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Transcultural Leadership, what is it and how to use it?


Leaders, born or made?

We cannot forget we live in society, therefore, as good biopsychosocial beings we are, our behaviour is (until a certain point and almost irremediably) incited, inspired and influenced. We assume that in any social group there is a figure of a leader that is not a boss. How do they differ? A boss commands, a leader influences.

Leadership is one of the most studied subjects since the beginning of the 20th century, having been “gutted” and classified in many ways. But now the focus is different. Globalization and new technologies have made possible to connect everyone, apart from being available 24/7.

We can see it in today’s organizations, more specifically, at workplace. We just need to look up from the computer and take a look at our office partners: Portuguese, Bulgarians, British, Italians … How can we manage the cultural diversity at work? How can these particularities be taken into account when it comes to being a good leader? We call it transcultural Leadership.

This type of leadership involves a knowledge of others and sensibility to understand their point of view. Thus, it considers different cultures, their main aspects and the way they affect individuals and organizations. Also, inevitably entering in theory, several writers have already been focused on this type of leadership. Frank Bowl for instance advocates that the success of a good leader is due to “having the proper experience and attitude to work in different cultures”.

Accordingly, transcultural leadership is about bringing up the culture subject to the company, but not organizational culture.  It is all about noticing the different cultures of a company’s employees.

After the theory, we should try to look at related case studies. But, we should also try to go through an intermediate leadership stage, centred on the leader itself. Thus, we can think about one of the biggest cotemporary leadership examples, Richard Branson, famous for being the founder of Virgin Group. Despite having been described as one of the most eccentric millionaires, we can say that is head is full of nice ideas. 

In short, Richard Branson, is a leadership role model because of his focus on the worker and, in result, on individual differences. “Let them [people] get on with it, not criticize them when they make mistakes and praise them when they do good things

He explains the fundamental pillars for being a great leader:
          - A leader organizes rather than giving orders.
          - The art of delegate and letting people control the fields in which you are weak.
          - Listen more thank you talk (and take notes).
          - Give second chances.

The general manager of the Renault-Nissan alliance, Carlos Ghosn, is also a successor of Branson’s fundamental pillars.  And from now on we start to focus more on transcultural leadership. Carlos Ghosn has Lebanese roots, was born in Brazil and is the founder of one of the biggest French brands. He believes that the diversity of beliefs and cultures helps to face critical situations in a better way and to gain strength.

In an increasingly globalized and connected world, Ghosn reminds us that sooner or later we need to live, work and compete with people from different backgrounds. Moving, discovering places and countries, learning new languages, being empathic, having curiosity towards others are transcultural leadership aspects that help us finding solutions and to accept differences.
How do we make decisions if our criteria and prejudices vary depending on the culture?  We are used to be leaders within our own cultures, and not in others. Thus, we should look for leadership role models which take into account all the team’s cultures.  The key question is, how can we do it?

Overcome prejudice

We should remove our “auto pilot mode” that usually makes us go straight to our cultural prejudices. This is a hard and complex subject since we do it unconsciously. Thus, we should be aware of our own cultural biases but also pay attention to the positive things within our culture.

Know the values of each culture

Knowing the values of different cultures within the organization. In Japanese rice means hunger.  But why do they call rice to such a common thing? Because, for a long period of time, Japan had a serious problem of starvation.  This doesn’t mean they are defined by the word. Rather, they are defined by what they passed thought. This is what we meant by knowing the values of each culture.

Take advantage of the skills

We should develop behavioral skills and take advantage of their value. If we put them in a “blender”, the result is a model that summarizes all the cultures within the organization.

Achieving a good transcultural leadership is not an easy task and takes time. Let’s start to make the most out of the mix that we all are!

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