The leaders of today’s organisations and businesses need to be adept at managing people of different cultures. They need to be able to grasp the essence of each culture quickly, because culture is so important in shaping customer or employee behaviour. Leaders must also learn to shape culture (at least that in their own organisations) so that it is positive, and aligned with the direction the organization is taking.
For those looking to the subject and wanting some quick tips on how to improve their intercultural leadership qualities, the following simple tips can get you on your way.
1. Learn about the cultures of people that you work and interact with. Start from scratch and forget your assumptions and stereotypes. There are many free online resources.
2. Get a book about intercultural communication and learn about the subject from an academic level. Noted academics such as Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars and David Hall have all published books that will go a long way in unraveling the intricacies of cultural differences.
3. Take some formal training from intercultural experts. For very little outlay a day course can go a long way in helping you understand how culture impacts you and your work.
4. Try and attend events or occasions where you can submerge yourself in another culture. Use the opportunity to observe how people communicate and interact with one another. If you get the chance to travel abroad do the same when there.
5. Start listening and paying more attention when dealing with someone from another culture. You will be surprised how much you pick up by slowing down. Don’t jump to conclusions and think actions and behaviours through.
6. Temper your own communication style. Pay attention to the rate at which you speak, what non-verbal messages you may be sending, ask for confirmation of understanding, avoid using slang and idioms.
7. Learn to tolerate uncertainty. There will be a great deal of unknowns when doing business across cultures. Definitive, concrete answers may not always be given. Focus on what you can determine and try to let go of minor details that are unclear.
8. Be patient with others and yourself. Don’t give-up. A proper intercultural library of knowledge only comes with time.
9. Keep on top of your own development. Continually assess your advancement and make adjustments.
10. Ask for help and don’t be afraid to apologize for mistakes. People generally are appreciative that you are trying to understand them.
The path to effective intercultural leadership is long but not hard. Essentially it is about opening your mind with which comes greater flexibility and creativity. You will soon see results in your new leadership approach as you become able to communicate naturally with all manner of cultures in your sphere of work.
Neil Payne is Managing Director and Middle East trainer at the London based consultancy Kwintessential. For more information on their services please visit the Intercultural Training website. http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/