What your foreign reports expect from you

By Myriam Callegarin • September 10th, 2013

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.

The survey

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.

  • Swedish employees:

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‘.

  • Chinese employees:

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.

  • Italian employees:

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.

Conclusions

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.

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