Earlier this week I shared a great infographic about differences in global leadership (24 Charts of Leadership Styles). It used the amazing work of Richard Lewis and his work on global leadership and culture. Today’s content is a follow-up infographic from Mr. Lewis. It focuses on differences in global communication styles.
As a Canadian who lives in America and occasionally teaches in Europe, I have had my share of communication mishaps. I have learned that the need to develop cultural agility is a critical skill for 21st century leaders. Take a look below and see if you have experienced any of these differences. Or more importantly, assess how others view you!
Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently shared an article titled 5 Depressing Side Effects No One Tells You About Moving Abroad. For those who have moved or lived abroad, it provides some interesting insights about this life-changing event. While this article did an effective job highlighting the negatives, there are also positive aspects to a big decision like this. My colleague and friend, Dr. Dustin Knutson, read this post and wrote a personal response to it. One year ago he moved his family to the Middle East and has firsthand experience about living abroad – the good and the bad. In our global economy, this type of experience is becoming more common. Understanding the implications of a global lifestyle is helpful for all of us. Next month I begin teaching a doctoral course on Global Leadership and I will be sharing this content with my students soon! I know you will enjoy Dustin’s guest post today.
Many expatriates (expats) know that contrary to popular opinion, moving abroad is not necessarily a selfish choice. Expats are people who like to live life-outside-the-box. And they can love like no one else if you let them.
I want to tell you about five uplifting benefits that no one tells you about living abroad. To really understand, you need to experience it for yourself, even if for just a week on a visit. But for those who have not or cannot do so, I’ll try to give you an insight into the good side of expat life.
1. You learn to coach your own mind about how to think. This empowers you.
You learn the power of your own attitude and how it determines your longevity and survival. Well, almost. After you stay long enough in another country, you’ll find there are two types of people. Let’s call this a “desert experience” because it draws every last bit of water out of you and tests you, accentuating your strengths and flaws, leaving you emptied. That’s when you choose with whom, how, and what you’ll surround yourself with to fill the void.
The first type includes the survivors who go abroad and have survived because they have developed an unwavering commitment to see life optimistically. They are so passionate about their perspective that if you hang around them and start complaining, you’ll find that they will suddenly disappear, almost without warning.
They might smile out of the corner of their mouth, bite their tongue, and nod at your first complaint. They may even respond politely with a subtle difference in opinion or another way to look at the situation. They may say something like, “At least…” and then make a comparison to something worse that makes you regret complaining. These people are subtle encouragers and life-givers. They will bring joy to being abroad, if you let them. They will become your best friends.
The second type is a group filled with perpetual whiners. They attract each other and feed on each other like cannibals.
They live from the perspective that life is all about them. They believe they deserve all sorts of things just because they exist. These are the people who typically move abroad to find something better for themselves. They are often unsatisfied by their past and seek to make their journey all about themselves. These are the few that give expats a bad rap.
Ironically, they sometimes stick around even though you would think it would be easier to leave. Those who stay, continually find newbie complainers that have just arrived. They are excellent at proselytizing. Even those who begin optimistically find it easy to latch onto the complainer’s addictive ways of viewing the world while they are in their “discovery phase” in a new country. This is very hard to watch.
If you want to survive and grow, you must quickly choose which camp you will associate with when living and working abroad. You must set reminders to coach yourself into positive ways of thinking. You must learn to create exit strategies to avoid long conversations with complainers. After all, no matter where you live, the grass can always be greener somewhere else.
2. You will face many choices which will permanently change you and you will also be permanently changed without choice. This enlightens you.
You have countless opportunities to see others as equals or better than you are. When you make the difficult decision to deny yourself and choose to serve others, you will embrace a perspective which provides fulfillment and purpose. One way to do this is by seeking to learn or re-learn what you thought you knew.
Discovering new ways to eat, cook, clean, dress, drive, work, play, dance, and converse is intriguing. You find that you put off your old self in some ways in favor of a newer, different self. Some of it happens out of necessity, some of it by choice. In either case, you adapt. As you do, your mind realizes that “my way” isn’t the highway but only one way. Furthermore, you learn that there are many who view “my way” as the odd choice.
Expat life means you will end up in a different place, defined by your convictions but also flavored by your experiences. We live in a world full of unique spices. And there are many of them which can season a steak to perfection.
3. Opportunities to serve using skills you have (but didn’t know were rare or valuable) are often brought to light. This encourages you.
What may have been taken for granted previously can be cherished in a new land and new context. Skills and processes are transferable, but only to an extent. You will be required to adapt them. Many times, being flexible and adapting old ideas to new cultures is appreciated. However, if it is done incorrectly or without cultural sensitivity, it isn’t appreciated.
There’s almost nothing as great as finding something you do well to be valued like a precious commodity in a new place. As a result, you feel valued. Your spirits are lifted. You see that you were made for such a time as this.
However, this experience need not be limited to new countries or foreign lands. The same concept also applies to a new organization or business. When it is used in the proper context and made practical, it can reinvigorate your life.
4. The way you live your life will speak more than the words you say – and it will be noticed by others. This surprises you.
People often quote Ghandi who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and Jesus who taught, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31, NIV).
When I am thirsty, I want a drink. However, offering a bottle of water to a parched, hard-working man who looks exhausted in the desert sun during the day during Ramadan isn’t a gift. To a Muslim, it could be considered offensive and a temptation to sin by breaking a mandated fast. It could even be considered cruel. What’s my point? Seek to understand first and then act. I do not want to be tempted to do something that is against my beliefs either. It takes time to learn that you need to offer that water after sundown.
On the other hand, offering a simple “hello” can brighten someone’s day. It is a simple way to show that you are interested in more than yourself. I’ve found this to be a pleasant experience that starts friendships with people from all over the world. It has become a simple gateway that enables me to give and bless others in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.
Any expat will tell you that things which seem to be common sense in your culture can be unacceptable in another. One thing remains certain. The way you live your life will be noticed, whether you want it to or not. The key is to be respectful. This doesn’t mean agreeing with everything or changing your convictions. It simply means loving someone else enough to give them the freedom to believe as they choose.
5. You can overcome distance. This helps you to know that you’re never alone.
Long distances make you fight to keep relationships intact. You learn who your true friends are and who you really care about. Relationships anywhere, whether near or far, require time and attention. While some relationships and some people demand more attention than others to maintain a relationship, you will find that your true friends are not those who become bitter or angry and hold grudges at you leaving for long periods of time. Your true friends are the ones who can pick up right where you left off regardless of how long you’ve been apart or where you’ve been. I’m so thankful for these people. They help me to realize as an expat that there are times when I’m lonely but I’m never truly alone.
If you think of a friend, just let them know, in that moment. In doesn’t matter if the time zone is different and they don’t see it until the next morning. At least then they will wake up to a message from a friend rather than nothing. This simple gesture can literally make a world of difference.
Sometimes, simple notes can be all that’s needed to maintain a true friend for years. For others, much more is required. There is no magic formula. But it always requires the ingredient of intentionality.
Overcoming distance is a test of a relationship, just like the daily decision to love someone you’ve promised to love even when they act in a way that isn’t likable. Expats aren’t always likable but they will love you like no one else can love you if you let them.
Returning “Home” Again
Expats are excellent escape artists. That makes loving an expat a constant decision. So when they escape your mind, or your home, let them. When they can’t define home anymore, it doesn’t mean that you are not home to them, wherever you are.
When they leave, it doesn’t mean that they are gone forever or that they don’t love you. Sure, they will miss some events that seem important to you and some that are important to you. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. In fact, the opposite is true. There is likely no one in the world that wishes they could be in two places at the same time more often than an expat.
Most care so deeply that they are willing to change their life for the pursuit of something better – for them, for you. Hopefully, it ends up being for both. Their pursuit is their attempt.
When the Boeing 777 cabin door closes, there are more than five things that no one tells you about moving abroad or being an expatriate. There are many more than five things that those left behind could tell as well.
Expats trade a physical single home for the idea of home anywhere and everywhere. Coming home is neither a coming nor a going for an expat. Instead, it’s just part of the process of a life in between.
Wheels up, remember to tread gently, love deeply, and keep picking up the pieces. Though at times we cut, we’re all just broken pieces trying to shine more light in the world.
After all, this world is not our home.
About the author:
Dustin J. Knutson holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University (VA) and lives and works with his wife and two daughters as an expatriate in the Middle East.
Jeff Suderman is a global-leader-in-process, a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman
We have all felt power at work in our professional and personal relationships. Sometimes it draws us nearer to people and at times it pushes us away. At times it operates so naturally that we feel comfortable while at other times it makes us uncomfortable. There is a term for this – power distance.
By definition, power distance is the degree to which we expect and agree that power should be stratified and concentrated at higher levels. High power distance seeks more stratification while lower score minimize differences. This phenomenon is very present as we examine cultural norms. The caste system in India is a historic example of how power distance can dramatically define and affect relationships and societies.
The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between countries with high or low power distance scores. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.
Power distance norms correlate directly to how we lead. Countries with low scores utilize charismatic and participative leadership styles. Countries with high scores practice self-protective leadership. In addition, the GLOBE research reveals that traditionally, strong Catholic countries have a culture of strong power distance. High practices of power distance are also associated with higher levels of male domination in societies. To illustrate this point, I encourage you to look for countries which have female Presidents or Prime Minister’s. In most cases, you will find that they are nations with lower power distance scores.
This global measure provides us with helpful insights into how societies operate. Power distance is a quiet principle that affects our lives in significant ways. Effective leaders and organizations must learn to identify and adapt to variances in power distance norms as they work and relate to others.
Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works in
the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman
House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004).Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Cultural studies reveal that one of these two biases drives how you prioritize and make decisions. Those who come from a strong collective cultures practice, encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action. In contrast, individualistic cultures reward efforts which promote individual success.
The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between individualistic or collective cultures. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.
These biases can be observed in both in national, organizational and family structures. At times, we learn to exhibit different practices in our different environments. A cut-throat work environment may cause you to act individualistically in the office while your South American cultural heritage may foster strong collectivism in other relationships.
While some cultural insights help explain fascinating cultural differences, I find that differences in individualistic/collective worldviews can be the cause of significant conflict. An inner bias of ‘me’ or ‘we’ is a very strong personal driver and, as a result, can fuel intense conflict! As a result, it is critical for effective leaders to be able to assess the individualistic or collective preferences of those they work with.
NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.
Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman
House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M, Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Hofstede, G. (1980). Cultures consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
My trip to South-East Asia taught me a major life lesson – there is a significant difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘different’. In Indonesia, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of North America. While navigating heavy traffic, I recall telling my wife that it was strange to drive “on the wrong side of the road”. Later that day I pondered my comment and questioned the assumptions that it carried. What makes the left side of the road ‘the wrong side’? Our cultures invisibly shape our perspective and beliefs. As we interact with people who see the world differently, we have a choice to see them as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’.
For the next two weeks I have the privilege of working with a client in Lithuania. As I prepared for my trip, I spent time reviewing the most extensive global leadership project to date, The GLOBE Leadership Study . This extensive research project provides insights about how beliefs differ between 62 different countries around the world. The results summarize eight areas which are viewed very differently as we live, work and interact with different cultures.
1. Performance Orientation: This is the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, and performance improvement. Some regions have a high performance orientation (Switzerland ) while other countries do not place much emphasis on this (Greece).
2. Future Orientation: Some countries place high value on the collective encouragement and reward of future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification (Singapore) while others do not (Russia).
3, Gender Egalitarianism: This is the extent to which we seek to minimize or maximize the differences between men and women. A country such as Russia has a very high level of gender equality while South Korea has a low score in egalitarianism
4. Assertiveness: This refers to beliefs as to whether people should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive and tough, or nonassertive, nonaggressive, and tender in social relationships. The country of Nigeria has a high level of assertiveness while Switzerland has low assertiveness.
5. Individualism vs. Collectivism: Individualism pertains to ties between individuals which are loose while collectivism embraces the integration of strong, cohesive in-groups. Brazil is a highly individualistic nation while South Korea is a very collective culture.
6. Power Distance: This exemplifies the extent to which the community accepts and endorses authority, power differences and status privileges. Nigeria has a high power distance score while Denmark has a low score.
7. Humane Orientation: This category explains whether a society possesses the values of altruism, benevolence, kindness, love and generosity as motivating forces in a person’s behavior. The Philippines has a very high humane orientation while Germany scores low.
8. Uncertainty Avoidance: This is the extent to which ambiguous situations are threatening to individuals, to which rules and orders are preferred and to which uncertainty is tolerated. Switzerland has high uncertainty avoidance while Russia has low avoidance tendencies.
The ability to be a cultural catalyst is a skill which is increasing in demand in today’s global business world. The ability to understand and respond to major cultural differences such as the ones highlighted in the GLOBE study are essential skills for modern leaders!
 House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.