Leadership and Culture
I’ll be hosting this month’s Round Table discussion on Saturday, September 20, 2014 and I have some great questions for the expert panel on the Cultural Diversity and the Business Leadership. This article sets the tone for the Radio Talk show and serves as introduction.
As you all know, great leadership is a key to the success of any business. And a core part of great leadership is trust: Those who lead must inspire trust in those who follow.
To inspire trust is to create the foundation upon which all truly successful enterprises stand. ~ Stephen Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust”
But, in business—as in life—nothing is ever that simple. Leadership and trust mean different things across cultural divides. So, when you are expanding beyond your national borders, it gets complicated.
It’s human nature to be mistrustful of the unfamiliar. But overcoming that is an important factor in global expansion. And doing so requires leaders to learn the skills to build trust across cultural boundaries.
So, What Is Trust?
Trust is, by its nature, hard to define. But it’s a vitally important part of leadership.
Why Workplace Trust is a Challenge?
The challenge with workplace trust, whether from leaders to employees or employees to leaders or employees to employees is that to trust another person you must be willing to be vulnerable. That is, the act of trusting someone means that you are opening yourself up to the ‘risk’ that whoever you are trusting could ‘break’ your trust.
You see, trust cannot be broken unless it is given in the first place.
This is one of the factors that makes trust within an organization so hard.
Whether this be from leader to employees, or from employees to leaders. The same is true.
In this context, leaders must be able to demonstrate that they are willing to be vulnerable by trusting employees, and employees need to demonstrate that they too are willing to be vulnerable by trusting their leaders.
I am suggesting that trust is built by demonstrating trust and being open to the vulnerabilities that come with trusting others.
Trust is an intangible that makes relationships work, speeds communication, and enables people to take risks that pay off for the success of the business.
When you decide to trust someone, there is some kind of risk involved. Trust isn’t needed when there is complete certainty, but that’s rare—there are few situations that don’t have some element of ambiguity. When money or personal security is involved, it feels as though there is much more at risk.
As a leader faced with team-members who don’t know you or understand your motives, this is the time when you are really going to have to work for it.
Culture: More than Just Language
These days, to be successful, businesses need to work with global partners.
Earning and giving trust is a vital part of competing in a globalized world, but it’s also a complicating factor. What makes a trustworthy person in one country doesn’t always translate across cultures.
In their study into building trust across national cultures, a group of researchers discovered a range of factors that influence the development of trusting relationships. These include two aspects that are critical to building trust in business:
1. how people relate to authority figures, and
2. cultural attitudes to risk.
On top of these basic building blocks of trust come other elements of culture that many of us take for granted.
For example, while time may seem like a concrete concept, it’s viewed differently in countries around the world. What constitutes “now” for a leader from one culture can mean something completely different for the people they are trying to lead.
Failure to understand how something is heard can lead to frustration—which no one would call the basis of a trusting relationship.
Even in other countries that speak the same language as you, cultural values and societal habits are powerful lenses that can distort workplace expectations. They can make or break your plan for expansion beyond your home nation.
Understanding the status of women, the role of the family, and the place of spirituality and religion in daily life are first steps towards understanding those you lead. And acceptance of different attitudes and behavior—plus a willingness to work with the differences—can help enormously when working to engender trust.
Leaders who don’t respect a society’s rules risk alienating workers. But, sensitivity to these elements of human behavior builds trust, loyalty and commitment.
Growing Global Leaders (Here Comes The Science… )
The problem for expanding businesses is that vanishingly few executives have the skills to successfully build trust across cultures and lead in different countries.
A recent evidence-based study into intercultural leadership put forward four skills that leaders need, if they are to be successful when working across cultures.
1. World View
Leaders who are open-minded and respectful of others’ beliefs start from a strong base when working across cultures.
For example, understanding the history of different countries and cultures allows a leader to adapt to how their teams operate in the context of their history.
2. Social and Interpersonal Style
Instilling trust and adapting socially to a wide range of different ways of behaving have a huge impact. Understanding and respectfulness can help to foster trust among local teams, while following the local ways of doing things helps ease relationships, by offering familiarity and acceptance.
This is a subtle, yet powerful tool.
3. Flexibility Amid Ambiguity
Bring a situational approach to each challenge. Don’t make assumptions based on previous assignments.
Be flexible and open to ambiguity—these are strengths when the cultural ground is shifting under your feet.
4. License to Be A Beginner
Many leaders believe they must be seen to know everything—so if they don’t, they bluff, concealing their ignorance. While this might seem like a show of strength, it’s actually a catastrophic weakness: When it comes to building trust, local teams will see right through insincere attempts to integrate.
Honesty and humility, where a leader asks for help, are far more likely to build trusting relationships.
The Bottom Line
If your company is expanding into new national territory, find leaders who can build trust in teams across cultural divides. It will do more for your success than the best business plan.
Executivess who are adaptable and humble can be your greatest asset in tomorrow’s business.
Don’t forget to tune in on Saturday or you can always access the archives after September 20th at: