One size doesn’t fit all but the right attitude might 

On Friday 23rd May 2014 the Engage for Success Cross Cultures Subgroup hosted ‘Engage the World’ event. There were a number of keynote speakers and the event had a great turnout.

The below blog from Hosam El Nagar, Operations Director at the Thomson Foundation and cross cultures subgroup member summarises the event below in a blog.

I found having Regina’s presentation conclude the day was a good way to bring together a lot of what followed earlier. The research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) echoed many of the personal insights expressed by the speakers and panellists: There isn’t a one size fits all solution to managing in different cultures, but there is a useful attitude. Managers need first to identify the differences by listening and observing, and by respecting the local cultural values and preferences. Only then can they engage and obtain engagement.

CCL looked at data from 62 different countries. They found that employees’ expectations of their leaders differed across countries. For example, warmth and care could be perceived as weakness or as an essential requirement from the leadership. Similarly, in some cultures, hierarchy needs to be clearly defined and represented, while in others less so. interestingly though, the research also identified common expectations from leaders that were shared across the different cultures such as charisma, team-orientation, and participation.

So how should a leader unfamiliar with a culture find her way? Gina’s answer is simple: by trying to understand what are the employee’s expectations from their leadership; reflecting on whether her behaviour matches these expectations; and adapting through a negotiation process. Indeed, “negotiating” with the local culture was commonly referred to by the other voices of the day. Each leader personally built their own cultural bridges.

Finally, Gina presented CCL’s framework for a universal strategy for “boundary spanning” which put companies in three different categories in a ladder of co-operation. Again the emphasis is first on recognising and accepting differences by managing boundaries. Then it is about finding common ground to increase co-operation and trust. And finally, it using diversity to foster innovation. You cannot reach the latter without first going through the first two steps.

I was heartened by this talk. It confirmed to me that there are fundamental common values based on which it is possible to engage with workforces from different cultures. As many have said, it is fundamentally about respect, self-awareness, and making an effort to understand the other. And looking at the findings from CCL’s research should help the process.

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