I bet that you could say that you want to feel respected, want to be trusted and trust your co-workers, or that you want to behave professionally and be a good leader.
Many of us would have that in common. But do we mean the same things by trust, respect, professional behaviour, good manager?
It is a complex concept, but there are a few main ideas you can have in mind when considering your approach. This can be as valid when working internationally, as it is when working with people just different from you in terms of the background, culture, personality.
There are a couple of elements to building trust, as per Joanna Barsh, the author of Centered Leadership Model:
– Reliability – clarifying expectations when committing to something, keeping promises, meeting deadlines
– Congruence – ‘walk the talk’, consistency in behaviours, sharing what you think, feel and value
– Openness – setting clear expectations, honesty about any concerns or feelings, telling truth without sugarcoating
– Acceptance – suspending judgment, separating the person from their performance, valuing differing perspectives
It is a great model to familiarize yourself with when thinking about how you build trust as well as what you value most in order to trust others. But as with many other leadership concepts coming from the so-called Western world, we need to be mindful not to copy those word-for-word when entering a different cultural context.
When working internationally, you need to take this one step further. Let’s say it is important for you to keep the set deadlines so that your team delivers. What if this team is from a differing cultural background and has a different understanding of the reliability piece? Maybe for them it’s more important to keep their promise to deliver a great product/document/presentation, even if the deadline slightly moves? It can be quite frustrating if their approach to time is a bit more flexible, while for you the key element was the deadline that was put in place and you wanted the team to fit into this timeline with a good quality end-product.
Or let’s take another example. Let’s say you feel comfortable saying things as they are and are a direct communicator, but find yourself working in a culture where this approach is not appreciated. What may happen is that what you thought was your honesty and openness ends up resulting in the other person losing face (which is a concept still prevalent in many South-East Asian cultures) at the same time lowering the levels of trust they have towards you dramatically.
So before starting work with the new team or in a different cultural context, ask yourself those questions:
What do I consider most important to develop trust in another person?
How do I usually try to gain trust in a familiar context?
How may I need to adapt if I work with people who have a different preference?
Also read: The value of silence in international work
Good manager persona
Which of the below is more true to your heart?
- A good manager is someone with authority, knowledge and experience, who can make decisions independently.
- A good manager is someone who keeps their door open, involves their team in decision-making process and encourages experience-sharing.
Of course, the above are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive descriptions of managers, but they do illustrate quite opposite views and visions of what a good manager can be. Both are equally valid and fair ways of perceiving good leadership, even though the resulting behaviours will differ.
This is what people may have grown up with. Someone who was perceived as good leader was quite open to admitting mistakes and including their teams in the decision-making. Or maybe those good leaders had to make those decisions more independently, because admitting that you don’t know something may be perceived as weak and incompetent.
Maybe in their world to be a manager you need to have X years of experience and be of certain age, or have a specific qualification, otherwise you won’t be taken seriously? Or maybe it was never about the age, but more about the skills, experience and value you bring to the discussions, regardless of the education you hold?
Those perceptions constantly change under influences of the “leadership pop culture” as I like to call it, mostly by American authors, but does not mean that the deeply rooted cultural beliefs disappear so quickly.
As usual when using the cross-country research, think about how you can apply this to the individuals you are working with day to day and to building your organisational culture.
Do your people expect you to be decisive and the knowledgeable person in the room? – after all, that is why you are a manager, no?
Do your people want to be included in key conversations and provide their input? – you may be a manager, but it’s impossible for you to know everything if you don’t do the day to day administrative tasks, no?