We all make mistakes in life. This is simply a part of being human. The key to making mistakes is to make sure we do not turn a blind eye to the lessons to be learned they offer. It is one thing to make a mistake in a domestic environment where communication, norms, and business culture is relatively standardized. Yet, these same mistakes are greatly magnified when working as a leader of an international or foreign team. Therefore, it is even more vital that people in international leadership roles recognize and learn from their mistakes.
Tip 1: Direct Communication
Often times in an international role there will be a language barrier that will need to be dealt with. While English will likely be the working language, it is important not to assume that everyone’s English level is at an exceptional level. It is almost a guarantee that there will eventually be misunderstandings due to items getting lost in translation. This emphasizes the importance of direct and specific communication within your team. Take the time to speak to that person face to face and make sure that they understand their role. Unlike working with a domestic team one may be able to simply send an email, working with an international team will likely require more time and effort. The key idea here is to not assume anything is understood. Take the initiative to meet with people one on one and encourage them to ask questions while addressing any uncertainty.
Tip 2: Intercultural Competence
It is important to understand that we must learn how to treat people the way they want to be treated. As successful international leaders, we need to understand the importance of displaying intercultural competence. According to Welcomm.eu, “Intercultural competence is the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behavior and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions.” As we break this definition down into we first have to develop the necessary knowledge specific to our team. The best way to do this is by reading books. One great one to start with is “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer. Once we gather the necessary knowledge, we now have to put it into action via behavior and communication. For example, in Asian cultures, the concept of a hierarchy is greatly present along with having a very high-context corporate structure. This means that communication is often very indirect with very little feedback or backlash from employees. This means that one must develop a feel for the situation and search for answers rather than receiving them directly such as in the USA or in most European countries. The Asian’s refer to this idea as “Reading the Air.”
Tip 3: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
I have learned that one of the most effective ways to earn respect amongst foreign colleagues is to humble yourself while being open and willing to try new things. It is important for international leaders to avoid the trap of becoming biased toward our own upbringing and cultural norms. Don’t be afraid to show your knowledge and appreciation for another culture. This could be something as simple as learning a few phrases in a foreign language that you can surprise your team with. This shows that you are a caring person, brings about some humor, and your team will certainly appreciate & respect your efforts. One of the greatest sins we can commit as an international leader is to show arrogance towards other cultures. Show appreciation for other cultures and even point out a few aspects that you really admire about them. Actions such as these will surely go a long way in gaining respect and overall team chemistry.