Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Create People Alignment (Part 1)

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Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders are more and more facing cross-cultural challenges caused by globalization, emerging economies and new markets. How to notice differences in cultures? How to understand their impact on people behavior and performance? How to avoid cross-cultural friction and conflict? How to lead people and teams with different cultural backgrounds? How to create successful collaboration and teamwork cross-border? Effectively dealing with cross-cultural challenges like these is rapidly becoming one of the key differentiators for effective leaders and successful companies.

The cross-cultural business environment is creating a fundamental mind shift: the ‘soft’ side of business (culture, people, teamwork, etc.) is turning out to be a very ‘hard’ element in creating business success. Mastering the essence of people alignment is a crucial competence for today’s leaders.

What differentiates leaders that master the essence of people alignment? Over the years I have worked with many leaders in many different cultures and I’ve identified two important elements in the behavior of successful leaders. First of all, they do not perceive creating people alignment as an activity next to all the other leadership activities, but it is on their mind in everything they do. Secondly, they understand that their ability to align people depends on the extent to which they create personal alignment with respect to the environment where they operate.

Personal alignment is about understanding yourself. It is about being in balance with the inter-cultural environment where you find yourself. It is about being able to explain and show others where you stand within this environment of cultural differences and why. It creates trust, transparency, and confidence. The impact of a lack of personal alignment on your leadership behavior and on the organization is direct and significant. Creating people alignment starts with having a sufficient level of personal alignment. Especially in cross-cultural environments personal alignment can be challenged easily. Successful leaders are aware when personal misalignment occurs, and they pay special attention to fixing it.

How can you spot potential areas of personal misalignment in cross-cultural environments? How to create your personal ‘leadership compass’ that guides you to potential weak spots in your personal alignment? The following questions might help you in building your compass:

  • What are my core qualities? How do I use these in my work as a leader? How do they fit the inter-cultural challenges that I face? How do they support my cross-cultural effectiveness?
  • What are my most important values that define who I am and how I act as a leader? How do I express these values as a leader? (Focus on the 3-5 most important values)
  • How do my values fit the company’s vision, mission, and strategy? Where do I feel misalignment?
  • How do my values fit the corporate culture and subcultures? What cross-cultural differences do I perceive? How do they make me feel? What is the effect on my behavior?
  • Do I understand the cross-cultural differences that I experience? How can I increase my understanding? How can I increase other’s understanding of my perception and observations?
  • What qualities do I want to improve or develop to increase my cross-cultural effectiveness? How could people in my environment support me with this (peers, colleagues, team members, mentors, coaches)?

How do you create alignment in cross-cultural environments? How is your level of personal alignment? What questions would you add to the list above? Share your ideas and thoughts and join us in the discussion.

In Part 2 of this series I will talk about a next important level of cross-cultural alignment: team alignment.

This post is based on my keynote called ‘How to Strengthen Your Cross-Cultural Compass’, a condensed and energizing program designed for leaders who face the challenges of leading cross-cultural organizations and teams. Contact us for more information about this program.
Photo: Tuppys/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad is an international business advisor, business transformation expert, leadership team facilitator and executive coach. He works with executives and leadership teams of multinational companies on topics like ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, ‘post-merger integration’, and ‘amplifying business performance’. Find out more about Aad and his services. Feel free to contact Aad.

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5 Comments on “Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Create People Alignment (Part 1)

  1. Hi Aad, I love how you show people how they can be personally responsible for their “fit” in an organization. I use a values survey in my work that facilitates this inquiry greatly. I like your questions as a way to interpret the survey results directly in relation to your alignment with the culture you are working in or considering going to work in.


    • Hi Susan, totally agree. My work with leaders in cross-cultural environments shows that it’s important as a leader to be aware of your values and the fit with the different values that can play a role in multinational companies.
      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Pingback: Leading Change: How Focus Creates Sustainable Change | Leadershipwatch – Aad Boot

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