I remember traveling to Okinawa, Japan as a young U.S. Marine being afraid yet excited. When we landed in Okinawa from LAX we had to participate in a base orientation, where military officials would give us basic instructions for a week on the do’s and don’ts of living overseas. You could see everyone’s interest and amazement in this new knowledge.
One of the instructions that was given to us was the fact that you could not wave a person over with your fingers facing up (but fingers had to be facing down), because it means in the Japanese culture that you were calling them over like a dog (so our instructor explained). More advice was given to us when dealing with older folks. We were told that it was considered disrespectful to look into the eyes of an older person for too long. You could see the confusion with all the Americans that were at this cultural workshop, since most had been taught to look into the eyes of those speaking to you, if not; the person would find it disrespectful.
These mix-ups and lack of cross-cultural knowledge is what prevents many business leaders from having a competitive advantage. Yet we know the world has become global faster than anyone can learn how to keep up. The fact remains if you want to survive in this competitive market you need to develop as a cross-cultural leader. Yet research shows that many organizations still lack a diverse cultural presence. Why? I would propose that staying the same (business as usual) is easier than moving into a cross-cultural organization.
The following steps are a framework that leaders and executives can use to assist in their shift to becoming more cross-cultural within and out of their organizations. These are:
· Have a global mindset
· Be a strategic leader
· Build cross-cultural agility and intelligence
· Build a team of diversity
· Dare to be different
Having a Global Mindset
In order for leaders to break out of their comfort zones they will need to adopt a global mindset. This means that they will have to stop assuming that everyone sees the world as they see it, with the lenses they have framed. The truth is everyone has these lenses and has created a particular worldview, but leaders have to continuously align them against globalization and the current times.
What is a global mindset? Mansour Javidan defines this type of mindset as “the ability to perceive, analyze, and decode behaviors and situations in multiple cultural contexts and use that insight to build productive relationships with individuals and organizations across cultural boundaries.” Plainly, it is a leader learning skills and customs that are not from his or her background and applying them in their leadership.
Be a Strategic Leader
Strategic leadership can be very broad. Richard L. Hughes and Katherine C. Beatty state that being strategic is “to think, act and influence in ways that promote the sustainable competitive advantage of the organization.” Let’s face it; if we don’t become cross-cultural in our business we are liable to become obsolete; and no one wants that. Everyone wants their business and organization to be sustainable and competitive, and this is how you do it. Becoming a strategic leader is simple; assess where you are and where you want to be then make a great strategy to get there. The most difficult part executives and leaders have is making that leap from preparation to implementation.
Build Cross-Cultural Agility and Intelligence
Building cross-cultural agility and intelligence takes a lot of hard work, and at times getting assistance from coaches and consultants. This is one of the reasons why many leaders and executives do not make the transition from domestic to international. But, in this globalized world that we live in, it is an imperative! Cultural agility is the ability to be effective in many cultures and environments. This is a lifelong process and not a onetime event. Therefore, this type of leadership effectiveness comes to leaders through direct exposure of diverse circumstances and life experiences.
We can become culturally intelligent by desiring versatility in our thinking, living, and actions. Leaders have to put forth the effort of thinking, living, and acting outside the box. This does not come natural; therefore, we have to put ourselves in various situations that will help us. Examples could be joining different groups, going to various events of culture and diversity, and building relationships with people who are not like us. This will definitely help break down our cultural paradigms.
Build a Team of Diversity
Up to this point, many of you are thinking that you are cross-cultural and global. I propose you test yourself. Check your cell phone and social media websites; is everyone in your contacts from your immediate circle? Meaning, do they all belong to the same ethnic group, association, vocation, religion, age group, or demographics? If you answer yes than there is work to be done.
Putting together a cross-cultural leadership team will bring great success. Diversity produces creativity and innovation. Although this also takes some major effort, it is worth it. Put together some people who think differently and are from other places. Executives should not recruit from the same school or country, but expand their horizons. Your team should be one that comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Do you want to keep your competitive advantage? Then building this dream-team is a must!
Dare to be Different
Your business and organization can only keep its competitiveness through its distinctiveness. This is your opportunity to brand your business and go to another level. I heard Seth Godin say “what made the Hummer and the Cooper so successful in the automobile industry was their way of being completely different from each other.” How about you? Are you, your team, or organization like everyone else? Are you trying to emulate what you see being done around you? Or are you trying to be different?
This is the season for growth and competitiveness, but that will only be for those who are different from the bunch. Let’s face it; no one wants a cheap copy! So instead of imitating another leader or business, why don’t we just be ourselves, and seek others who are different from us? We were all created to be a unique individual. No one can be “more unique, uniquer, or uniques.” Those last two words do not exist. You have to be your unique self. Effective cross-cultural leadership requires a mix of skills, knowledge, and perspectives at all levels. This is what it means to dare to be different.
I have discussed what leaders can do to become more effective cross-culturally. The argument remains in order to have and keep a competitive advantage you will need to have a global mindset, be a strategic leader, build cross-cultural agility and intelligence, a team of diversity, and dare to be different. Diversity produces brilliance, creativity, and innovation. Learning and seeking life experiences different from the ones we are accustomed to will help us become well-rounded cross-cultural leaders.
The only person stopping us from achieving cross-cultural effectiveness is ourselves. Leaders will have to challenge themselves and keep accountable to others for continuous cultural growth. Finally, our businesses, organizations, and leadership will transcend across boarders if we are willing to partner with others unique perspectives in this globalized market. Wouldn’t you want to have this competitive advantage? You can; but first you have to develop as a cross-cultural leader.
Peter Rios is a consultant to businesses, organizations, and religious institutions. His company, R.I.O.S.-Robust Innovative Organizational Solutions, LLC, focuses on leadership development, organizational diversity and renewal.
Rios’ passion is to add value to people and see their organizations transformed. Equipping people with the tools for success and building relationships through team work brings him great fulfillment.
His extensive experience and doctoral education in strategic leadership has made him a sought out speaker, facilitator and coach. Rios has traveled to speak and serve in China, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Canada, and throughout the U.S. In the United States Marines Corps he gained global leadership exposure in multicultural settings while stationed in Okinawa Japan and South Korea.