What does it take to lead across cultures?

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.

18th October 2017

Rachel Mellors

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 behaviours 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 organisation 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 organisations. 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 organisation
  • 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?  

If you’d like to learn more about assessing and developing your leadership team, get in touch with us. You'll find the details of your local Cubiks team.


About Rachel

Rachel is a commercially-minded Business Psychologist and organisation effectiveness professional, with over seventeen years experience in consultancy and in-house roles. She has a track record of designing and implementing talent management and leadership development practices within global organisations.

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