As a global leader, one of your fundamental roles is to function productively and efficiently across international boundaries and cultures while determining intentions and goals that will engage a varied collection of human beings.
This indeed isn’t a small task, yet it is critical.
Just like every other person, you are shaped by your background as well as by the values and beliefs that you grew up with. Cultural awareness doesn’t mean throwing these down the drain, but it does mean identifying how your culturally derived implicit assumptions and values direct your performance at work. And, more importantly, it shows how it affects others (either customers or employees) from another cultural background.
According to “Managing Globally Competent People” by Nancy Adler and Susan Bartholomew, there are five cross-cultural competencies that any global leader needs to develop. They are:
1. Understand business, political, and cultural environments worldwide.
2. Learn the perspectives, tastes, trends, and technologies of many other cultures.
3. Be able to work simultaneously with people from many cultures.
4. Be prepared to adapt to living and communicating in different cultures.
5. Learn to relate to people from other cultures from a position of equality rather than cultural superiority.
In fact, due to increasing globalization, being culturally aware is the most essential leadership quality in today’s global economy. If you are still unsure about its importance, read on to discover three benefits of cultural awareness to global leaders.
1. It shows respect and promotes cultural accord.
Although globalization is increasing, it doesn’t mean that as individuals, everyone is becoming the same. More than ever, people’s differences are emerging, and that is a beautiful thing. Just being aware that differences exist is the first step for global leaders as it shows respect and promotes cultural accord.
In a similar vein, being culturally aware allows you to increase your effectiveness in diverse cross-cultural settings which, in turn, assists you in developing your global and cross-cultural teams. Being able to perceive commonalities across cultures (as well as differences) will enable you to make more efficient and appropriate decisions that take into account the appropriate people. This will also enhance your impact on others and the productivity of your teams.
On a personal level, having cultural awareness and deepening your global knowledge will make you feel more confident in your abilities to break down barriers while also equipping you with the tools necessary to judge when behavior requires adjustment.
By developing these skills and investing in executive coaching services, you will be in a position to take on the world (in a culturally appropriate manner, of course!).
2. It will help you expand into foreign markets.
Why are some companies better equipped to expand into foreign markets? And why do others screw it up almost right away? Cultural awareness is undoubtedly one of the characteristics.
How are you, as a leader, going to expand into a foreign market if you aren’t able to garner a more thorough comprehension of international customers and their wants?
Cultural awareness will aid you significantly in being able to recognize the relationship between a foreign culture and your approach as a leader as your leadership must be flexible enough to match the consumers culturally.
Additionally, cultural awareness is required if you are going to be able to communicate effectively with new target markets as you will have the knowledge necessary to approach communication with the appropriate level of empathy and style. The same holds true for any marketing and writing endeavor. If it isn’t culturally sensitive, then it isn’t going to be effective.
Even if you aren’t looking to expand into international markets (yet), cultural awareness is necessary in order to serve and get to know remote customers more completely.
On a bigger scale, cultural awareness will aid you in formulating transcultural concepts and effectively communicating them. And it isn’t just about the overseas revenue (although that is of the utmost importance); cultural awareness also brings an invaluable reward of simply enjoying more local knowledge and language skills.
3. It will help the inner workings of your company.
By this point, it is common knowledge that companies should be hiring diverse employees both because of the benefits and because it is the right thing to do. For starters, being culturally strong empowers your firm to have a more diversified, and therefore stronger, team.
However, just employing diverse workers is not enough. After all, once they are an employee, they need to be treated with the same level of understanding and respect as the next.
If you are looking for ways to encourage the creation of a robust and diverse team, make sure you are focusing on fostering an attitude of openness and actively seeking diverse hires. Additionally, consider putting your workers through professional development workshops or leadership coaching programs in Dubai (or wherever you are based) that focus on the particular skills you are looking to develop or tackle specific struggles your firm is experiencing.
As a leader, it is up to you to obtain the necessary cultural awareness to be in a position to lead culturally diverse employees. Once you are able to do this, you will find yourself with an even larger talent pool to hire from, and you can utilize your varied and exciting work environment as an advantage during the hiring process.
Forward-thinking companies fully understand that having diverse cultural perspectives within an organization is a surefire way to inspire creativity and stimulate strong innovation. And that presents more opportunities for the development of more varied products and services.
If you are a leader of a firm that has multiple satellite units, then you are probably aware of the need for quick and efficient communication. The primary way to ensure better cooperation between these teams is to develop cultural awareness throughout the firm.
Increasing your cultural awareness starts with the knowledge that operating with (instead of fighting against) these variations will bring out the potential in your most exceptional employees. But, as a leader, you are also going to need to be humble enough to acknowledge that you will need to work on gaining both understanding and diplomacy.
How are you going to improve your cultural awareness this year? What strategies have you found to work? What challenges are you facing? Let us know your thoughts regarding this topic in the comments below!
Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.