How to “arrive” in your new location and role as an international leader

Phase II – Making The Transition…. “moving your body and your soul”

 Gems of wisdom have been shared with us by accomplished leaders with decades of experience leading international and global teams in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East. Included among these are several from our recent Global Insider Interview Series. From our work with many international leaders over the years, we have distilled key lessons to help you when you’re ready to take on an exciting international assignment of your own. In our previous article we covered Phase I Pre-Transition and in this article, we will cover Phase II: Transition – your first 30 days in your new role

Step 1: Be Patient:  What most international leaders find is that life and work abroad move at different speeds from what they are used to. Deep reserves of patience are an essential commodity when dealing with new cultures, be they national or organizational.

An initial willingness to “go with the flow” can prove a useful strategy. That’s not to say you don’t need a good plan – but your willingness to drive it, needs to some degree, to match your new colleagues’ willingness to follow it. This also has to be balanced with a clear understanding of your own determination to act quickly and often your home headquarters’ desire to see you “get results” or bring about relatively rapid change.

Step 2: Be Curious:    Your mind-set during the early stages of a transition should be “sponge-like” – absorbing what you see, what you hear and what you feel from people as you move between them asking well-crafted subtle questions. Accept their responses and gather what you see in an initially “unfiltered” way, probing further where it seems appropriate and reasonable in terms of maintain the trust balance.

Ask people about how things generally get done here; probe into what sometimes gets in the way; politely question people about what works and what doesn’t. There is also the question about how different is the organizational culture in this particular part of the firm from that which you have experienced “at home in the mother ship”? Are there inter-plays between the national culture and the organizational culture in this part of the venture….and what might be the consequences for your preferred leadership style?

Step 3: Get Personal:   Whilst some cultures are harder to penetrate than others, the human side of work and the need for effective relationship building are ever present.  Most cultures, with a few notable exceptions, share information more readily when they are in relaxed surroundings, so finding appropriate social time perhaps over a meal or drink will work well in the culture in which you find yourself. Locals often don’t readily “open up” so it’s frequently necessary for the leader to do so first.

Think particularly carefully about the questions to ask people that will help you to get to know them and consider what you can do to build both their understanding of you and their trust in you – this in turn will help even the most emotionally distant cultures open up. What “getting personal” does for you is help people to share both relevant information and some of their concerns.

Step 4: Refine Your Plan:   What you are trying to decide during this phase is “what makes this part of the organization and its people tick” and what are the mind-sets that seem to prevail. At the end of each day there needs to be time for you to process and consider what you have observed and heard. In our last article, we discussed the value of effective preparation and planning. But like many plans “they rarely survive first contact with the enemy” – so you have to re-evaluate your plans in the light of the information that you gathered during Steps 2 & 3 above. Some points of refinement might relate to:

  • How similar or different are your new team to what you predicted?
  • How is organizational culture affecting performance in the new location?
  • How are national cultural characteristics impeding or strengthening the behaviors of the new people you work with.
  • How different do their values appear to be from what you think your own are?
  • Which of your other assumptions do you have to alter?

Processing this you need to decide which elements are you likely to be able to use to your advantage in moving your business forward and which of these are you going to have to consider trying to change? Revisit your initial written plan and update it in the light of the information above.

What Next?  In our next article covering Phase III “Acceleration”, we’ll share highlights of what to implement after your initial 30 days and how to do so in a way that accelerates you to success. Stay tuned!

About Martin Global Leaders: We are a leadership development consultancy focused on developing high performing leaders and teams operating in the global marketplace. We focus on preparing executives with the key skills needed to manage across multiple locations and cultures, including national and organization culture.  The MGL Global Leader Accelerator™ executive coaching program prepares leaders for their international assignment with primers to help them become savvy about influencing and driving results on international scale. When they step into their role, they are able to bridge differences and leverage diversity to create truly high performance international/global teams.

 Contact MGL to create a plan for your transition, maximize the power of your international team, and help your organization gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace. Craig Martin:  +1-408-916-1645  or David Howells: +44 7808 947576

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