Graham Almond (Executive General Manager - Operations Support) has led teams across many different countries, cultures and belief systems, in both developed and developing nations. In an article he recently published on LinkedIn, he provides his approach to successfully managing diverse teams to deliver results. The article is reproduced below.
Leading Across Different Cultures: How I Regularly Moved Others from “Yes” to “Results”
Graham Almond, GAICD
One of the joys of working in a global or regional role outside of your home country is the opportunity to work with different cultures and see the world. For me, it’s also been a personal growth opportunity which ensured I’ve learnt more about myself as a leader and manager working with diversity beyond the borders of my home country, Australia.
Unfortunately, for many expatriates, the growth opportunity has stumbled and their dark side has been exposed by losing composure and behaving badly. What continues to fascinate me working with people from developing cultures and different religions to mine is the zeal for knowledge. And there-in provides one of the toughest challenges I have had to overcome as an executive; moving from “yes - I understand” to getting the team member to deliver the agreed outcome.
I’ve lead global and regional teams with people from various religions such as Christianity, Catholic, Hindi, Hindu, Islam. I've worked in some interesting parts of the world that test our grit, ethical conduct and creative problem solving and had the pleasure of working with different belief systems with direct reports from developing countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, PNG, Serbia, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius as well as developed / advanced countries such Singapore, Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, UK, Chile, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland. I’ve had failures and success in applying my preferred leadership style and had plenty of time to reflect on what can I do differently and repeat the behavior again and again.
The striking difference I’ve observed is the developing country nationals are more inclined to listen/ learn/apply (or not apply) whereas their counterparts from developed / advanced countries are more inclined to question/apply or try/retry. Notwithstanding my stereotype generalization, there are employees from all walks of life I’ve worked with who are concerned about losing face if they don’t deliver, whereas others have taken the approach, trying something is better than doing nothing.
As a leader across boundaries, what have I learnt managing employees from such diversity? No doubt it’s about me and how I need to act/lead to reflect the individual needs of my team member for them to achieve the agreed outcomes.
The key to my success has been applying the Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model and recognizing individual capability v competency in my team members and balancing that against their own levels confidence and ambition. I’ve found greater levels of success by appreciating and respecting individual beliefs with religion, yet distinguishing the culture by virtue of behavior traits and cultural beliefs and differentiating my approach to delivering outcomes through my team members by focusing more on my behavior as a leader. I will admit, underpinning my approach has been one personal value; Be humble and respectful. By no means am I saying I have never failed myself in applying my personal value 100% of the time. For sure I’ve been angry and disappointed and said things I regret. However, I’m sharing with you what I have come to learn what has worked for me after I have continued to explore my own leadership style and be recognized as an expatriate executive leader who delivers results through others.
Whether you’re an expatriate in a foreign country, or fortunate enough to have a large remit like I’ve experienced, if you aren’t humble and respectful, you won’t grow team members from developing countries (or any country). Furthermore, others below you won’t be engaged to go the extra mile for you nor say good things about you. Instead, they will be more inclined to take a negative view about you built on fear as observed through lack of composure and over telling leadership behavior. They will deliver the outcome you want, yet you may find yourself stuck in a telling state and struggle to move towards a participating and delegating state. The team member will fear failure, or not deliver to your expectations so keep reverting to you to engage in a telling and selling leader behavior state or take the perception you don’t respect them, so do the minimum required and just check in to ensure the agreed outcomes will meet your views …. and the vicious cycle continues! What does this mean for you? Your own leadership growth and experiences will be blocked and you run the risk others above you may identify you as a blocked learner and your career may stumble.