjoy the challenge and have a fantastic move.