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Leading across cultures
It’s hard to be a good leader. There are no shortcuts. You have to have high integrity, be focused and determined to play the long game, and not attempt short cuts. That’s universal – irrespective of geographical, cultural or linguistic differences. However, as the Page Executive Seven Executive Trends for 2016 report highlights, the best leaders must be prepared to adapt their management style in today’s global business environment.
I have been at PageGroup for just short of 20 years and in between spells leading teams in Australia, I have had the opportunity to help our business grow its offices in the Middle East and Africa. Something I’ve learned from working in offices in Melbourne, Paris, Johannesburg, Dubai and Casablanca is that the need for adaptability in multicultural environments is as strong as it has ever been. You’ve got to understand the culture and environment you’re in and then adapt yourself to it.
The best leaders are prepared to understand the national culture, the business culture and the organisational culture in which they find themselves and then they lead within that. If you go to France and try to manage in an Australian way or go to China and try and manage in a French way you will fail.
There used to be a time when a leader could occupy a corner office and enjoy the status and esteem that came with it but I think those days are gone. There is now much more attention being paid to what you actually do and achieve, how you conduct yourself and how involved you are in the business. Leaders these days are more operational and the successful ones are more involved in the day-to-day.
The report describes the importance of “cultural intelligence”, which can be defined as “leading in different ways in order to motivate and mobilise groups who follow in different ways from the folks back home.” I have encountered this when leading across cultures. You have to be aware of what makes different people tick and how you need to adapt your delivery and execution to ensure people understand and follow you.
This was very definitely the case when I moved from Australia to the Middle East in 2008. Looking back, it was probably the most challenging experience for me as a leader. The environments were completely different. I went from 300 people in Australia in an established business to just 6 people in Dubai in a start-up situation. I built that out to 120 people in eight years across the Middle East and Africa.
Picking up the African market in addition to the Middle East was again a big challenge. It meant I had teams who were 14 hours apart from Paris to Johannesburg to Casablanca. This demands high levels of organisation or you risk spending 95% of your time on the business where you’re based and only 5% on the businesses elsewhere. It is all too easy to get drawn into things where you are and ignoring the things happening where you are not. Modern technology allows a leader to be in touch with different markets more of the time. It’s just a matter of dividing your time and involvement with people accordingly.
My international experience has also taught me that whilst there are notable cultural and linguistic differences, there is common ground to be found across all of the cultures I’ve worked in, which may or may not be peculiar to recruitment. For starters, the need and thirst for success is universal among consultants, as is the way in which reward and recognition is received. No matter what market you are leading in, people love to work towards and smash through targets and then receive praise when they do so.
The key to growing successful recruitment teams is also universal. You need focused and passionate experts who take pride in what they do, a lot of teamwork and a fun and rewarding environment.
In my experience, taking on the challenges of leadership across different locations, cultures and languages can only improve you as a leader, so long as you are prepared to put in the time and effort to adapt and learn as you go.
Read more insights on leading across cultures and a whole host of other executive trends for 2016 in the Page Executive report and get in touch to see how Page Executive can help you source senior leaders for your business.