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Leadership Development Across Cultures


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Everyday, more and more leaders around the world are working with people from countries other than their native country. Federal Express, UPS, Dell, GE, Delta Airlines, HP, IBM, American Express, Motorola, GM, Ford, Microsoft, Google are just a few companies in the United States who work with employees, suppliers, and customers in China, India, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Romania, Russia and other places. Often companies will send managers from the United States to manage their offices in foreign countries.

Many of these Americans leaders feel frustrated with their foreign employees. They grumble:

  •  Itís so difficult to understand their English!
  •  They donít understand what I am trying to tell them?
  •  If they disagree, why donít they speak up?
  •  They never look me in the eye when I talk to them, how can I size them up?
  •  Why canít they get on with the business first?
  •  I can never get a straight answer!

Moreover, more foreign companies are establishing their businesses in the United States. Sony, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Mercedes, Volkswagen are considered old timers. Similarly, these Chinese, Korean, British, French, Australian executives working in the United States feel the same frustration with American culture as their American counter parts do in the foreign countries. These leaders complain:

  • Why arenít Americans more humble?
  • Why canít they be less confrontational?
  • They are always in a hurry.
  • All they want is to talk business.
  • They donít respect our ways.
  • Why is the American media so out of control?

Additionally, if there are cultural issues, workers in the United States can feel frustrated with a boss or co-worker from the other country. They may feel confused about what they are expected to accomplish, because there is a misunderstanding in either verbal or non verbal communication.

If you want to be effective in achieving business results in this cross cultural environment, offer leadership development opportunities to your employees. Start with the following ideas among many to develop your people:

1. Learn about the cultures of people that you have to interact with. Donít trust your perceptions or preconceived stereotypes.

  • Get a book from a bookstore or your local library. (Geert Hofstede, a well known cross cultural expert, has published a great deal of information about different cultures.)
  • Take a cultural class from a college or university.
  • Write other countriesí government embassies or cultural associations for information.
  • Attend cultural events. Observe how other people respond to each other. Do they shake hands or bow? Do they look at each other or divert their eyes. What is considered appropriate personal space when talking?
  • Spend time with someone from another culture. Donít judge. Listen and be open to differences. Youíll be surprised how much more youíll understand their perspective and the enjoyment youíll gain.

2. Give extra time and effort when communicating. This step will help to minimize misunderstanding.

  •  Speak clearly, distinctly, and calmly. Donít raise your voice, the other person can probably hear just fine.
  •  Ask for a confirmation of the message you transmitted. Good communication skills are crucial.
  •  Ensure that your message is received as you intended and it is understood.
  •  Limit using colloquialisms or slang terms. These can be confusing to someone who hasnít live here very long.

3. Donít give-up. With a good understanding of the cultural values of those people you lead and work with, you will be able to adjust your behaviour and approach in your interaction with other cultures.

  • Personal leadership development is about taking small steps towards improvement. Continually make adjustments, and when it works, try more.
  • Ask for help and donít be afraid to apologize for mistakes. People generally are appreciative that you are trying to understand them.
  • Be consistent. The more you work on your approach, the better chance you have of becoming highly successful in your interactions with other cultures.

When you begin to see positive results from your new leadership approach, old stereotypes and perceptions of those cultures will be replaced not only personally but organization wide. You will find it easier for yourself and others to understand and respect the different cultures. One advantage, of course, will be improved productivity, communication skills, and teamwork within the organization. However and maybe more importantly, tensions between cultures can be used effectively in active discussions to lead to new innovative processes and systems. And as you begin to value cultural differences, you will find that these differences actually add to the success of your organization in a global marketplace.

About the Author

CMOE has been assisting global organization with Leadership Development initiatives for 30 years. We invite you to learn more about how CMOE can help with your leadership training and development needs. Contact us at 888-262-2499 or email

Marco Chan is a consultant for CMOE and a leading authority on leadership development in a global economy. Marco has implemented several global education programs for companies such as FedEx, Formosa, and Barclays Global Investors. To learn about how subject matter experts can assist your global leadership development needs, please contact CMOE at 888-262-2499 or email .

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-05-05 14:33:28 in Business Articles

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