According to Thomas Freidman, the world is flattening and globalization is rampant. In order to be successful in this environment, executives must be well versed in communicating and operating within a variety of cultural contexts. Many global executives do their due diligence before embarking on an international assignment. They attend cross-cultural trainings with one objective in mind: obtain a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to be as effective as possible in overcoming future challenges abroad. This list, however, would probably be more useful as a cocktail napkin on their international flight. Just because one knows the “right” actions does not mean that a person will apply them at the right time or in the right context. So, how can one garner this additional layer of information — the essential cultural, emotional, and social intelligences that act as guides for executives navigating unfamiliar business landscapes? In this article we will deconstruct the successful global leader and investigate what it takes to be effective and efficient in today’s “flattening” world.
“What Could Be So Different?”
When Nigel Thorton (name changed to respect privacy) had originally moved his family to Kyoto for his career, he warned them that life was going to be very different. But if they stuck it out and he was successful, a promotion was almost guaranteed. After successfully turning the Japanese office around, he was rewarded with the position of global finance director at the firm’s Paris headquarters.
Surprisingly, however, he did not seem to be able to replicate his previous international success in the Paris office, and the company mandated cross-cultural training in an effort to improve the situation. They wondered how this executive could succeed halfway around the world but fail to be effective in France, just across the English Channel from his “home.” After all, what could be so different?
Turns out, a lot.
Effective and Efficient
In global coaching, consulting, and training, the same question must be asked: What do you need in order to be successful in your new leadership role?
More and more often, clients answer, “I need to be effective.” Some, however, will say, “I need to be efficient.” The difference between those two words gives insight into the executive’s style; in fact, based on the answers, one could determine which executive is truly capable of becoming an effective global leader. Managing and mobilizing a team that produces results requires both a commitment to being effective and efficient.
When it comes to leadership development, executives who desire to be more than efficient set the foundation for a fruitful and rewarding coach-client relationship. The much sought after ROI, return on investment, has just met the ROE, return on expectations. These executives have a self-expectation of being effective in their new role.
In today’s world, the global playing field is a ruthless environment where teams compete on equal terms with no time-outs. Thus, if doing things the right way the first time makes us efficient, and doing the right things all the time makes us effective, then the need to combine the two is self evident.
The Hard S’s Meet the Soft S’s
As a professional you know how to analyze what has been referred to as the “hard S’s” of how a corporation operates: its strategy, structure, and systems. When defining these factors within your native culture, the challenges of the “soft S’s” are less obvious. They only become more palpable when your strategy, structure, and systems are shipped overseas — across both linguistic and cultural borders — and you are faced with the challenge of aligning geographically dispersed teams for a successful outcome.
The “soft S’s” include shared values, skills, styles, and staff. When combined with the “hard S’s” they form a management model referred to as the “7 S’s” that was first mentioned in the The Art of Japanese Management by Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos, written over 25 years ago. This model must be taken into consideration in a holistic and interdependent manner to ensure success of a company’s strategy. In today’s world of knowledge workers, the “soft S’s” can be regrouped and redefined as
- Know thyself
- Know how to inspire and motivate others
- Know how to style switch to leverage diversity
- Cultural intelligence
- Emotional intelligence
- Social intelligence
Before we define how these other forms of intelligence interact, it is important to assess your own self first:
- Your personality (who you are)
- Your national culture (how you do things)
- Your job (your functional company culture)
- Your perspectives and ideas (how you think things are done around the world)
- Your accomplishments
- Your past, present, and future
Who you are contributes to your cultural, emotional, and social intelligence. For example, think how one’s background and native culture would influence the answers to the following questions:
- How do I show respect if I have been brought up in an egalitarian environment where everyone is treated informally and as equals, as opposed to a hierarchal environment where privileges and status are respected and expected?
- In which ways should I recognize a team leader in an individualist culture as opposed to a group-oriented culture, whereby a single person being recognized may very well diminish if not destroy the team spirit instead of motivating it?
As we add in more layers, the situations become more complex. Let’s revisit our British executive. Nigel’s concept of “being respectful” was not to interrupt others, to arrive at the office early, to work diligently, to take short lunch breaks, and be friendly. This efficient work ethic may very well be why he was successful in Japan but not in France. His style didn’t work with la vie à la française and he ultimately ended up leaving the company.
Be sure to continue reading the second part of this article, Deconstructing the Successful Global Leader – Part 2.