Digital communication has facilitated this current era of globalization, allowing people to connect with others all around the world. This newfound ability to communicate has opened the door for both business and personal relationships to develop and flourish.
Constant, global communication has introduced new perspectives and ideas to the business world, which allows leaders to learn new things and improve their abilities to manage others. In addition, globalization has changed leadership itself by compelling leaders to be aware of other cultures and their differences, and how combining that awareness with their leadership style can affect success.
The Importance of Cultural Awareness
The open door to new cultures offers many advantages in the form of new ways of thinking, but these cultural differences also increase the possibility of miscommunication, embarrassment, and offending others. Regardless of their leadership style, a good leader will be aware of these differences and ensure that no one on their team suffers because of them.
Norwich University outlines several important skills to master for successful cross-cultural management, including:
- Embracing silence: Americans tend to avoid silence, as it often carries an awkward or negative connotation. However, other cultures may view silence differently, including to show respect or convey disagreement. When working with people from different cultures, embrace silence instead of trying to filling it so as not to confuse or offend anyone.
- Taking notice of body language: People get so focused on overcoming barriers to spoken language that they can easily forget about the significant role that body language plays in intercultural communication. Body language varies greatly among cultures, and what is normal to one person may be highly offensive or odd to someone else. Look for contextual clues and be very mindful of how body language is used.
- Anticipating disagreement: Between different languages, values, and cultural customs, people from different cultures are bound to disagree on something. Recognize that this will happen, and that the way disagreement is expressed may be different too. Some cultures may value directness while others are discreet and passive about disagreement. Recognizing these differences will prevent any disagreements from escalating.
Above all else, prioritize respect. Being mindful and respectful of other cultures when managing a team will help ensure success without alienating any team members.
Different Styles of Leadership
The greater diversity of people in the workplace means there is a greater diversity of not only employees, but also communication methods and leadership styles. Traditionally, most leaders have been autocratic, but employees from other cultures may not be responsive to this style. These other leadership styles may be a better alternative to connect with those employees:
- Servant: Employees are typically thought to serve the leader, but servant leadership flips that notion on its head. Instead, the leader works to support others and help them perform to the best of their abilities. This is how leaders achieve the outcome they hope to see from an employee or project.
- Transformational: Transformational leaders are focused on building positive relationships and inspiring employees. This is an effective leadership style for successful results. Duquesne University notes that, among nurses, this style is “widely seen as the gold standard in nursing leadership because it promotes improved patient outcomes and greater job satisfaction among staff nurses.”
- Democratic: As the name implies, democratic leaders ask for others’ opinions when making decisions and to ensure that all of their employees’ voices are heard. This style fosters creativity and shows that all team members are valued.
Keep in mind that a smart leader will use a blend of styles, depending on the project, the employees they are guiding, and the outcome they wish to see.
Despite the potential for miscommunication, intercultural business relationships and teams provide the chance for employees and projects alike to be more successful. Not only does this make for stronger teams, cross-cultural management makes for stronger leaders too.
She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader, and dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons creativity enough that she’ll get more than groans and eye rolls in response. To read more of her work, follow her on Twitter @faulknercreek