A U.S. client expressed frustration in doing business in Africa. As he described it, “the people don’t take business serious”. He described how he would set up a meeting with a prospective client for 10:00AM. However, his client would not appear at the scheduled time. His calls to the client would be left unanswered leaving him wondering what had happened. Did he have the schedule wrong? Had something happened to his client? Since transportation was not the most reliable, he would find himself staying in the office, forgoing things that needed to be done, just in case the client would call and need assistance. Invariably, sometime in the afternoon the client would appear. “Hey, my friend, what happened to you? Are you ok”, he would ask. The gentleman would assure my client that he was fine and he could not understand the unwarranted concern. “You’re five hours late for our appointment” my client would retort in frustration. The gentleman, looking confused, would reply, “Why are you angry and upset? I’m not late. Our appointment is for today. I am here. You are here. What’s the problem?”
This exemplifies cultural norms not being factored into business norms. When I poll my clients about challenges that arise in managing multinational teams they often mention building trust, time zone differences, power struggles, and communication barriers. While it is true that each of these must be managed to avoid conflict within a team, understanding how different cultural norms interact with the expectations of business norms can produce the greatest challenges. To avoid frustration and conflict, it is imperative for businesses and managers to sync these, upfront, into the business model and into team expectations.
The team forming stage of team development is the manager’s opportunity to establish the norms of team behavior. Start by researching the culture. For example, when forming a team with members from Spain or Latin American countries, recognize it is normal for them to take extended lunch periods for a siesta but return to work later into the evening. Research what holidays are observed and how. Inure you understand the norms for taking vacations and for when the kids are out of school. Much of France goes on vacation in August and they get nine weeks of vacation per year. Factor in specific religious beliefs that dictate working hours. Islamists may need a break to observe prayer. As in our example, a meeting time may have a different meaning in different countries. Germany is known for meetings starting and ending on time but in Spain is normal to arrive after the start time. It is considered rude in many countries to start a meeting without first making time to greet and perhaps start with tea, while in other countries these are seen as an unnecessary distraction.
After doing your research, spend the first meeting discussing, and agreeing on, the “norms” for the team. Compromise and agreement is the goal here. For example, you agree all members will be at the designated meeting place, at the agreed upon time, but you allow for the first few minutes to be non-business related. You agree on the expectations for deliverables; example being: data will be analyzed before the meeting, only summaries will be presented at the meeting, but all data shall be posted on the team intranet site within “x” hours after the meeting. You establish the norms of communication; example: what can be exchanged or shared through email versus only through a secure intranet site. Managers need to be prepared to follow-up offline and to do so often to make sure team members understand and adhere to the agreed upon norms. If a member is not following the agreed upon norm, address the behavior in a non-confrontational manner to understand the root cause. Explain the impact on the business, team deliverables, and on other team members. Having these conversations early in the forming stage demonstrates management maturity and establishes comradery. By demonstrating a genuine consideration and concern for accommodating cultural norms into the team and business norms of operation, you will create an environment of open and honest communication that will lead to a stronger, more successful team.
Leadership skills can be taught but to learn them, they must be practiced. However, without embracing the full scope of what is needed to truly be a leader, and without a continuous honing of leadership skills, they forget the skills and soon flounder in to a mediocre shadow of their true potential. Whether it be a company executive, or an elected official, they must rise above the daily “doing” of tasks, and focus attention on leading. In failing to focus on leadership, they risk forgetting one of the very things that may have gotten them that new position; their leadership potential. Here are seven leadership areas that need to be learned, remembered, and practiced.
Personal Development: Jack Welch, when he was CEO of GE, said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.” I advocate that growing oneself is not just something done before you are a leader, but rather a continuous process. A leader who does not continue to learn and develop, risks becoming out of touch with the changing business climate or with the needs of their constituents. While leadership skills can be taught in a classroom, it is by plying them daily that creates learning of when to use what where and that then bonds them to the leader’s persona.
Vision: A leader must have a Vision for the organization. Steve Jobs, a Founder of Apple, described leadership as, “…about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could”. This starts with the Leader having a Vision; an aspirational description of what it is possible for the organization to become, to achieve, or to accomplish, and it sets the course for all future actions. An organization without a leader’s Vision is a ship without a rudder doomed to wonder from sunrise to sunset without ever accomplishing the greatness within.
Communication: James C. Humes, a former presidential speechwriter, said. “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” To communicate a Vision requires a mastery of this skill. There is no such thing as leading from behind closed doors because it is only by opening doors that we can communicate in a meaningful way. Meaningful communication does not require both the speaker and listener to agree upon the message. Rather it only requires they share the same understanding of the message. This concept is especially important when applied to a leader when communicating their Vision. Leaders use communication skills to develop a common understanding of the intended goals and mutual benefits the Vision, when implemented, brings to the Organization.
Relationships: Developing support for the Vision requires relationship building. Everything a leader accomplishes, or hopes to accomplish, will require assistance from other people and the easiest way to get assistance is to have built relationships. The right hand of building relationships is collaboration because,” … those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." – Charles Darwin. Relationship building is a skill many wannabe leaders have either forgotten, or don’t want to practice, and the art of collaboration seems to have become a dirty word associated with weakness. People fear that collaborating will dilute the Vision to a point where it diverges from the intended goals. The contrary is true. Relationships and collaboration allow the Vision to become an inclusive, long term, sustainable reality.
Integrity: The left hand of building relationships is integrity. Integrity is the personal compass that incorruptibly guides the qualities of being trustworthy. Behaviors that demonstrate integrity include honesty, fairness, treating others with dignity, and respecting individual rights. Without integrity, a leader cannot build the relationships needed to make the Vision a reality, and a perceived lack in a leader’s integrity will overshadow everything they have accomplished or hope to accomplish. Former President Nixon ended the Vietnam war and he normalized relationships with the People’s Republic of China. These were great accomplishments, yet he is most remembered for the lack of integrity he demonstrated through his criminal Watergate actions which culminated in his impeachment and resignation.
Influence: Leaders master and practice the skill of influence. Influence is used to shape the Vision. Influencing starts by communicating the Vision and is followed by listening to the ideas, opinions, and suggestions of others. To influence others requires listening with the intent to understand rather than to respond. Influencing requires rational, respectful conversation focused on the mutual benefit the Vision brings. Those who believe they can lead by delivering witty, one liner, sarcastic criticism of their opponents have forgotten this skill and there has been speculation that the un-tempered rhetoric may have contributed to the recent shooting at the congressional baseball game. Words carry power and as such can be used to gain influence or to drive division. A leader strives for the former.
Execute: “A person's actions will tell you everything you need to know”, author unknown. Leaders know results matter and develop executable plans to make the Vision a reality. Successful execution requires the leader to set priorities, and to mobilize resources because an un-resourced Vision is just a dream destined to be forgotten as the days pass. Successful leaders surround themselves with a leadership team of experts empowering them through delegation with responsibility to execute the plans, authority to make them happen, and accountability for the results. That said, strong leaders take the heat when things get tough and give credit when things go well. Leaders who do otherwise, have forgotten that these types of behaviors and actions reinforce their credibility and integrity as a leader.
I don’t believe in natural born leaders. I do believe in natural born leadership traits. However, even those so fortunate to have those traits need to be trained in the skills of leadership, and focus on practicing their craft daily. Without this focus, they risk forgetting the skills of leadership and join the rest of the populace in wondering why nothing gets changed.
A lot has been written about millennials and their impact on the work environment. Much of it portrays a dismal future workforce with grave economic and social impacts. Maybe it’s because I’m a glass half full kind of guy, or perhaps because I believe problems are just opportunities waiting to be resolved, but as a manager and leader I’m not buying the doom and gloom and neither should you. “Millennials” is the term used to describe the generation of people born between 1980-2000 but there are two other generations in today’s workforce. These are “Gen X”, born between 1965 -1980, and the “Baby Boomers” born between 1945 - 1965. According to the Pew Research, Millennials are now the majority in the labor force, hence the reason for so much focus on that generation. Differences in generational behaviors are influenced by the social system within which the generation was raised, and since social systems are constantly changing, its normal that different generations exhibit different behaviors and have different expectations of their work environment. Let’s examine three Millennial traits and expectations, how they are driving change in the workplace, and how Managers can use these to develop and motivate employees.
Tech Savviness: Millennials exemplify this trait and anyone who has seen an Apple Store help line can see why it isn't used to describe Baby Boomers. Regardless, anybody of any age, given the right training, can become “tech savvy”. Millennials, however, have the advantage. They grew up with computers on their desks, mobile devices in their hands, surrounded by an always connected internet. LinkedIn recently reported that being tech savvy is one of the top requisites companies want in new hires. Being able to use a computer, perform net searches, and fluency in MS Office tools has become a minimum requirement for most office jobs. Millennials did not drive this requirement; the ability to increase profits by being more efficient through the use of technology drove it. Millennials come in the door with this knowledge while the rest of the workforce must learn it. If managed properly, this acts as a catalyst to update the skillsets of your workforce. Managers need to keep job skillset requirements updated, communicate updated expectations to all employees, guide employees to self-assess their tech savviness, and provide opportunities to support those wanting to learn these new skills. The payback to employees is they possess updated, relevant skills that can open doors to higher paying jobs. The payback to Companies who support continuous learning for their employees comes in the form of a more dedicated and engaged workforce. The importance of this is shown by data from Gallup which estimated the cost of a disengaged workforce to U.S. company bottom lines to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity.
Diversity in Work assignments: Many in today’s workforce, especially Millennials, crave diversity in work assignments and become disengaged when it’s not provided. Small and medium sized companies require employees possessing skillset diversity because they may not have 40 hours of work in a specific skill area, but have 40 hours of work available when skill areas are combined. Skill diversity allows teams to quickly resolve issues before they become problems. Managers that promote diversity of skills experience a more motivated workforce, a lower turnover rate (Huselid, 1995), and engaged employees expressing a higher job satisfaction. For these reasons Manager’s should support an employee that asks to work on something outside of their area of expertise. If a manager sees an employee exhibiting a lack of motivation, address the behavior in a non-confrontational manner and ask them to share their thoughts on the underlying causes. If the cause is boredom in their work assignment, guide and offer potential solutions. Ask the employee if there is something else they would like to do and if so, help them understand if those opportunities exist within your organization, or within the company, and the steps they might need to take to work in that other area. Doing this is the Function of Management. The fact that Millennials are not afraid to ask for this diversity makes them the catalyst of change and when managed properly, it produces a positive outcome.
Work-life balance: Baby Boomers often express frustration that Millennials complain about working too much. Yet, the Washington Post reported 80 percent of millennial couples both work full time as compared to 47% of baby boomer couples. Millennials propose flex hours and work from home as ways to provide a work life balance. Millennials are offering creative and innovative solutions to utilize technology, that allows them to be connected anywhere, so they can not only focus on meeting work expectations, but also on nurturing a social life. Baby Boomers, who comprise most of the management positions, struggle with these concepts and interpret empty cubicles as employees not working. My message to Managers is, “Focus on results”. Global Workplace Analytics reported some of the benefits of providing an agile work strategy as improved employee satisfaction, reduced attrition, increased productivity, and saving employers money. Though motivating, influencing, advocating, improving productivity, and innovating are all well within the scope a Manager’s and Leader’s job description, it is Millennials that are the catalyst to this change. They just need Managers, who have the power to influence outcomes, to be their advocates.
If Managers and Companies want to attract, hire, and retain a tech savvy Millennial workforce, they must embrace and meet the changes this generation is bringing. Doing so will result in a more satisfied, engaged workforce, with a decreased attrition rate, and increased profits.