Culture is powerful. It’s central to what we see, how we make sense of our world, and how we express ourselves. When people from different cultural backgrounds work together, values often conflict. At times that we don’t understand each other we react in ways that make relationships less effective. We are often not aware that cultural differences are the cause of miscommunication and ineffective work practices. Global leadership needs to be different.

Global Leadership

As leaders in a global world we cannot deny the realities of cultural diversity. Global leaders realise that we have to understand the implications of our multicultural society, or we won’t be effective. But how do we achieve that with global leadership?

Working in multicultural or global environments is very challenging but it is also very difficult to explain to others what the differences are. Most often it is not the “food, fashion, famous people, festivals, and flags.” Strategies and preferred ways of leading in other settings may not translate well in a global setting.The rules of engagement understood by one group or culture may not be relevant to another. We look for the obvious signs, conflicts or differences but sometimes the differences are far more subtle than that.

Let’s explore some examples:

Avoiding Culture Conflicts 

Global leaders work across diverse cultural groups, managing, persuading, negotiating and leading as the core business of what they do. They face situations or incidents in which key priorities, values or beliefs may conflict. Sometimes the cultural conflict is glaring but most often the differences are subtle and easy to miss. It might be what motivates, what makes something a priority or just the way of doing something. As you feel tension, confusion or angst you should at first pause and consider what alternative explanations might exist. Assume first that everyone is working in the very best shared interest and with the very best of intention. Unpack the problem with a “glass half full” mindset.

Assumptions and Generalisations

It is natural to make generalisations about other cultures but when we allow these generalisations to become stereotypes we are oversimplify these ideas and understandings about other people. The best use of a generalisation is to use it as a foundation to create better understanding and to identify the most suitable strategies to use in common situations. We need to realise however that human beings are multifaceted and more complex than generalisations might imply.

Leadership Effectiveness

Adapting Your Own Behaviours 

Global leaders need to be aware of the role that culture plays in their own identity. Cultural assumptions and behaviours shape us too. These characteristics influence our own thinking as well as our choice of behaviours, plans of action and organisational strategies. Our own cultural filters cannot limit our choices and actions to only one paradigm or way of thinking. It is not your country or culture. You cannot change it. You need to change. You need to be more perceptive flexible and adaptive. Global leaders need to be highly skilled at accurately reading people and situations. We need to adjust personal behaviours to reflect the situation and be more effective.

Common Ground and Shared Goals

Global leadership needs to find ways to find common ground and shared goals while honouring cultural differences in work practice. Global leaders must be able to understand and appreciate the different cultural perspectives that might exist but create alignment around the work goals and mission. The common purpose and objective might have the same name but actually reflect very different goals or meaning.

Managing the Relationship Between Headquarters and Local Stakeholders 

A significant challenge for global leadership is to understand and manage the tensions between a central or global headquarters and regional or local teams. We need to consider and balance the times when local needs, customs, regulations, practices or markets drive decisions in contrast with central missions. A mission from headquarters needs to be contextualised at the local level. Global leaders need to constantly navigate adjust and adapt for the local context.

Communicating Across Barriers 

The importance of communication in all settings can not be underestimated however it is even more important across multicultural settings. The barriers do not come only from language but also the culture of the communicate mediums, conventions and filters that might confuse the accuracy of messages. Effective global leaders must learn to overcome geographic, culture and language barriers. They need to respect that what they say, how it is heard and also how they interpret messages from others are all at risk. Direct translation might communicate words but not meaning or intent. Even the subtle choices of words in the same language can adjust meaning or intent significantly. Don’t assume that there is one right way to communicate. Keep questioning your assumptions about the “right way” to communicate. For example, think about your body language; postures that indicate receptivity in one culture might indicate aggressiveness in another. Checking for understanding at the deepest of levels is essential.

Operational and External forces 

Global leaders and their organisations must understand all of the factors that will influence their work including government, legal, historical and economic matters. These very concrete factors impact on the way organisations function and global leaders must accept that these factors are most often outside of their control. There is no point being frustrated about matters we have little control over. We must work within these boundaries. Beyond the policies and systems there may also be a “way of doing things” and conventions that are unofficially non-negotiable to get things done.

Leaders can’t be prepared for every situation, every cultural setting, every challenge. Global leaders need to be effective outside of familiar settings and they need to think and act in new ways. To be frank, global leadership in multicultural settings requires a a completely different set of conventions and skills.

Global Leadership – A New Paradigm

Globalisation has created opportunities but also big challenges as businesses struggle to adapt to new paradigms of leadership. Previously established, tried and tested approaches may not be as effective or might even be destructive in a global context. New leaders in international environments need to determine what new skills they need to adopt in order to maximise their success in a global environment. There are some values, beliefs and practices that will be the same but in many ways they need to think differently and see their work environments through a new lens.

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CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

Check out his recent podcast

Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.