If you believe you know what your reports expect from you, think again: as the leader of an international team, or an expatriate leading a local team in your host country you may be quite surprised by what you don’t know.
In this post I’ll share with you the interesting results from a global survey, as well as a few examples of what employees from three different nationalities expect from their managers.
André Laurent, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at INSEAD Business School in Paris surveyed thousands of employees in different countries, asking the question: “Is it important for a manager to have at hand precise answers to most of the questions that his subordinates may raise about their work?“
Following is a chart that summarizes the answers:
As you can see, in Italy 66% of employees expect their managers to have most of the answers, compared to the USA, where only 18% of people believe it is important.
What does this mean in practice?
It means that as a leader, if you don’t have the answers to a specific problem, many of your Italian reports may start doubting your competence, because they believe that a manager should be an expert in their field. A US American report, instead, will generally find it ok that you don’t have the answer, because most Americans tend to believe that being a good leader does not mean having all the technical answers. Based on this belief, your American report may offer unsolicited feedback on the issue as well as suggestions, with the good intention of helping the project to move forward. However, if you were an Italian leader, you might be upset by your American report’s behaviour, believing that s/he is indirectly telling you that you are incompetent!
Different cultures, different expectations
Following are a few examples of what reports from Sweden, China and Italy expect from their managers. These are generalizations of course, since each person is not only influenced by their culture but also by their own personality and character, but the examples provides a rather reliable picture of what is more common in these cultures.
They expect you to treat them as equals and that you seek their feedback and opinion during meetings and when making decisions. They expect you to hide your emotions and to behave with humility rather than to boast about your achievements. The keyword for Swedes is ‘lagom‘, which translates into ‘just about enough, not too much‘.
They expect you to give them clear directions and orders that relate to short-term goals, since they are not used to working towards longer-term objectives and in autonomy. They see themselves as part of a group, and do not expect that you ask for their individual opinion during meetings.
They expect you to make decisions without asking for their opinion, and at the same time that you value their competence. This is due to the fact that they respect power and authority, but are also individualistic and competitive. They also expect you to be flexible when it comes to processes, implementing strategies, and deadlines.
Global leadership effectivess requires a global skill set. It is easy to assume that people all share similar views on what is important, right or wrong. However, these views depend largely on the culture(s) they grew up in, because what people have learnt has become the norm to them. By becoming aware of cultural differences you can understand the behaviour of your foreign reports better, find more effective ways to engage them, and create synergies that benefit all parties involved.
Click here to read the 5 key abilities of highly effective global leaders.
As a global leader, for example as an expatriate or manager working with international teams, sooner or later you will be confronted with situations that leave you disoriented and frustrated. Besides the emotional charge, such situations can have a strong impact on performance and business results.
In this article you will learn why a German executive failed in South Korea, and what could have helped him to succeed instead.
Dietmar was a highly experienced Sales Director with a successful track record in Germany and France. When his German company sent him to South Korea on a 3-year expatriate assignment to increase sales in the Far East, he was excited and confident. However, his confidence sank rapidly. His Korean team proved to be passive and uncooperative, and whenever he tried to engage his reports, for example by asking for their opinions during meetings, he only saw quiet nods or uninterested glances. Sales stagnated, team morale was down, and after struggling for 1 and 1/2 years, Dietmar was requested to interrupt his assignment and to return to Germany.
What had gone wrong?
Dietmar’s intentions were good, he had a deep knowledge of sales, and was an experienced leader. However, he failed because he lacked the intercultural effectiveness that would have been crucial for the assignment’s success:
- He failed to communicate with his Korean team in a way that would earn their trust and respect.
- He failed to adapt his professional skills (both technical and managerial) to fit local conditions and constraints.
- He failed to adjust personally. He was stressed, and spent most of his leisure time with other expats.
What he would have needed instead
In order to maximize his team’s potential and to turn his international assignment into a success for everyone involved, he would have needed to pay more attention to the following five key abilities that distinguish highly effective global leaders:
1. Pull Competencies:
The ability to attract people from other cultures towards you, through an open mind and flexibility. This expands your readiness to find ways to collaborate.
2. Push Competencies:
The ability to drive forward your proposals and to focus on goals without distractions, even in physically and emotionally challenging situations.
3. Active Communication:
The ability to listen actively, to understand how you are being perceived by others, and to ensure that the other person has clearly received, understood, and accepted your message.
4. Cultural Knowledge:
The curiosity and ability to gather important information about other person’s culture, including values, beliefs, assumptions and rules. This helps you to understand your stakeholders’ behaviour, make better decisions, and manage your feelings.
5. Leadership across cultures:
The ability to influence global stakeholders by finding out who holds power, by building relationships, and by adapting one’s own communication and leadership style to achieve results, while remaining authentic.
It seems that Dietmar focused mostly on pushing his goals forward (ability no. 2). By bringing more attention to the other abilites, he would have understood his reports’ behaviour and could have found better ways to build trust and engage them successfully.
Highly effective global leaders know how to balance the above abilities depending on the different and unique contexts they work in. When thinking of your current international role, which of these 5 abilities do you tend to focus more on? Which ones do you put less attention on? What would change if you invested more energy in these ones?
Giving feedback is considered an essential tool for improving employee performance and productivity, in the assumption that if people know how they are doing and what they need to change, they will get better. Many organizations spend a lot of money to train their leaders to provide effective feedback.
Giving feedback puts the leader in the challenging and uncomfortable position of judging the employee’s work. Even though feedback is work-related, in most cases it is taken personally, no matter how it is delivered. Therefore, the leader has to communicate what she finds important, ensuring that it does not demotivate the employee, and thus worsen performance.
When working with people from other cultures the challenge becomes even bigger, because what executives learnt about effective feedback in their home country can lead to a disaster when applied to people who are used to a completely different communication style. For example, a German executive who had been sent to Indonesia to improve efficiency at the company’s manufacturing plant in Jakarta actually produced the opposite results, putting the plant at risk. When he learnt how to adapt his style and started using a different approach, local employees started improving performance and productivity.
An alternative to feedback
Feed-back is focused on the past. Based on the assumption that we cannot change the past, but only the future, we can use the approach that top athletes use: instead of focusing on past mistakes, we can focus our attention on the desired outcome we want to create in our future. With this in mind, an effective alternative to giving feed-back is giving feed-forward.
I learnt about ‘Feedforward’ from an awesome teacher, Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s top leadership thinkers and Executive Coaches. I love this approach, and my clients and workshop participants love it too because they find it fun, empowering, and highly effective.
How Feedforward works
As opposed to Feedback, Feedforward is focused on giving suggestions for the future. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way, you can ‘cover the same points’ without feeling uncomfortable or making your employee feel bad.
For example, instead of telling your co-worker that she did an awful presentation (which only reinforces her humiliation and a sense of failure), you can give her concrete suggestions on how to do a great presentation next time. Marshall Goldsmith suggests saying something like:
“Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.“
Can you see the difference in such an approach, compared to classical feedback? What becomes possible?
Providing feedback (or feedforward) are powerful influencing tools. Now think of your own leadership role: What would be the benefits of using this approach in your own work?
I’d love to read your comments!
Why should your co-workers do what you ask them to do? Of course, you could expect them to do it simply because you are the boss. Or because your project is so important, and you assume that everyone sees it that way. Or because you ask so nicely, and think that no one can resist. How often have people said ‘yes’, but in the end did things half-heartedly, or not at all?
In this blog post you will learn:
- Why people do what they do
- The key to getting what you want from your co-workers
- How to turn theory into practice
1. Why people do what they
People do things for their own reasons, not your reasons. Think about it: whenever you do something, you do it primarily because it matters to you, either out of fear, or because you get something in return that is pleasant or valuable to you – even if it is just a smile.The same applies to your team members, your colleagues or your boss. The challenge arises when you want something that matters to you that, however, is insignificant to them.
So how do you go about it?
2. The key to getting what you want from your co-workers
The key to influencing people is to connect what you want with interests, reasons, values, beliefs and commitments that matter to him or her.
For example, if you want your colleague to join you for Thai food, and only talk about your craving for Thai food, you may end up eating alone. However, if you talk about things that matter to her, such as her passion for trying something new, her love for spicy food, or her desire to leave the office, you have much better chances of influencing her to join you.
Think about yourself. Do you remember a time in which you were enthusiastic about a project? Do you remember the energy and passion you felt for it? I bet you had no troubles motivating yourself to work on it. Well, the same applies to your staff. The more you connect the work of your team members to their passions, their goals and aspirations, the more likely you will be to engage them.
3. How to turn theory into practice
Understanding the other person is key. That’s why taking the time to get to know and understand the people you work with is so important. This is even more critical when you work with people from unfamiliar cultures: their beliefs, work habits, and sometimes even their work ethics may collide with your own beliefs and values, making it even more difficult for you to influence and engage them.
What makes YOU feel engaged in your work? When was the last time you took time to understand your reports, a colleague, or your boss? How did that help you?
If this blog post has helped you, please share your thoughts and comments below. Thank you!
P.S. Are you an Expat Executive or a Global Business Leader?
You can find a complete step-by-step process for engaging the global stakeholders who are key to your success in ‘The Insider’s Guide for Expat Executives’. Get your free copy here.
A US American executive had been sent to Germany as an EMEA Finance Director. I’ll call her Mary. Her team was spread out across Europe and the Middle East, and most of their communications were via email. Mary was complaining that some members of her team were not replying her emails, and when she met them in person, some of them were cold or even rude. Mary was thinking that they were questioning her authority, and was upset about it. As a matter of fact, some team members considered Mary arrogant and bossy.
By looking at Mary’s email communications, the reason for the troubles started becoming more clear. For example, one of her emails to an Italian report read more or less as follows:
The presentation is incomplete. You want to include 1) X, 2) Y, and 3) Z and send it to Julia for review.
Since the salutation was missing, Antonio thought he was being reproached, as if he were a kid who had been caught stealing candies. He reported thinking: ‘How can Mary know what I want? That’s what SHE wants’. Antonio had some good reasons for not including XYZ in the presentation, and argued that there was no need for his boss to tell him exactly what he needed to do, he wasn’t dumb.
Why this happened
US Americans tend to be task-oriented, straight-forward and clear in their communications. They respect other people’s time and keep communications short. By giving clear explanations, they want to make it easy for others to understand what they want. Often, they send emails without any salutation because they believe they are being open and informal.
However, this collides with many southern European and Middle Eastern’s cultures that are more relationship-oriented. In those cultures, people gladly invest some more time in building and nurturing mutually beneficial collaborations. Their emails tend to be longer, always include some sort of salutation such as ‘Dear‘ or ‘Hi‘, and often begin by showing some sort of interest in the other person, such as ‘How are you?’.
The end result
When Mary and her team became aware of how their cultural differences were influencing their interactions (and ultimately business results), they started understanding what was actually driving their own behaviour. They started becoming more tolerant, and also more mindful about their approaches. This helped them to improve their communication, and to build a stronger cohesion.
Our intentions do not always correspond to the impact we are having on others. In a multi-cultural working environment this happens more often than we may be aware of: while we believe we are doing the right things, we may actually be creating an explosive chain reaction.
If you would like to learn how to influence (positively!) the people you work with in your international role, read ‘The Insider’s Guide of Expat Executives’. It shows you a simple 5-step process that helps you to inspire your multicultural team, your boss, and decision-makers in the Headquarters to help you succeed.