Many organizations today are facing unprecedented challenges and disruptions in the marketplace. As companies continue to expand into new and emerging global markets, the expectations for business leaders to drive productivity and innovation is higher than ever. As a result, organizations are becoming more global and the workplace is becoming more culturally diverse.
In an ideal scenario, an organization would have the time to assess its leaders' performance and potential and then map talent to the needs of the business. However, to maintain with the rapid pace of change, organizations find themselves having to plunge leaders into new global roles with increased scope and responsibilities. There is a pressing need for a new global leadership profile that requires new skills and capabilities.
Global leadership is defined here as the ability to lead and engage globally diverse colleagues in an effort to achieve common organizational goals and objectives. The composition of teams has changed, and there is numerous research that tells us that there is a strong correlation between diversity and innovation, which assists with increasing productivity and driving market growth. However, it is important that organizations invest in developing global leaders-or risk possible failure in delivering on their goals and objectives.
As a talent development practitioner, I have had the opportunity to learn from a variety of high-performing global leaders across numerous industries and within various organizations, all responsible for managing teams located across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I have observed these high-performing global leaders in their day-to-day management activities and also have obtained feedback from their teams. Some of the most critical skills and attributes that I have observed include cultural competence, inclusive leadership, and the ability to communicate across boundaries.
There is a common misconception that just because an organization has expanded and globalized, its leaders will adapt to working across cultural geographies and understand how to lead in this new global capacity. However, inadequately prepared leaders can negatively affect employee morale, which can cause disengagement among their teams and create a negative working environment where employees feel misunderstood and unappreciated. This is why cultural competence is essential and a key enabler to support leaders in effectively working with people from cultures that are different from their own.
Let's consider the importance of cultural competence when leading diverse teams located in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. In Mexico, people value their personal relationships and family takes priority over other obligations. There is an old Mexican saying that "North Americans live to work, but Mexicans work to live" A leader that takes the time to understand and embrace this value will be successful in engaging and motivating her Mexican colleagues.
In contrast, when leading teams that are located in Europe, there are different cultural norms that must be considered. In Austria, like other European countries, time and punctuality is integral to establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. When managing work, adhering to timelines is important and expected; missing deadlines is considered a sign of poor management and incompetence, and also can lead to employee disengagement.
Leaders of global organizations also must be adept in the cultural differences across China. The Chinese society is known to be hierarchical and is respectful of authority and the chain of command. Leaders should be respectful of local customs and can impress their colleagues by acknowledging hierarchy, offering gifts, and addressing people by their formal designations. Being mindful of these cultural norms will gain the respect of others and demonstrate sincere interest and appreciation.
Cultural competence requires having an awareness of your own culture and beliefs, as well as an appreciation for the diverse views of others. It also requires the openness to learn and appreciate the variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences that make each individual unique. Cultural competence bridges the gap between differences and helps to create an environment where people feel valued and appreciated.
Those who have ever worked with an inclusive leader will understand and appreciate the unique characteristics of inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders embrace the diversity of their workforce and foster a collaborative environment where people feel valued and respected. As companies continue to globalize, the workforce is becoming more globally diverse and demands a new global mindset from leaders; it requires inclusive leadership. To embrace inclusive leadership, organizations need to address the challenges and issues of implicit or unconscious bias in the workplace.
In the context of leadership, let's define bias simply as having preferences or prejudices for or against a person or group, such as the bias that exists toward women in the workplace. Here's an example: I attended a training program recently, where an experienced facilitator kicked off the program with a common and innocent icebreaker. The facilitator asked the participants to share their names, roles within the organization, and something that no one knew about them. As we took turns around the room, a young woman shared her name and role, and when answering the final question stated, "I'm a mom. I don't tell too many people because I'm afraid how that might affect my career."
That is an all-too-common stereotype threat scenario, which causes fear and anxiety, and in most instances, is the result of the unconscious actions and behavior of others. Unconscious bias prevents leaders from making the most objective decisions, such as finding the best talent or making promotion decisions, and prevents them from fostering an inclusive and innovative workplace.
Inclusive leadership is a vital skill that requires leaders to be aware that unconscious biases exist and to make conscious efforts to show value and appreciation of their diverse teams. Numerous studies have shown that diversity is an enabler of innovation and inclusion is the key element to organizational growth and success. Inclusive leadership fosters a workplace environment where people feel valued, engaged, and that they are part of one global organization working toward the same goals and objectives.
Communication across boundaries
As organizations continue to expand into the global landscapes, a new type of team is beginning to emerge. Business leaders are now being tasked with managing teams that are culturally diverse and performing work across a variety of geographies. Communication is now a critical skill for global leaders, which can either be an enabler or barrier in achieving organizational goals and objectives. Some of the most common challenges include language barriers, time zone differences, and lack of social interaction, which create roadblocks for colleagues who are trying to work harmoniously with diverse teams located across numerous countries.
While studies have shown that English has become the universal language of business, leaders are still challenged with misunderstandings in the workplace when speaking with someone whose primary language is different from their own. Effective communication should create a forum for leaders to establish trust and a feeling of connection across teams.
In contrast, language barriers can cause your message to become distorted, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Global businesses must prepare their leaders by developing them on how to effectively communicate with employees from different cultures to achieve organizational goals.
Also, be mindful of time zones when working with colleagues around the world. A leader innocently scheduling an afternoon meeting might inadvertently be scheduling the same meeting in the middle of the night for a colleague located in another country.
To drive team collaboration and success on a global scale, leaders should be cognizant of the different time zones and have strategies for communicating to drive employee collaboration and engagement-especially when their colleagues live and work across different time zones. In addition, be flexible with your colleagues, altering evening and early-morning meeting times so that the burden is equally shared.
Working within a global team can sometimes be a challenge when your team is dispersed across numerous countries. If there is limited face-to-face interactions, team members can feel like they are working in silos and become disengaged. Leaders can help by leveraging technology to create a collaborative virtual work environment. Although there is no replacement for in-person connections, tools such as videoconferencing and instant messaging help people communicate more effectively.
Leaders should continue to work toward eliminating the communication barriers that exist in their organizations to ensure the free flow of information and effective communication with their global colleagues. Effective communication produces numerous benefits, including reduced error rates, conflicts, and misunderstandings. In turn, these benefits provide the organization with increased profitability. Leaders should do their best to eliminate communication barriers to establish a forum of effective business communication across their teams.
Developing critical global skills
Global leadership is about managing a business across borders. It's about knowing how to work with globally diverse colleagues and operate in multiple environments in an effort to achieve a common corporate objective. Leadership on its own is an already unique and complex craft. However, when you add in the element of leading on a global scale, the already complex art of leadership instantly requires an additional array of skills and capabilities.
An effective global leader will demonstrate cultural competence and help foster an effective and productive working relationship with their cross-cultural colleagues. They also will demonstrate inclusive leadership and establish an inclusive team culture where their diverse teams feel valued and appreciated and are engaged in achieving organizational goals and objectives. And finally, an effective global leader is able to break down barriers and communicate across geographies, leveraging technology and communication strategies to help mitigate misunderstandings.
Leaders who are adequately prepared will establish a curiosity and appreciation about other cultures and enjoy the challenges of leading in a competitive, fast-paced global environment.
Tips for Building Global Leadership Skills
* Attend a diversity-focused workshop.
* Obtain a mentor from a different country.
* Participate on a global project.
* Engage in an international assignment.
* Attend a workshop on unconscious bias.
* Join an employee resource group.
* Practice listening and appreciating the opinions of others.
* Have coffee or lunch with a new colleague.
Communication Across Boundaries
* Be flexible to communicating using different forums.
* Leverage video conferencing in lieu of conference calls.
* Be sensitive to time zones and flexible with meeting times.
* Refrain from using idioms in communications.
Frank Jaquez is senior director of talent development at Flex, a sketch-to-scale solutions company that designs and builds intelligent products for a connected world; firstname.lastname@example.org.