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Do Your Leaders Need Cultural Awareness or Global Leader Capability

Do your leaders need Cultural Awareness or Global Leader Capability If you’re operating in a global environment, it’s probably both.  But investing in Global Leadership Capability may get you further, faster.  I was recently talking with a colleague tasked with increasing the leadership capability of global teams (i.e., teams based in one country, and working with individuals in other countries).  To accomplish this, the first request she received was for Cultural Awareness Training to help them better understand the cultures of their colleagues.  While Cultural training certainly has its benefits, I recommend first focusing on the development of Global Leader Capabilities.  Global Leader Capabilities are competencies and characteristics that are associated with higher performance and success rates for leaders in global and/or expatriate roles1.  Many of these competencies are not country or culture-specific.  As a result, they form a foundation onto which leaders can build their cultural awareness. Global roles are complex, exciting, challenging, and rewarding.  Are there differences in how leader behaviors are viewed across cultures?  Absolutely4.  But giving your leaders confidence that there are also capabilities that can help them succeed across cultures is critical in building their resilience and ability to win in today’s environment. So the next time you’re tasked with improving the leadership capability of a global team, start hiring for and building competency in the global leadership capabilities known to work in diverse situations.  And by the way, these behaviors work for leaders in non-global roles too since cultural differences are ubiquitous within organizations, teams, regions, and families.  Below are just a few competencies to get you started. Stay Curious:  Staying curious is the ability to seek understanding while suspending judgment in the process.  Mendenhall and colleagues called this “Nonjudgmentalness“ and defined it as being “inclined to withhold or suspend judgment about persons or situations or behavior that is new or unfamiliar” (Mendenhall et al., 2008, p. 8).   Some believe this may be the single most important competency for successful global leadership.  By suspending judgement, the individual creates an opportunity to observe and learn a great deal about context and culture that will help them in future encounters.  While there are certainly ingrained aspects to a leader’s curiosity, there are also behaviors that leaders can learn and practice.  And you don’t have to wait for a global role to begin; you can practice curiosity today.     

Make it Practical: As you prepare for your next meeting (whether it’s with your client, your employee, your manager, or your child), spend time thinking of great questions, rather than great answers.  Write down your list of questions, and then ask yourself, “what is my intention and unspoken assumption behind each question?”.  Choose questions that are open and don’t presume a certain reality or response.  Once your intentions are clear and unassuming, your questions will follow, and the answers may surprise you and provide insight for your next leadership action. Vision:  Ken Blanchard stated that “leadership is about going somewhere.”2  Teams around the world value leaders who are able to articulate where the team is going3.  And this is especially important amidst complex multi-country landscapes.  People want to know a leader’s vision of the future and their ideas and strategies for how the team will get there. 

Make it Practical: Ensure your organization and team missions and visions have been decided upon, written down, and shared with each member of the team in a way that they can ask questions and understand.   Want to assess where you are in this area?  At the beginning of a meeting, ask each team member to write down the organization and team mission and vision anonymously.  Collect, assess, and likely, prepare to re-communicate.  Teams and strategies are always evolving - you can rarely say it too many times. Concern for Others:  Around the world, people want to work with leaders that demonstrate genuine concern for their welfare.  While the way this concern is demonstrated may vary, investing the time to build quality relationships is universally appreciated. Even in formal cultures, where relationships may take longer to build, having strong relationships remains critical to success.  Relationship building is also beneficial for the leader’s growth in their role.  Reverse mentoring can be a helpful resource for the leader in developing a more robust and nuanced understanding of the culture and team he or she is leading. 

Make it Practical:  Start with listening.  For your next one-on-one interaction, avoid the laundry list of topics and endless talking points.  Instead, limit yourself to 1-2 critical topics to ensure the other person has ample time to understand and respond.  This is especially important when working with individuals with a native language different than your own.  Remove the pressure for accomplishing ‘big things’ in initial meetings.  Relationships in some cultures are built over months and years, not days.  So instead, take a deep breath, focus on the other person, listen, and learn about their concerns.  This will in turn inform how you can best guide and support them in accomplishing the strategy.  And doesn’t that feel better anyway?    

References:      1Grove, C. N. (2005).  Leadership style variations across cultures:  Overview of GLOBE research findings.  Retrieved June 2016 from:      1Mendenhall, M. Stevens, M. J., Bird, A., & Oddou, G. R. (2008). Specification of the content domain of the Global Competencies Inventory.   The Kozai Working Paper Series.  Retrieved June 2016 from      1Stevens, M., Bird, A., Mendenhall, M., & Oddou, G. (2014).   Measuring Global Leader Intercultural Competency:  Development and Validation of the Global Competencies Inventory (GCI). In Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 8, 115 – 154.  Eds. Joyce Osland, Ming Li, and Ying Wang.       1Winsborough, D. and Hogan, R. (2014).  Evaluating Global Leadership: Does Culture Matter? In Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 8, 45 – 65.  Eds. Joyce Osland, Ming Li, and Ying Wang.       2Blanchard, K. H., & Ken Blanchard Companies. (2007). Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations. P 17.  Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Prentice Hall.      3Anupam, A. & Rock, C. (2014).  Global leaders in east and west:  Do all global leaders lead in the same way?  In Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 8, 155-179.  Eds. Joyce Oslad, Ming Li, & Ying Wang.          4Grove, C. N. (2005).  Leadership style variations across cultures:  Overview of GLOBE research findings.  Retrieved June 2016 from:

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