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Leading Across Cultures: The Five Secrets of the World’s Top CEOs

Matthew MacLachlan

9 Jan 2017

Modern-day CEOs find themselves working in ever-more complex organisations and competitive environments. While new technological advances such as virtual meetings, email and instant messaging can unite teams and managers around the world, the physical presence of the CEO and senior leadership team is often required “on the ground”. How can CEOs and other leaders manage and motivate multinational teams of employees spread out across the globe? Read on and find out how the world’s top CEOs are leading across cultures.

Leading across cultures: the key to international success

Although working internationally has become more frequent, and in most cases easier than before, leading across cultures can still be quite challenging for even the most seasoned leader.

What does it take to be a CEO?

Global leaders with a suite of intercultural skills and knowledge will be better placed to harness and manage cross-cultural differences

CEOs today must demonstrate a unique combination of skills to effectively lead a global organisation to international success. In addition to core leadership skills, CEOs need other intercultural skills ranging from cultural adaptability and awareness to global communication and language skills.

Global leaders with a suite of intercultural skills and knowledge will be better placed to harness and manage cross-cultural differences, no matter their cultural background or the territory they work in.

The Top 5 skills of any Global CEO

An article in the Guardian highlighted five skills that 70 chief executives around the globe demonstrated:

1.Passionate curiosity

Interest in understanding any and every situation through questioning, listening and talking with those involved

2.Battle-hardened confidence

Ability to face new and unpredictable situations with confidence

3.Team understanding

Understanding of their teams – the dynamics, objectives and challenges they face

4.Simple mindset

Ability to make quick and concise actions

5.Fearlessness

Lack of fear for future development and the improvement of current situations

The important thing is for leaders to recognise that they will be required to adapt their style and skills and not just stick to the core leadership skills that may have worked

These are just a few of the skills global leaders should demonstrate for international success, but there are some other competencies that global leaders need in order to make an even greater impact on their global teams and objectives. Some of these include:

  • Openness – an open attitude to new ways of thinking, working and behaving
  • Cultural adaptability – ability to adapt their behaviour and judgements to different situations
  • Emotional strength – a positive attitude to life and the ability to ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong
  • Perceptiveness – ability to identify cues that are not evident in verbal language and accurately interpret and understand them
  • Cultural understanding – ability to research other cultures and increase their knowledge about traditions, values and attitudes in that environment

This is just the start of a list which could go on for pages. The important thing is for leaders to recognise that they will be required to adapt their style and skills and not just stick to the core leadership skills that may have worked so well for them before when leading across cultures.

CEOs will further break down interpersonal boundaries resulting in tremendous value for both the leader and the organisation on a global scale

So whether it’s having a passionate curiosity or cultural adaptability, CEOs of today’s global world need to be able to apply their skills to different cultural contexts.

In doing so they will not only be able to effectively influence international communication processes, but they will further break down interpersonal boundaries resulting in tremendous value for both the leader and the organisation on a global scale.