Four Myths of Global Leadership

davelivermore | March 17th, 2015 No Comments

 

Culture matters. It’s more than just a “nice-to-have.” It’s a key factor in what makes or breaks today’s global leader. As a result, organizations in every sector are clamoring to find effective global leaders. Those who can lead with cultural intelligence are in demand. Yet much of what gets talked about in the global leadership space is informed by myths and anecdotes rather than empirical evidence. Even many top-rated MBA programs assure prospective students and employers that their curriculum will develop global leadership, yet there’s little done to measure and develop global capabilities in their students. And many organizations rely most on technical expertise when looking at whom to put in charge of a new, global project. I regularly encounter the following myths when reading, listening, and talking with others about global leadership:

Myth #1: Leadership Is a Sixth Sense
Conventional wisdom among many business executives is that leadership is a sixth sense: You either get it or you don’t. You have to lead from the gut. And frankly, there’s some research that backs up the surprising strength of seasoned executives using their gut more than data or detailed analysis to make good decisions. That’s because the “gut” has been subconsciously programmed through years of experience. The problem is, the subconscious programming is specific to a culture and may not be a reliable source when making split judgments and decisions in an unfamiliar culture. This explains why some individuals have been incredibly successful leading in one context only to fail miserably when attempting to lead in another. The “sixth sense” of leadership has to be retrained and developed when the cultural context changes.

Myth #2: The World Is Flat
I have enormous appreciation for Thomas Friedman’s compelling argument that the economic playing field has been leveled globally.[1] A Filipino start-up firm can go head-to-head with a behemoth multinational company and leaders in all contexts are wise to wake up to this reality. But I often hear people applying Friedman’s "flat world" idea more broadly than it was intended. I’m regularly asked, “Isn’t there a global professional culture emerging where people are more alike today than different?”

When you observe people in airport lounges in Dubai, Sydney, and London, it certainly seems like we’re all more alike than different. And if you predominantly experience different cultures by visiting hotels and offices that are built for guests like you, it’s easy to miss the differences that exist. But when you get beneath the surface, you find we’re remarkably different. Leaders have their head in the sand if they think they can lead people the same way everywhere. Culture doesn’t explain everything. But it is one of the driving factors in how to effectively negotiate, build trust, foster innovation, and motivate people toward a shared objective.

Myth #3: If No One Follows, You Aren’t Leading
Surely a “leader” with no followers might not be leading. Or he or she might be attempting to lead in the wrong context. Leadership is not only about the values and style of the leader. As evidenced by the findings in the GLOBE leadership study, not all followers want the same thing from their leaders. The cultural values and preferences of the followers strongly influence who can effectively lead them. Some followers want larger-than-life, charismatic leaders like Bill Clinton. Others want modest, understated, practical leaders like Angela Merkel. This is explained by an idea known as implicit leadership theory, which says that whether you lead effectively is not only based on your leadership skills; it’s also a reflection of your followers’ expectations of leaders. Because culture is one of the variables that shapes what people expect and want from a leader, a culturally intelligent leader is wise to understand this before accepting a new leadership role or assigning someone else to one.

Myth #4: Matrix Models Are Better Suited for Leading Across Borders
Many companies have moved away from headquarter-centric models of leadership to matrix models. Reporting lines go in multiple directions, teams are co-located, and decision-making is more collaborative than top-down. Most of the world, however, prefers a more hierarchical style of leadership in which authority lines are clear and followers are given clear, specific directions. There’s great potential in matrix models for international growth and expansion. But a matrix model requires an additional level of cultural intelligence in order to effectively use it.

I’ve interacted with leaders at Google about this. Google has an extremely strong corporate culture and recruiters are given a clear standard of how to spot the Google DNA when searching for new Googlers. But the questions and techniques recruiters typically use to get a sense of a job candidate’s interests, personal accomplishments, and innovative ideas need to be significantly adapted based on the cultural background of the candidate. And the ability to find the right candidates who fit with the more matrixed structure of Google requires culturally intelligent recruiters.

Global leadership itself is not a myth. It is possible to lead effectively across multiple cultures. This is the very thing we’ve been studying in our research on cultural intelligence for the last couple of decades. We have growing evidence that a leader’s cultural intelligence predicts several important leadership outcomes. Effectively leading across various cultures is a capability that can be measured and improved. But it begins with a more thoughtful, situational understanding of leadership.

…This is an excerpt from the revised edition of Leading with Cultural Intelligence, releasing this week in stores everywhere. Read more about the book and download a sample chapter here.



[1] Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005).

Culturally Intelligent Leaders Know When it's "Cultural" ... and when it isn't.

davelivermore | February 20th, 2015 4 Comments

 

 

You’re talking to someone from a different culture and he won’t look you in the eye. Is it cultural? Is it a personal quirk? Or is something else going on? How do you know? And what difference does it make?

“A problem is a problem, regardless of the source.” But getting at what’s behind the problem and knowing how to interpret the communication you receive is a critical part of leading successfully in today’s multicultural context. In fact, few things more quickly demonstrate your cultural intelligence than whether you can sort through what’s cultural and what’s not and how to respond.

I spend many of my waking hours thinking, writing, and talking about culture. How does culture influence the way someone is motivated? To what cultures is a leader’s style best suited? And what cultural values shape the way an organization images itself?

Culture lurks at every corner, influencing how we see the world. But culture doesn’t explain everything. Sometimes the behavior you encounter is more a reflection of someone’s personality than his or her cultural background. And sometimes you’re being played. “Cultural differences” are sometimes used as a disguise for something else.

How do you tell the difference? When is it cultural”? When is it personality? And when is it some other factor?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you sort through this:

1. How does the “unusual” perspective or behavior you’re encountering compare with what research indicates about the norms for this culture?
Find out whether empirical evidence supports that this behavior is something often utilized by individuals from this culture. This is where some of the most widely recognized work in the intercultural field is helpful, whether it’s Edward Hall’s work on communication norms or the cultural dimensions from Hofstede, Trompenaars, or the GLOBE leadership study. For those unfamiliar with this work, a few places to begin are:

2. What are other possible explanations for this perspective and/or behavior?
Rather than just assuming culture is the only explanation, stop to consider the variables you should include when understanding any unusual encounter or situation. Go through the following categories and consider whether these shed light on what’s occurring in addition to or instead of culture:

  • Personality: To what degree does this reflect a pattern of behavior from this individual? When have you seen this among others? Might this be an idiosyncratic behavior?
  • Circumstances: What else is going on that might explain this? I was recently interacting with a senior executive whose behavior seemed unusually bizarre to me. Only later did I find out that just before we met, he had learned of some devastating news regarding a family member.
  • Organizational Factors: What pressures exist within the organization? And in what ways might the individual be primarily representing a dynamic that reflects more on the organization involved than anything else?
  • Power struggle: I recently walked into a situation where I was told there was a cultural conflict; but the more I learned about the situation, the more it became evident that two managers separated by several time zones and cultures were vying for the same senior leadership position. There were certainly cultural aspects to how they approached the power struggle. But the cultural difference wasn’t the primary thing causing the conflict.

3. How do others who have experience and understanding with this culture perceive the situation?
I always want a safe person with whom I can ask unfiltered questions about whether my experiencing aligns with their understanding of the culture. Particularly when the situation involves a culture with which you have limited experience and familiarity, a cultural interpreter is essential. One time I thought I was being deceived by a West African leader but when processing the situation with a trusted, West African colleague, I learned that my approach was making it impossible for the leader to give me the kind of input I wanted.

4. Consider whether confirmation bias influenced your interpretation.
If you’re convinced all Millennials are entitled and all white guys are sexist, you’ll be predisposed to find examples that support your premise, something described as confirmation bias. So before you decide what explains a behavior, stop to consider whether you really sought to understand the situation and put your assumptions at bay.

With enough information, any behavior begins to make sense. Sorting through what’s cultural and what’s not is a critical part of leading with cultural intelligence. With the insights you gain through improved CQ, you know whether a customer complaint stems from an isolated situation or whether it’s something you need to address for an entire market segment. Heightened CQ helps you know when a negotiation tactic is playing dirty versus a cultural norm for doing business. And you can more quickly discern whether the absence of eye contact means respect, insecurity, or deception. Those insights separate the culturally intelligent from the culturally naïve leaders.

[The second edition of Leading with Cultural Intelligence releases next month. The new edition features brand new research on cultural intelligence, case studies, and leading practices from executives and organizations using cultural intelligence around the world.]

Cultural Intelligence in an Age of Terrorism

davelivermore | January 13th, 2015 2 Comments

 

What's a culturally intelligent response to the horrific events in Paris last week? I'm not sure. Seeing one more "breaking news" alert about another terrorist attack fills me with a sense of sadness, disgust, and hopelessness. On the other hand, my resolve for promoting cultural intelligence (CQ) is greater than ever. Bear with me as I ruminate in a bit different direction than my usual posts about culturally intelligent work and leadership.

We'd expect that our increased connectivity through travel, technology, multiculturalism, and global trade would have made us better at interacting with people of difference. But culture runs deep. And as we become more global, our tribal identities assert themselves more powerfully than ever.

The greatest divisions of our day stem from vastly different views about how we should live together.People who believe in the ultimate right of free speech are living next door to people for whom following a set of creeds trumps all else. There are no easy answers to the hatred and rage that drives someone to kill a fellow human being in cold blood simply because they disagree with them. And thoughtful debates are needed for when free speech and satire is in part responsible for inciting that rage.

But I'm convinced that a culturally intelligent response begins with refusing to lose hope. The terrorists are not the majority. They're a tiny minority among our population of 7+ billion people and they're not getting the last word. And our best denouncement of terrorists' misogynistic rage is to refuse to resort to their intolerance ourselves.

Don't shut off the news in denial. And don't resort to profiling all Westerners or all Muslims, police officers, or black men. We must unabashedly denounce terrorism, misogyny, and oppression, whatever the source. But as we do so, we're wise to also step back and ask what's behind the behavior. Every behavior makes sense if you have enough information. That doesn't mean we accept or agree with it. But what might we learn if we step back to consider why someone believes something so strongly that they're willing to kill others and themselves to uphold their beliefs? And why might some societies believe it's in their best interest to give people the freedom to express vitriol?

My sadness by the events of last week was quickly turned into hope when I saw the global outpouring of support that happened in the hours following the attacks in Paris. The evening it happened, I walked by the French Embassy in Copenhagen and saw a diversity of people standing in the rain and cold for hours, simply to pay their respects.

Twitter erupted with Muslims denouncing the attacks and claiming that terrorism does far more to damage the image of Muhammad than a satirical cartoon does.

Non-Muslims in Paris started a #VoyageAvecMoi movement that mirrored the #IllRideWithYou campaign in Sydney. These are campaigns started by non-Muslims offering to escort Muslims who were fearful of revenge attacks.

Social media lit up with not only #jesuischarlie support, but also with outcries for the lives lost in Yemen and northern Nigeria last week.

Cultural intelligence begins with the motivation to learn and understand others' cultural perspectives (CQ Drive).You can't eradicate terrorism on your own; but you can make a difference in your own circle. What might that look like?

Speak up when someone in your network starts religious profiling. The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are going about their lives peacefully. Just as the average Christian had nothing to apologize for when Christian fanatics engaged in genocide against Muslims in former Yugoslavia, Muslims shouldn’t be expected to apologize for horrific acts done by a few fanatics. When someone mutters some monolithic description about people from another religious or cultural group, challenge their ignorance.

Have lunch with your Other. Think of someone you know who views the world in a vastly different way from you—religiously, politically, or otherwise. Share your perspectives with each other and don’t try to convince the other person to see things your way. Seek to understand each other.

Don’t lose hope. Alongside the vicious acts of hatred are stories of people reaching across faiths, cultures, and languages to forge relationships and work together. Jews and Arabs are aligned together [e.g. Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies].  Police officers and African Americans are embracing and looking for solutions together. Hutus and Tutsis have worked together to rebuild Rwanda into an increasingly vibrant economy. Don’t let the stories of violence crowd out the larger stories of mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural intelligence.

I’m not suggesting we should ignore the violence and terrorism with blind optimism. Something has to be done. And I’m not interested in politically correct, culturally sensitive conversations that minimize debate and over-emphasize common ground. But for the majority of us who believe strongly in our own values and perspectives but also want to learn from the perspectives of others…let’s use the power of our differences to stop terrorism in its tracks. Now that’s something that gives me hope!