February 8, 2016
Out of good intentions and for the sake of efficiency, business travellers are often shielded from dealing with cultural challenges. Dinners are arranged with local colleagues who ensure everything runs smoothly, assistants organize flights and hotels, ensure that we are picked up at the airport, are ferried to and from meetings or back to hotels.
This is also true for most working expats. The companies we work for shield us from unnecessary frustrations, take care of accommodation searches, help with schools, relocation and shipments, perhaps even provide intercultural training – ‘which we have no real need for’ as the ‘cultural differences we encounter have little impact on us.’
Yet we are often left frustrated in overseas roles. What we achieve at home doesn’t seem as easy to deliver in our foreign assignments. In the worst-case scenarios this even leads to employees returning to their home country prematurely.
Sat in a hotel café in Chennai, India today, I am opposite a local MD who has led exactly this type of expat experience. He has worked all over the world for years and yet has never removed the rose tinted glass. He has been buffered.
What he doesn’t realise is that these buffers have been preventing him from meeting international challenges head-on. As a result he has never been given the opportunity to develop the global competences he needs to succeed. His project managers have confirmed this to me as they have been highlighting his competencies during the training I have been providing them.
As the coffee is being served the MD is explaining that his management style is one of proven effectiveness, a Danish leadership style. He delegates a task or a project to a subordinate without too many details expecting them to appreciate figuring out what to do and how. The project managers in India however explain the same experience differently. They see this style of leadership as lacking presence and guidance.
During my training sessions the project managers have respectfully discussed what follows when the MD returns on the given deadline date to find out that the job has not been done. ‘The MD will then yell and scream’, which seems unfair when little direction is provided.
So here I am sat describing this scenario to the MD and silence reigns. The MD then surprises me a little. As uncomfortable as the conversation was, he realises that he needs to understand more and starts asking me searching questions. He knows he needs to take this one step further and meet with the project managers. The buffers need to come off and he needs to experience the cultural differences first hand if he wants to adapt to the local leadership style in Chennai, India.
If you too want to develop global competencies you need to seek out an unsheltered first-hand experience, where you have to deal directly with the cultural differences and the impact of them. For this MD understanding this will ensure an accelerated path down the road to global competencies.
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