Mindful leadership in a multicultural environment – Part I

Leadership|Jenny Ebermann|Services|Everybody knows that our world seems to spin faster every day; distances become ‘smaller’ and suddenly a student in Norway can interact directly with peers in New Zealand through Social and other Digital Media. Space and time are not important anymore. Information and images can be transferred instantly. You want to know what a hotel is like in one part of the world: no problem, you will find all you need on the internet where many people already left their feedback on what you are looking for. The same applies for goods, products and other services which can rapidly be ordered, delivered, exchanged from one country to another. For the humans living in this world, remote spots on the planet suddenly moved directly into their living rooms through TV, PC or other supports. Nothing seems to have a secret anymore. Even travel has become affordable, meaning that everybody nowadays can visit any location for a correct price and in nearly no time.

The same principle applies to today’s workforce: nobody is bound to employment in their country of origin; applications and CVs can be posted everywhere on the net and connections made to recruiters worldwide. As a direct consequence, people from very different nationalities and backgrounds find themselves coexisting in one and the same office or workplace, not only in multinationals but also in SMEs and elsewhere. In the sports world for example, successful teams around the globe host players from various countries. Only one criteria counts: to be the best in the relevant discipline, no matter where the candidate comes from.

But: what at first glance seems to be exciting and simple, can become rather difficult in the day-to-day practice. Even though continents, languages and people have become ‘closer’ to one another, every single human being has its own culture, behaviour, pace and habits. As a result, business relationships have to take the cultural background of the different partners into account in order to ensure a fruitful collaboration. In short, nowadays a successful and mindful leader has to have much more competencies than social and technical skills. Intercultural competences are equally important and represent a huge challenge in multinational teams. Results are often affected and even hindered by irritation, embarrassment, resentment and conflicts within a team, problems emanating directly from cultural misunderstandings. How can such “disturbances” be overcome in order to establish a  friendly and effective work environment? How can international business be smoothly
conducted, even though people from different cultures are involved?

Leaders and HR often call upon specialised coaches to help them navigate the uncertain waters of intercultural management. How intercultural coaching and coaching in an intercultural management environment can be differentiated and how teams can be trained and coached to efficiently work together will be discussed in the next articles. Stay tuned!

About people skills and empathic leadership

In on of my last posts I have discussed how leadership can have a real impact on ‘human capital’ in a world that seems to rotate faster every day. As a conclusion, I said that every leader can make a real difference if he/she is able to create the conditions that allow qualified staff members to feel at ease at their workplace and identify with the corporate culture. But what does it take to “lead through example”? How can you foster the so important climate of trust and transparency, allowing for growth and personal satisfaction? I guess that there is no standard answer to this question as every person leads in a very particular way bringing distinct results to a specific type of situation.

For me personally, the most important skill set to have and to make use of when leading are the so called ‘people skills’. Whereas non-existent in many dictionaries, there are a number of definitions around such as: “the ability to communicate effectively with people in a friendly way, especially in business” [1] or:

  • “understanding ourselves and moderating our responses
  • talking effectively and empathizing accurately
  • building relationships of trust, respect and productive interactions.”[2]

Together with other social or interpersonal skills such as listening, communication etc., mastering people skills and even becoming a “people’s person”[3] will help you motivate and drive your employees achieving better results than ever before. In applying these skills to your day-to-day life, you will find that suddenly you will be leading simply with charisma and empathy and that there is actually no need to create an atmosphere and culture of fear as can be observed unfortunately in many enterprises nowadays, public and private sector alike.

Especially in matrix environments where leaders need to engage with members of “virtual teams”, who are not necessarily their direct reports and could be based anywhere in the world plus where communication happens mostly exclusively through e-mail, calls and video-conferences, social skills are more important than ever to achieve results and objectives.[4] In fact, the ability to create and foster quality networks, to ‘think outside of the box’ and to create a climate of exchange, knowledge sharing and trust while leading is of major importance for providing direction and innovation to any company. So while it is certainly not easy to build up relationships and interact closely with people, the loyalty and positive attitude that come out of these skills and leadership style are more than rewarding.

Many companies and enterprises though still need to acknowledge the importance of people skills and consequent leadership behaviors instead of relying solely on extrinsic motivation measures and tactics. If more people started to lead and manage this way, work place happiness and work-life balance would certainly see a major improvement… to be continued!

[2] Portland Business Journal by Harriet Rifkin: http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/2002/06/03/focus6.html

[3] Oxford Online Dictionary: “a person who enjoys or is particularly good at interacting with others”

[4] Also compare with : Rick Lash: “Leadership Essentials for the matrix environment”, http://www.greatleadershipbydan.com/2012/06/leadership-essentials-for-matrix.html?m=1

Strategy or no strategy, that’s the question

Nowadays many people are asking why time should be lost at writing or even thinking about strategies: nobody reads them and sooner rather than later if not directly, they will find their way to the bin. Well, the simple answer here is that most of the people simply don’t understand what a strategy is and what it does. Not only is a strategy an ideal way to put your thoughts into a structured framework and make them more tangible; no, it also gives you a powerful tool at hand that will help you sell your ideas and plans in a very professional and successful manner.

Let me explain this to you: imagine you are asked to drive a new product launch and all you have are highly interesting and valid but loosely tied bits and pieces of your product managers, your marketing people and your engineers. How are you going to convince your customers – let alone your internal stakeholders who are first on the list to be aligned – of the added value of your product if there is no thread, no thoroughly reflected and grounded path and no story? Well, it’s difficult…

On the other hand, even if every single milestone you undertake while writing a strategy, will confront you inevitably with new questions, issues and problems, this will only allow you to dig deeper and to find out the true value proposition that will create the ‘wow’ effect in your customer’s eyes. So yes, time consuming it is, but in the end, the outcome rewards all efforts!

Let’s take a quick look at how a strategic document could be structured (only general categories are reproduced here, in practice, many more of course exist):

1. Current Situation/Background

2. Alignment to Global or Segment Strategy

4. General Objectives (qualitative/quantitative)

3. Specific Objectives

– Long term objectives (could be external or internal)

– Short term objectives (could be external or internal)

4. Target Markets and Audiences

5. Analysis of competition (how are they positioned, how do they communicate?)

6. Communication Plan (including the appropriate comms. vehicles and key messages)

7. Evaluating Success

8. Tactical calendar

9. Budget

If you follow this simple guideline also involving if possible your mangers in the thought process (this obviously includes summarizing and structuring what you have received from your colleagues or reaching out to them), you will have all the pre-requisites for a successful launch, introduction or campaign. Not only will you generate the buzz and buy-in you need internally to get things done, but your external appearance on the market will also be a true experience and hence a success. Try it and you won’t be disappointed!