Preparing to Lead Cross-Cultural Teams (Part 2)

Monthly Archives: December 2013

Preparing to Lead Cross-Cultural Teams (Part 2)

Image credit: suphakit73 / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: suphakit73 / 123RF Stock Photo

CULTURE MYTH #2: My technical expertise will help me succeed – after all, that’s why they’ve selected me.

This is the second blog post in this mini-series on cultural myths which talks about gauging your success in cross-cultural engagement.

At first glance, the notion of a global leader is someone who has the knowledge to comprehend the many details of international accounting and financial practices; to have the skills to deal with the multifaceted operations of global supply chain management; or to be able to handle the complex process of a merger and acquisition.  While it is critical to possess the functional business skills necessary to do business in the global business environment, functional skills in and of themselves are not enough.

A global leader today must be able to readily adapt to change in an ambiguous environment and deal with the complexity that comes with interpersonal relationships.  Global leadership means that a person possesses intercultural competence, also known as CQ, or cultural intelligence.  Cultural intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors of others while simultaneously adapting your behavior according to that knowledge.

Another common misconception is that successful leadership skills practiced in one’s own culture are naturally transferable when applied in another cultural setting.  We learn of many cross-border deals and negotiations that fall flat simply because not enough due diligence has been performed or key players are unable to adapt readily to the challenges found in cross-cultural relations – even though such high performers may have performed well with their previous assignment. Current management research has shown that there are many differences involved in the transfer of such leadership capabilities because what may be meaningful and appropriate in one context could be insulting and improper in another based upon the cultural norms for living.

Let’s say you are experienced working in Brazil and you are comfortable with the expressiveness of the Brazilian culture regarding personal space and physical touch, understanding that the abrazo, or embrace upon greeting someone, is important in developing personal trust.  You now have the opportunity to do business in Dubai and you are aware that – between men – there is also some form of physical interaction when greeting.  It is not enough to transfer the meaning of what happens in one culture directly to another.  While this is a rather simplistic, low risk example, the point is rather profound.  Simply being aware of the importance of physical space and touch in the process of developing relationships is not enough.

Why? One must do her or his due diligence to understand the reasons for why the norms of a culture are what they are. It is important to have confidence in one’s functional expertise but to also possess  both the awareness and the knowledge of what is needed to succeed in different cultural situations.

In the next post I’ll discuss assimilating to a new cultural context.