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The Secrets of Great Cross-Cultural Leaders

admin July 06, 2016

Globalization blurs the borders between countries and cultures. Multinational corporations are the home to diverse individuals who bring innovative ideas, fresh perspectives, broad knowledge and various skills to the organization they work for. As a result, leaders face different ways of thinking, cultural norms, and behaviors among employees from different cultures. To make the best of a diverse team, it's crucial to look for cross-cultural leaders who can effectively deal with cultural differences and turn the challenge into competitive advantage for the company.

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Who can be great cross-cultural leaders?



Not all leaders can become successful cross cultural leaders. The global marketplace is ever changing, and leaders should understand it before going international. However, leadership varies from culture and culture and countries to countries.

Culture and country are not necessarily interchangeable words when it comes to cross-cultural management. People from different countries with similar socioeconomic conditions and levels of education may have more shared work-related values than random people from the same country. It's the result of a research by Bradley Kirkman, Vas Taras and Piers Steel published on HBR.

A lot of managers are successful leaders in their own cultures, but they find difficult when working in cross-cultural environment. It may come from the lack of cultural differences and flexibility in their leadership style. Leadership talent professionals are always in high demand in global market. There are 2 types of cross-cultural leaders in multinational companies: local and expat leaders.

Local leaders are talent professional who was identified and developed to become global leaders in the long term. These leaders have the advantages of local understanding and standard global leadership training with more competitive pay.

Expat leaders are completely different. They are highly educated, multilingual professionals who have already lived, worked, and studied for a long time in different countries. They have already cultural competence in the global environment. Moreover, expat leaders are willing to move to other countries.

Key characteristics of cross-cultural leaders

No matter where cross-cultural leaders come from, they must share common characteristics to bring a group of diverse people together and make the most of them:

1. Cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity




Successful leaders understand the importance of creating cross-cultural understanding and building trust in their organization. The leaders must be the first people to understand clearly similarities and differences in cultural values and norms among the teams. Moreover, they can predict potential for misconception and miscommunication which might arise among members from different cultures. When people with different ways of thinking, behaviors and motivations work together, workplace conflict is unavoidable. Good cross-cultural leaders are required to have deep cultural knowledge, because you can only solve cultural differences when you understand the background. Cross-cultural competent leaders see cultural differences as a huge potential for development, not a challenge. They know how to align the diverse workforce and motivate them to work effectively in a team.

2. Self-understanding and self-reflection


Effective leaders need understand their own leadership style and behaviors. There are 4 main styles of leadership: autocratic style, bureaucratic style, charismatic style and democratic style. By acknowledging these differences, leaders improve their ability to function while conducting global business. However, in a diverse team, micro management is not a wise choice.

Nobody is perfect, and obviously you are not an exception. Leaders should continuously assess themselves to recognize their own pitfalls to timely adjust to become better and better. Other team members can judge you through small habits that you may not notice. Be sure the trust within the team is enhanced day by day.

3. Open-mindedness and flexibility


Open-mindedness and flexibility are very important to distinguish a successful cross-cultural leader or not. Global leaders have enough flexibility to easily adapt to different cultural expectations. Leaders will need to change to be able to address the needs of ever changing markets and employees. Leaders with open minds are easier to empathy the differences across cultures. More than that, they will eager to find creative ways to resolve any problems. They know how to create a sense of relatedness among people despite cultural differences.

4. Persistence and curiosity


Cross-cultural leadership is not an overnight success. It takes a lot of time and effort to see the improvement in the diverse team. Leaders need to be patient and persist to the common goals. Besides, they should keep an eye on the whole progress to ensure the mutual trust among individuals from different cultures.

Without an intense curiosity, even leaders can’t keep up with the whole team in particular and the industry in general. Be humble and kind, because there're always other things to learn in constant changing cross-cultural environment.

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