Working internationally

Becoming global leader - 5 lessons to learn

Being a global leader is not merely the presence of the circumstances. Having to manage an international team doesn’t mean you are a global leader. You have to become one. Read this article on the five lessons you should definitely learn about if you are on the journey of becoming one.

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Global leader lesson 1 – Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions

If you are working on your cultural awareness, we are probably not surprising you with this one. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are indispensable for understanding the basis of intercultural communication. These five aspects that shape different cultures are very important in understanding the global workplace dynamics as well:

  • PDI – Power Distance Index: To put it short, it indicates the extent to which a society accepts the unequal distribution of power. Really important in understanding workplace hierarchy and dynamics. As a global leader you should be aware of your employees’ cultures’ attitude towards hierarchy.
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism: It indicates whether a culture’s thinking is more defined by individual needs, or rather group values. Also something that shapes how people think and act while working. Learning about this will help you understand the main motivations and values of your employees.
  • Masculinity vs. femininity: It illustrates the distribution of roles between the genders, and also which of these values define the certain culture more.
  • Uncertainty avoidance: it indicates the extent to which a culture determines people to be okay with the unknown. As a global leader it’s crucial that you understand your employees’ attitude toward uncertainty, so you can create an environment where the entire team can feel safe and confident.
  • Long- or short term orientation: societies also differ in the way people view their goals. Some societies tend to focus more on the short-term goals, tending to work for instant gratification, while other cultures have the bigger picture, with the far future in mind. By understanding where your employees come from and what defines their perception of achievement, you get one big step closer to understanding their main motivations.

Global leader lesson 2 – Attitude towards age

Different cultures have different views on youth and seniority. In the Western culture we are used to worshiping being young, and expecting our big successes to occur while we are still young and have plenty of time to enjoy it. This also comes with fetishizing youth, especially if we associate older age with notions like sickness, weakness and eventually death. In other cultures, however, seniority is something that is looked up on, and older people are treated with respect, and instead of sickness and death, old age invokes the notion of experience and wisdom. The way a society views age, determines workplace dynamics as well, and it is indispensable for a leader to understand their employees views on age. It becomes increasingly important when there is a bigger age gap between leader and employee.

Global leader lesson 3 – Boundaries

How we set our boundaries has also a big impact on our behaviour at the workplace. For someone who comes from a culture where personal relationships are valued much more than professional achievements, being close to colleagues and even their leader can be of great importance. In this case people work better knowing that they have their colleagues and partners as a “safety net”. In other cultures, however, people tend to have strict boundaries between professional and personal life. For them being friendly and close with the leader is not an option. Knowing these nuances as a leader you can avoid unpleasant situations, and also build the trust your employees need.

Global leader lesson 4 – What they expect of you as a leader?

Good leadership is defined by culture. Each culture has its own views, and the values they seek in a good leader, so in order for you to healthily manage your international team, you need to know about different cultures’ views on leadership skills. Of course this doesn’t mean that you have to be all the things your employees look for in a leader, all at once. First of all, you have to be aware of the differences in how leadership is viewed across cultures, and what are the major deal-breakers. Besides this, fortunately as the demand for such trainings increases, there are more and more available of them. A global leadership training is vital for today’s global leader.

Global leader lesson 5 – Gender roles and behaviour

From greetings to dress codes gender-questions are one of the most relevant intercultural topics. While in some countries smiling women at a meeting, for example, is something just normal and suggesting a friendly atmosphere between partners, in Arab countries being too friendly and smiley as a woman at a business meeting will be perceived as highly inappropriate. And this is just one example, but the world of intercultural business is full of gender-related challenges. As a global leader, you must be educated on the topic, and clearly understand your partners’ and employees’ views on gender roles.

Eszter Szűcs-Imre

At a glance

  • Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are indispensable for understanding the basis of intercultural communication.

  • Different cultures have different views on youth and seniority.

  • How we set our boundaries has a big impact on our behaviour at the workplace.

  • Each culture has its own views on leadership skills.

  • Gender-questions are one of the most relevant intercultural topics.

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