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How to Solve 3 Modern Cross-Cultural Leadership Challenges



Succeeding as a leader in today’s chaotic cross-cultural global business environment requires foresight, cultural agility, and new approaches to talent management.

As a leader no matter your industry you will likely face three complex cross-cultural leadership challenges resulting from globalization, global population shifts, and global talent mobility:

  1. Vast differences between employee cultural expectations

  2. Cross-cultural talent acquisition and talent retention

  3. Development of competent and confident intercultural professionals and leaders

In this article, we will discuss these challenges and more importantly, the strategies you can take as a modern leader to solve them.

Cross-cultural differences demand cultural agility. Modern leaders will face a growing number of cross-cultural differences working with customers and employees. Cultural agility is vital because, with over 60 global society cultures identified and numerous variations in regions within the national cultures, it is virtually impossible to be experienced in every situation. Cultural differences can be substantial and can quickly escalate into conflict and limit the effectiveness of a leader and organization. Paula Caligiuri in Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals provides excellent insights into this discussion. Successful, culturally agile leaders:

• understand their own culture, the culture of their organization, and how it impacts the business

• recognize and appreciate the differences of another culture as compared to their own

• use their understanding of cultural differences to effectively conduct business within cross-cultural situations

Cross-cultural talent acquisition and retention processes demand new approaches to the work, worker, and workplace. Talent acquisition and retention are critical processes for any leader and company. Increased competition is also intensifying the pressures on leaders to find talent capable of immediately contributing to the organization with reduced onboarding periods. Adding to the challenge is the reality that the work is changing quickly, and positions needed today may not exist in the future. Also, the increased demand for cross-cultural professionals and leaders is multiplying the constraints placed on modern leaders. To face these challenges, leaders need to identify and incorporate intercultural competencies into hiring processes, incorporate environmental talent scanning into strategic planning, and incorporate retention interviews into talent retention processes.

Modern leaders need to possess cross-cultural competence. It is crucial to identify and incorporate these intercultural competencies into the hiring practices within your organization. Unlike competencies that address the technical and behavioral knowledge, skills, and abilities, these competencies address the cross-cultural leadership aspects of the work and workplace. Intercultural competencies include the ability to understand and appropriately engage in cross-cultural situations, drive cross-cultural value by capitalizing on cross-cultural advantages, and the motivation to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes presented in a cross-cultural situation.

Likely you are familiar with identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to establish your organization's overall mission, vision, goals, and strategies for the future. Environmental talent scanning similarly identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that apply to the talent needed. Incorporating environmental talent scanning into the organization's strategic planning process enables talent planning and can provide feedback that will enhance the strategy.

Typically, cross-cultural talent is hard to attract and retain due to societal cultural differences. Retention interviews are intended to learn from current employees about the factors that motivated them to accept the offer to work with your company, and if those reasons are being met today from the employee’s perspective. Retention interviews involve asking a series of questions in an interview format so changes can be made to meet employee expectations before they exit the company:

  • Why did you decide to work for the company “X,” and are those reasons still valid in your current job?

  • If you could change anything about the workplace, what would you change?

  • If you could make this job everything you wanted it to be, what would you change?

Additionally, this focus on retention and meeting the needs of cross-cultural employees will benefit attraction efforts by improving the workplace.

Developing cross-cultural talent requires new competencies and approaches to development. Operating in an increasingly cross-cultural context requires more than meeting arbitrary tenure commitments in a given role or a traditional development program. There are many stories of organizations that have taken successful leaders with in-depth technical knowledge and experience from one location and placed them in a different cross-cultural situation, and the leader failed because they underestimated cultural differences. Cross-cultural leaders are not born; they are developed. Developing the competency of cultural agility requires dedicated effort and investment to break from the typical classroom presentation or eLearning module. The development of cross-cultural talent requires a blended learning environment that includes assessments, cross-cultural immersion experiences, and structured feedback.

Finally, leaders cannot rely on their tenure and technical expertise to solve modern cross-cultural challenges. Leaders need to understand the knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with cultural agility, invest in new approaches for talent acquisition, talent retention, and the development of culturally agile professionals and leaders. Success as a modern cross-cultural leader requires the foresight to anticipate the next cross-cultural challenge and agility to create value.


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