Archives For Culture & Global Leadership Series

As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! This past spring I had the opportunity to return to Turkey for pleasure instead of business… Here is what I was thinking about:

I returned to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I was observing the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I began to think (once again) about how there are unique leadership lessons in every environment.  It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and think to yourself, “what can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that Turkey is a beautiful country with beautiful people and there are some important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and deploy. In the western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attend client meetings that are focused solely on getting know one another better, I am always reminded how the Turkish people, in general, only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I made a visit to the world famous Spice Bazaar, I was reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stopped to chat with a shopkeeper and was invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chatted for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchanged contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

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In today’s competitive environment most of us work across borders of one kind or another, but for me it is at the core of what I do… who I am.

The reality is that we live in a global economy – with instantaneous communication, online connectivity, unlimited tools, and the ability to see and interact with people on the other side of the world. You have to pause and ask yourself – how hard can it be to interact successfully with supervisors, subordinates, suppliers, customers, and/or partners from around the world? As it turns out, a whole lot harder than it looks…

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From personal experience, I can tell you that helping people accelerate as effective leaders in a global economy is complex… and critically important. Continue Reading…

Google… On Steroids

September 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

When my daughter, Savannah, was in elementary school she was quite the know it all and acquired the nickname “Google” because she would start nearly every sentence with, “Did you know…” followed by whatever fact fell from her rather significant brain and out of her very pretty, little mouth. Still today, she is not so different… if occasionally more contained.

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As I think about our world today, how we are made up, and the rapidly expanding global marketplace, perhaps we (a little like Savannah) have become Google incarnate:

Google is a vast pool of knowledge – broader and deeper than most of us can even begin to fathom – while, as humans, we are a vast pool of diversity and complexity that spans the globe. We take in information, aggregate it… and determine how we will present it (or not). That is not to say we necessarily understand it…

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As a leader in a global environment, it is essential for you to set the example and create communities where people unite around a common purpose and values.  Working collaboratively to accomplish a shared vision that makes a powerful and positive impact on the global business is absolutely vital to your success!

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Can true collaboration occur in cross-cultural and virtual environments? Absolutely, IF you, as a leader, are intentional about building collaborative environments, modeling collaborative leadership practices, and creating opportunities to bring people together for both organizational and personal benefit.

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Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language). How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information. People in high-context cultures, such as Asia and South America, tend to take time getting to know one another, providing for an understanding of the broader context of a conversation. This results in a knowledge of what to expect, what signals to look for, and how to interpret subtle signs or expressions – fewer words need to be said.

Low Context cultures are expecting explicit communications. People want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them. Documents and contracts are not taken seriously unless written or signed – details must be provided. For example, in the United States and Germany (both low-context cultures), contracts with numerous explicit clauses are a normal way to conduct business and the written word is taken quite literally. In low-context cultures, expect detailed documentation – thorough job descriptions, detailed accounting, and lengthy business planning documents. The devil is in the detail.

When communications become challenging, it can be tempting to access your “barbarian-reflex”, especially when messaging becomes unclear. But, as you can imagine, it is completely ineffective to view your colleagues, staff, or even clients as “foreign” or “unrefined” simply because they do not communicate as you do. If you are motivated to communicate effectively on a global, multi-cultural level, you will need to invest in building trust – the more you come to know someone, the less you tend to look upon him or her as a “barbarian”.

If your purpose is to ensure your colleagues and staff reliably implement to your specifications across the globe, the strategy you choose will vary depending on the cultural orientations you are working across. In those high-context cultures, your strategy will need to be relationship and trust based and may not be explicit – more soft-skills based and time intensive.  In low-context cultures the purpose of communication is to transfer information and your strategy will need to be explicit, efficient, and detailed in order to ensure the correct implementation. A sound strategic approach that is rooted in cultural orientation will be imperative to your overall success in the global organization.

As a global leader, everything you do conveys a message. Leveraging high-context and low-context cultures means relying on both implicit and explicit communication – carefully ensuring that what you say (low-context) is always mirrored by what you do (high-context). When there is alignment, you automatically build trust across all cultures  and your strategic approach becomes less diverse by nature – your message becomes stronger, and you can more readily achieve your global organizational goals, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website atwww.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.