How Successful Cross-Cultural Leaders Work

Cross-Cultural business Team meeting

How to Boost Your Cross-Cultural Leadership Skills

25 years ago I started my career as a leadership consultant. From the start I was fascinated by how leaders can boost a company’s success by stimulating successful collaboration between people from different cultures. At first my work was mainly at national level dealing with local cultural differences, but soon I began to work for clients abroad and was confronted with international cultural differences.

I vividly remember my first international job, for a French client, and how a feeling of discomfort overwhelmed me during one of the first meetings. Not being able to speak my own language was one thing, but what confused me most was the fact that even if I understood what they were saying I still couldn’t be sure whether I really understood what they meant. Apparently there was a whole world of cultural differences apart from language and habits.

Language and habits are observable, can even be amusing to experience, but there is a deeper and more fundamental level of culture. A level that reveals how we deal with values, beliefs, and norms; a level that is formed by our history, educational system, and social environment. Being confronted with this deeper level can put you out of your comfort zone, making you uncertain on how to interpret and value what you observe and hear. I remember how it impacted my feeling of self-confidence, my trust in others, and my level of comfort to openly share my thoughts and ideas.

Learning to understand and getting comfortable with this deeper level of a culture that is not your own requires a certain mindset.  A mindset that can significantly improve your effectiveness in cross-cultural settings.

Later when I also began to work with Asian cultures this cross-cultural mindset proved its value various times. It showed me that if you really want to come to successful relationships and collaboration you have to be able to reach this deeper level and find effective ways to reconcile the cultural differences you perceive.

We see every day how globalization has a significant impact on companies, and how leaders are increasingly facing cross-cultural challenges, particularly where East meets West. It is clear that in today’s business reality there is a strong business case for strengthening your cross-cultural competency as a leader.

Intrigued by the challenges I encountered working with executives and leadership teams in cross-cultural situations, I decided to investigate existing literature and leadership programs on developing cross-cultural competencies. I discovered that most materials rather focus on cultural differences in habits and customs, and on how to adjust to these in order to ‘fit in’.

But your effectiveness depends not just on how well you can fit in another culture. It depends much more on how well you can create effective relationships based on mutual understanding, despite cultural differences.

Academic books and programs, on the other hand, generally offer data and explanations of cultural differences and their background, but lack the hands-on advice and support on how to create successful collaboration in real life business situations.

What I looked for was a short and practical program going beyond ‘how to introduce yourself at a reception’, ‘how to address your audience’, or ‘how to behave at a karaoke party’.

A program sharing key insights and real-life observations about how successful cross-cultural leaders work, and what it is that differentiates them from other leaders.

A program that doesn’t try to box the complexity of your business reality into simplified stereotypes, but offers you a ready-to-use compass, giving you direction in cross-cultural business situations, helping you to navigate easier, and to strengthen your cross-cultural leadership skills.

A compact program filled with valuable business cases, tips and insights that you can apply at all times in your daily work and life.

I could not find such a program, and therefore decided to create it myself. I created two compact and interactive programs together with Hanneke Siebelink and called them the Cross-Cultural Booster Programs.

Some of the questions the Cross-Cultural Booster Programs will help you answer:

  1. How do you move people from ‘knowing we are different’ to ‘knowing how to work together successfully’?
  2. How to create openness and trust between team members, despite cultural differences?
  3. Which key leadership traits foster your cross-cultural competence?
  4. How can you turn cultural differences into strengths?

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”, Benjamin Franklin once said.

The Cross-Cultural Booster Programs want to do just that.


006_LW bijgesnedenAad is a global leadership advisor, change leader, leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact Aad here.

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