01 Nov Cross-Cultural Leadership for the future of business
What is cross-cultural leadership?
Over the last five years there has been a lot of talk about inclusive leadership. In this blog I want to explore a related but different topic, cross-cultural leadership. This, for me is about realising our own personal culture, the dominant culture of an organisation and the diverse cultures that may exist in the wider organisation. Cross-cultural leadership theory was developed as a response to global multi-nationals, where leaders were managing vast numbers of people from different countries. However, there is nothing stopping us from talking about this in all workplaces, even if they are located in one area to gain a broader understanding of how culture plays out at work.
In today’s environment, it’s not a case of profits or people. The two are interconnected and not mutually exclusive. If you treat your people well, with respect, dignity, and worth; productivity increases. Productivity equals profits, productivity equals retention of staff, happiness equals attracting talent. It really is a win-win situation.
Another leadership style?
There seems to be a name for every kind of leadership, so what is cross-cultural leadership. Leaders and managers who are successful in one country aren’t necessarily successful in all countries without adapting the way they behave.
In order to be a successful cross-cultural leader, you have to be open to learning, understanding, listening and flexing on some of your values. Otherwise it’s easy to hit a brick wall and face serious resistance from staff. This is of course, easier said than done. To be a competent cross-cultural leader we need to be aware of our assumptions and biases as well as being able to reflect on them. Three questions to ask ourselves:
1 ) What is my preferred individual leadership style? (collaborative, coaching, authoritative, etc)
2 ) What are the expectations and culture of my organisation?
3 ) What is the dominant culture in the country I work in?
Cross-cultural leadership goes beyond simply observing visible differences but appreciating differences in approach are based on values and beliefs as shaped by societies and cultures. Then to link this with the behaviours that are manifested as a result of the values and beliefs.
Why it’s vital in today’s global world
So, why should anyone care and cultivate a cross-cultural way of working?
1 ) Understanding our own culture and cultural values enables us to open-up our own blind spots and minimise a fixed-way of thinking. Thus creating the opportunity for innovation, which is vital in today’s world to have a commercial advantage.
2 ) Team members and staff from varying cultural backgrounds can connect with customers and clients in an authentic way. By having a space for this dialogue more ideas can be generated for better business.
3 ) Cross-cultural leadership aids the creation of an authentic bond with team members. By being open about your own culture, encouraging others to speak about theirs will develop a sense of belonging in a team. Happy team members that trust one another produce better results.
What happens if you ignore this way of working?
1 ) If you decide to ignore this as an organisation, as it seems too time-consuming and irrelevant, you will pay the business price for this. A recent example is Ikea’s rice and peas debacle.
2 ) Leaders and managers risk teams becoming demotivated as they may feel that they can’t share their ideas and will be shut down. The result is low staff morale, high staff turnover and sizeable recruitment costs.
3 ) Not understanding cultural preferences of staff and customers results in oversight when planning campaigns, products, spaces etc. This is likely to cost significant time and money in having to correct mistakes later on.
How you can make it a reality?
1 ) The first thing is to learn and understand our own cultural lens and that of the organisation and others. Two tools to support your learning about other cultures are Erin Meyer’s Culture Map and Hofstede’s 6 National Culture Dimensions.
2 ) How does our own cultural lens impact what we do at work and what we hold as true? Consider having a facilitated away-day on this topic for all team members to explore this, and how and when conflict may arise.
3 ) Then it’s about applying the learning and having an accountability partner. Tweak, change and amend existing practices that may not be working for you. Examples are service level agreements, planning for big campaigns and themes for team meetings. An accountability buddy could be someone from another department you can check-in with.
It’s a journey
Cross-cultural learning is an ongoing journey and it’s not about arriving at a destination and stopping. It’s more akin to pausing, admiring the view and finding out what else you can do. That’s where all teams need to work together to make any environment as inclusive as possible.
Creating an inclusive organisation, that incorporates cross-cultural learning is committing to making equality, diversity and inclusion everyone’s business. Knowing your own cultural preferences and that of others helps to build understanding. Competent cross-cultural leaders build trust to work with, not against someone. It is being cognizant that shifts negative behaviour patterns, making a truly inclusive one to embrace all cultures.
Leyla Okhai is the founding Director of Diverse Minds UK Ltd. Creating positively productive workplaces through training, coaching and consultancy. Diverse Minds centres on wellbeing, mental health and cultural communication. Using her 16 years’ experience as a trainer, coach, and mediator Leyla has developed effective tools to empower leadership teams. Leyla has implemented diversity and inclusion programmes for the world’s top universities as well as working with private sector on their strategies. Leyla speaks regularly on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and delivers training programmes across all sectors. Previously, Leyla was the Head of Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Imperial College London, for five years.
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