This article is the second part of a two-part series. Be sure to read Deconstructing the Successful Global Leader – Part 1
Danielle was a French-Canadian woman who had recently been relocated to France by her company. Prior to her promotion to global IT director, she had had the opportunity to work with Jean, her manager, on various projects. When she relocated to France, she felt confident that prior misunderstandings with him would improve now that they were working together in the same location. The night before an important meeting, Jean asked her to show him the slides she planned on presenting. The conversation ended with:
Danielle: I didn’t realize you wanted the planning schedule for the wi-fi rollout across Europe for tomorrow’s meeting!
Jean: I see. Don’t worry, I’ll cover for you.
Danielle: Excuse me. Cover for me? I don’t need anyone to cover for me!
Jean: Don’t be so upset. It would have been better if we could have told them when we planned to launch the system, but if it is not possible, it’s not possible. I’ll handle the problem when it comes up at the meeting.
Danielle: I don’t see why you should handle what is my responsibility. I am quite capable of explaining to everyone that the planning schedule is based on their input and availability.
What led to this miscommunication? A lack of cultural intelligence.
Cultural, Emotional, and Social Intelligence
Cultural intelligence is defined as the ability to interact with others from diverse cultural backgrounds, being aware of the cultural values that drive our own attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs.
Early in our formative years, all human beings learn about four universal values — respect, recognition, trust, and acceptance. How these values contribute to our cultural intelligence, however, is through the learned behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that express these human values.
Take the example of trust and recent research by TCO-International, where studies have shown that in some cultures trust is built quickly ,based on competence, the open sharing of information, and a sense of integrity. In other cultures, the preference is for deep trust which develops over time based on compatibility, benevolence, and security. In these cultures, relationships, reputation, and influence are the building blocks for trust.
For many of us, our values are an inherent part of who we are. We don’t take the time to analyze them until somebody has transgressed our values and we experience — much like Danielle did — an uncomfortable feeling based on what we think is right from wrong.
Look at the following list of values:
Individualism / Equality
Formality / Informality
Directness; Frankness / Modesty
Authority / Freedom of choice
Materialism / Competition
Practicality; Pragmatism / Privacy
Honesty / Hierarchy
Consensus / Reputation
Danielle was basing her reactions on individualism (I am responsible as IT director ), directness, and pragmatism. Jean was reacting according to his values of hierarchy (I’ll handle this, cover for you), as well as authority and reputation (Danielle wasn’t well known in the European operations and Jean’s reputation could be tarnished for having chosen her.).
The other two pillars for effective global leadership are emotional and social intelligence. Emotional intelligence was first described by Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The famous Greek philosopher wrote, “Anyone can be angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.”
Emotional intelligence is defined as a sign of leadership based on self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills according to Daniel Goldman’s book Emotional Intelligence. When applied to an international context, the need to combine cultural intelligence becomes the key ingredient for success.
During a team-building training between British and Spanish colleagues, a discussion came up around how to react to a “sense of urgency”– one of the corporate values. A Spanish woman in attendance emotionally expressed how passive she felt her British colleagues reacted when launching new products with critical timeframes. Her British counterpart started to recoil in his chair as this woman’s intonation and expressiveness seemed to increase in intensity. The subject of emotional intelligence was brought up. This Spanish woman would consistently get more and more emotional when faced with an issue needing a “sense of urgency,” while her British counterpart would get more and more introverted in reaction to her outbursts.
After putting this example into the proper cultural perspective, we learned that an emotional outburst is acceptable behavior in Spain, and such a reaction only requires recognition or empathy in order for it to subside. Simply stating, “I see this is upsetting you” would have done the trick. Unfortunately, not being aware of Spanish society and culture, the British colleague did his best to avoid the issue and waited for her emotions to subside. Each walked away from encounters feeling mistreated and misunderstood.
Learning about a higher self-awareness, both culturally and emotionally, is not complete without an exploration of social intelligence. Social intelligence is loosely defined as the intelligence that lies behind group interactions and behaviors. This includes the answers to questions like:
- How do we motivate teams?
- How are we perceived by others?
- How do we lead and inspire others?
Different cultures motivate and inspire in different ways because social intelligence varies from culture to culture. Take, for example, Paul’s story:
After what he had hoped to be an interactive presentation to the European subsidiary on a new business the company was implementing, Paul felt disappointed that no one had asked any questions nor offered any feedback. Paul’s internal reaction was, “Well, that shows me how committed they are. They could care less if this process is successful or not.”
Following the presentation, however, he found people waiting to catch him alone in his office, to take him off to the side, invite him for coffee, and ask questions on a one-to-one basis. Paul realized that staying a few days more before heading back to the U.S. gave everybody the time to get to know him and understand the new process better. Buy-in was guaranteed through the effective way that Paul socialized with the team responsible for implementing the new process.
Social intelligence is important but as competitive markets require global companies to be more and more cost-conscious, it is becoming expendable. By cutting back on travel, relying on global conference calls, and pressuring executives to get results at all cost, companies tend to forget what really impacts the bottom line:
- Face-to-face, one-on-one interactions
- Quality time spent to develop the relationships that get the buy-in
To be a truly effective leader, followers need to believe in you and your company, and you can’t deliver that trust through a conference call.
As our world continues to evolve and the geographical boundaries become increasingly transparent, it is imperative that managers and executives understand the qualities that make a global leader. He or she is a person who knows and accepts that an international assignment will be difficult, but is prepared to do the work required to rise to the occasion. The global executive understands his or her own persona, perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses, and is enthused at the prospect of adding cross-cultural layers of knowledge to his or her business repertoire. Ultimately, today’s global executive is both effective and efficient because of a high level of cultural, emotional, and social intelligence; and is ready for the challenge.
For more information, please visit www.effectivegloballeadership.com.