Cross-Cultural Leadership: The 6 Simple and Important Challenges Companies Face

Cross-Cultural Leadership: The 6 Simple and Important Challenges Companies Face

cross-cultural leaders

Developing cross-cultural leaders requires not only the ability to learn from the different cultures, but also to understand how to deal with the challenges that arise when different cultures are brought together. This article examines some of the pitfalls that leaders should be aware of. It discusses how to identify leaders and leadership talent from each culture, and how to avoid common mistakes that leaders make when interacting with members of other cultures.

Identifying leaders and leadership talent from each culture

Identifying leaders and leadership talent from each culture is a daunting task. This is especially true for companies with global business units. A cross cultural leadership team can also present challenges related to communication, motivation and decision making. Aside from overcoming language barriers, a leader must also keep in mind that the cultures of his or her employees are different, and must be prepared to embrace those differences.

Cross-cultural leadership styles

The most important thing to learn is that there is no single leadership style that fits all. While it may be difficult to replicate a culture’s ethos, there are a few steps you can take to make the transition easier. One of these steps is to hire a bi-cultural intermediary who can help you overcome cultural misunderstandings and roadblocks. Expatriates are also an effective resource when it comes to human resources processes. They may be able to help you implement global HR processes, and can even help grow your local business.

Another important consideration is that you will not find a perfect fit for all jobs. In other words, it is impossible to have the same person lead each and every team, and you will likely need to use a mix of expatriates and locals to meet your team’s needs. A good example is OpenStax, a division of Rice University. They have a number of programs for both students and professionals, and a number of services to meet your needs. For example, OpenStax offers a number of free online courses to help employees improve their leadership skills, including an online course to help employees improve their communication skills.

Hiring the right people

The best way to tackle this challenge is to hire the right people. The most obvious choice is to hire an expatriate, but you might also consider hiring a bi-cultural intermediary who can bridge the gap between your headquarters and your local employees. You can also try out a virtual team with a high national diversity, but be aware that they may not be the most culturally diverse. There are also a number of other benefits to hiring expatriates, such as helping to grow your local business, and allowing you to maintain communication with your headquarters.

Avoiding cultural misunderstandings

Keeping a few key factors in mind when working with a multicultural team will help avoid cultural misunderstandings. Hiring cross cultural leaders will help avoid these misunderstandings including cultural norms, language, values, and behavioral styles. Understanding the differences between cultures can help you communicate effectively with others and build relationships.

In addition to speaking directly, some cross cultural leaders will urge using body language. This includes non-verbal cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures. Be sure to pay close attention to these, as they can tell you more about a person’s receptivity to your message than the words you use.

The language barrier

One of the largest obstacles to effective communication from cross cultural leaders is a language barrier. Many cultures speak different languages, which means the words you use can be misinterpreted. This can lead to confusion and even conflict. It is important to be clear and precise when communicating.

Another common cause of cultural misunderstandings is a lack of cultural awareness. Bringing in cross cultural leaders will improve awareness of any misunderstandings that can arise in many situations.  If you don’t know much about the cultures of your co-workers, you can end up assuming that their ways of speaking are correct. For example, some Americans consider raising their voices to be a sign of excitement or fighting. In other cultures, this may not be the case.


Another common problem is a lack of education. If you don’t know much about other cultures, you may make assumptions about your co-workers and their ways of working. While education can help you avoid cultural misunderstandings, it isn’t a guarantee.  A group of cross cultural leaders will improve that education over a wider variety of cultures even if they aren’t from that specific one.

The best way to avoid cultural misunderstandings is to understand the people you are working with. By taking the time to learn about their culture, you can avoid misunderstandings and build relationships.  Taking the time to learn from cross cultural leaders can be an incredible gift.

While cultural differences can be helpful, they can also be a source of conflict. This can be a costly problem in the workplace. To avoid this, take steps to help minimize conflict, such as ensuring that lunches are catered to the dietary needs of your employees, honoring major religious holidays for employees of other religions, and fostering thoughtful consideration and communication.

By keeping these cultural factors in mind, you can ensure that your employees work effectively and that your business runs smoothly.  You can gain more insight into this topic by checking out this cross cultural leadership book by Ahmad Salih.  The book covers cross cultural leadership theory and sites several cross cultural leaders examples including Hamlin’s Generic Model of Managerial and Leadership.

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