Advice for Developing as a Global Manager

Business people standing on a global map
••• GettyImages/PhotoAlto/Milena Boniek

There are very few management roles today that do not span global boundaries. Even smaller firms are increasingly involved in sourcing supplies and materials or manufacturing and distributing their wares outside of their home country’s borders. The ability to work across cultures and geographies and to cultivate effective and profitable relationships with colleagues or customers around the globe is a core part of a manager’s job description today. This article offers ideas and tips to help strengthen your global management understanding and cultural I.Q.


Required for Success: a Sense of Cultural Curiosity

One of the exciting and educational components of working with colleagues or clients across borders is the ability to learn about cultures different from your own. All of us cultivate a worldview and develop a set of ingrained beliefs based on the culture in which we grew up. We see the world and issues through our own eyes and the eyes of the predominant beliefs and customs we learned from our families, our teachers, and our religious and political leaders.

Working with individuals in different countries and cultures offers us a tremendous opportunity to expand and adjust that world-view by striving to understand their beliefs and customs. Researchers and academics describe this as developing your Global Social Competency. Strengthening this competency is essential for any manager or professional striving to grow as a global business person.

Four Ideas to Strengthen Your Global Competency

  1. Be adventurous. View the opportunity to work with professionals across borders as an opportunity to explore and learn. Ask questions, read widely and seek out information sources that will help you begin to understand the beliefs, customs, and practices for conducting business with individuals in this culture.
  1. Focus on understanding differences, not just similarities. Strive to recognize the different approaches people from different cultures have for communicating, leading, negotiating, solving problems and working together. The more you study and apply your findings the smoother your relationships will run.
  2. Be open to new approaches. Recognize that your way or your culture’s way of doing something is not necessarily the right way or the only way. Too often, we expect others to instantly understand and adapt to our own approaches. Your careful consideration of the approaches of others and your willingness to adapt will be perceived positively by your new colleagues or partners.
  3. Develop strong relationships. Strive to identify or create opportunities to close the distance gap by meeting face-to-face. While we live in a virtual world via our computers and communication technologies, the power of in-person communications should not be underestimated. If you are offered the opportunity to travel abroad and visit clients or locations outside your home country, seize it. Your immersion in a new culture will accelerate your learning curve and spur additional curiosity.

Six Tips from “Raj” for Succeeding With Your Global, Virtual Team

One of the strengths of our interconnected world is the ability to participate in and to lead teams from around the globe.

Of course, this relatively recent capability made possible by advancements in technology comes with a degree of complexity as well. Cross-cultural, distributed teams are challenging to lead for many reasons. Consider Raj’s situation: 

Raj works in the U.S. on an H-1B visa for a German software firm with a location in a small, rural Midwestern U.S. community. Raj runs a team of engineers distributed across North America, Europe and several locations in Asia. Only 3 of the 10 engineers on the team report directly to Raj and the rest are on loan from other managers and teams for the duration of the project. Several of the engineers are working on multiple projects at once.

Given the complexity of his management situation, Raj has worked hard over the past few years to develop a set of practices that help him and his team members navigate the complexity of their multi-continent, multi-cultural team.

Raj’s advice includes:

  1. Study the countries and cultures of your team members. Dig in and learn about the history of their region and nations and strive to understand the core values and beliefs of their culture.
  2. Mind the differences. Dig deeper into cultural differences around human interaction, work, thinking, and decision-making. Explore the key cultural dimensions around leadership, power, communication, group orientation and others in your teammate’s countries. A tool named Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions is invaluable with this exercise. 
  3. Learn to adapt your communication style. Be sensitive to your use of language and emotion in your conversations and team meetings. A direct, aggressive tone that might be respected in one culture may be offensive in another. This is particularly relevant when it comes to offering performance feedback.
  4. Tune into the news in your colleague's countries. Pay attention to the current events and key issues in the news for the countries or regions of your team members. Ask questions out of curiosity and remain nonjudgmental. Your team members will be impressed by your interest and willingness to learn.
  5. Make the time to connect with individuals. Strive to the extent possible to form individual relationships with the team through one-on-one communication. If appropriate, learn about the lives, goals, hopes and the families of your team members.
  6. Bridge the distance gap between one or more face-to-face meetings per year. The personal contact allows you to truly forge personal relationships and will support successful distance collaboration in the future. 

Raj views himself as a student of distance and cross-cultural leadership. "I learn something new about every team and every culture that I am introduced to. And I develop a deeper appreciation for the power of a team where members think in very different ways. However, it is hard work, and the first step is always about building trust," he offered. 

The Bottom Line

Technology has enabled us to shrink the distance and reduce borders across countries. The opportunity to work with colleagues and partners from around the globe is rich in opportunities to learn, grow and to create economic value. The successful global manager is a student of the world and of the regions he/she is interested in. Channel your curiosity and hunger for learning and growth to help create great value for your firm and for you in your career.