Intercultural Leadership is challenging. Everyone who has tried to manage a group of people from diverse cultures can confirm that. That can be people from different departments, different profession groups, different age groups, different nationalities etc. Since we started Gugin in 2001 we have been working with all sorts of intercultural leadership challenges, so in this short article I will try to summarise some of the major, generic challenges we have faced
Intercultural Leadership definition
If you google intercultural leadership you will find thousands of definitions We like to stick with this definition
We don’t want to go into a long discussion about the differences between leadership and management here especially not when intercultural competencies are the main focus.
Unpredictable behaviour in Intercultural Leadership
We all have different values, different priorities in life and different understanding of what each word means. Quality, for example, is by some people associated with delivering on time, while others associate it with being perfect, beautiful or robust. We always say we want the highest quality delivered on time, but we all know that reality often is very different. We have to compromise. We have to either deliver an 80% solution on time or give up delivering on time. The intercultural leadership challenge is that we have different preferences for what is important.
Example: Intercultural leadership in IT outsourcing
We have worked with quite a few clients who were frustrated about that the companies they had outsourced their IT development project too. The frustration related to intercultural leadership develops if the company prioritises delivering on time while the company they have outsourced to prioritises perfection about delivering on time. Both values are important but when you can’t achieve both you have to prioritise. From a intercultural leadership perspective, this is very challenging. We assume we prioritise the same way, understand words like “quality” the same way and communicate the same way. But we don’t.
So suddenly we experience other people behave and prioritise in ways we don’t understand. If we are less experienced with these intercultural challenges we get frustrated maybe even angry. If we have a higher level of cultural intelligence we assess the differences in the underlying values and will try to reconcile these differences and find a solution that enriches having different value sets in play.
Compromising intercultural values
Our behaviour is closely linked to our underlying values and norms. As we have different norms and values because of differences in cultures leads to different behaviours. According to ourselves we always behave properly because our behaviour always reflects our own values – even when we do something cruel. Intercultural clashes happen when other people’s behaviour compromises our own values. It happens all the time. You may have a value about giving up your seat on the bus to an elderly man, while others do not share that value. When an elderly person comes on the bus and no one gives him a seat you will feel offended – because your values are compromised.
Some years ago I moved from Denmark to southern France. I use to have a coffee at the same cafe every morning when walking the dog. In the beginning, I noticed that the regulars got a small Pain Au Chocolat together with their coffee, while I just got the coffee. I could feel offended. Why do they get better treatment than me – we are all equal. At least that is how the cultural norms are in Denmark. Everyone is treated equally bad and no one should think he is somebody special. In France it is different and that is one of the reasons why I love living here. By coming to the same cafe often you build a relationship and you show loyalty. That loyalty is rewarded with a small Pain Au Chocolat together with your coffee. If I was not aware of the differences in the underlying values, I could have made a scene ( what some tourists do sometimes). There are different values in different cultures and we are not to judge which ones are right. They are all right in the cultural frame, where they exist.
In business dealing with compromising values is an important issue to reconcile. As I wrote before – norms and values are closely tied to a culture. The norms and values you have in your organisation support your corporate culture, so when you employ new people, outsource to external companies or hire in-house subcontractors you have to make sure that they share your norms and values.
How do you check norms and values?
First, you have to be very aware of your own culture. In Gugin we call that the cultural DNA and we describe that Cultural DNA through our Cultural Due Diligence Process which goes through all the elements of your culture and make the diffuse term “culture” more tangible by looking at all the measurable elements in the cultural DNA.
Difficult to perform as a manager without intercultural competencies
Many of the managers we talk to find intercultural leadership annoying and difficult. Managing culturally diverse groups is difficult and challenging because decision processes take much longer time, you have to explain everything and you never know what is going to happen. The managers don’t respond this way because they are narrow-minded or don’t acknowledge that we are living in a globalised world.
They respond this way because they find it difficult to perform well as a manager in that situation because they lack skills and experience in cross-cultural leadership. The managers have to meet deadlines, deliver high quality within the budgets. They can only do that in a multicultural environment if they know how to manage, motivate, encourage and communicate with a team of people with many different values. That is why developing cultural intelligence is crucial for most organisations.
Managing a culturally diverse team is like eating with a knife and a fork. They are two very distinct tools, but because you have the cultural intelligence that enables you to use the knife in one way and the fork in another – at the same time you can eat a huge variety of food.
As annoying it might be working with a diverse group of people it is equally rewarding when you succeed and you experience how much better multicultural teams are when all the members understand the basic elements of cultural intelligence.
You might also like this
Book Dr Finn Majlergaard for a thought-provoking and energising speech or workshop on how you can create competitive advantage from elevating the level of cultural intelligence in your organisation
Executive Summary IATA forecasts passenger demand to double over 20 Years with the fastest-growing markets in Asia and Sub-saharan Africa. This is no surprise that the emerging and frontier market economies account for the biggest growth in the near future. This is...
This post is about employee satisfaction. More specifically about why it is so hard to achieve and why we continuously continue to do all the wrong things to increase employee satisfaction. My motivation to write this post comes from many of our clients, who don't...
Learn how to calculate the competitive advantage derived from cultural diversity, cultural intelligence and innovation.
#competitiveadvantage #innovation #diversity #leadership
Politicians use it all the time, Business executives use it, Parents use it too - the word; compromise. We learn to compromise because we are told this is what we have to do when different values or interests collide. And we are proud when we have managed to seek a...
Why leaving Facebook is the right thing to do This article is about why I closed my Facebook account 2 months ago and why I feel it is one of the best decisions I have made in a very long time I actually started writing this article before Facebook fell down from the...