In our globally expanding economy, it is no longer enough for successful managers to have great directive skills, they must also be able to understand and adapt to the different cultures they operate in. Many managers working across borders fail to recognize that not everyone agrees with their perception of the facts. We live in a turbulent and contradictory world, where there are few certainties and change is constant.
Considering the amount of knowledge required to succeed in today’s global business environment and the speed with which this knowledge becomes obsolete, developing an ability to work successfully with partners in different parts of the world is possibly the best strategy available to managers and companies that want to succeed. We suggest that what often differentiates effective global managers from less effective ones is not so much their managerial skills – although this is obviously important – but the combination of these skills with additional multicultural competencies that allow people to apply their managerial skills across a diverse spectrum of business environments. Whether relocating to a foreign country as an expatriate, traveling around the world as a frequent flyer, or dealing with foreigners in one’s home country, managers often face important cultural challenges.
What often differentiates successful global managers from unsuccessful ones is that they have developed a way of thinking about the world that is flexible and inclusive.
The example of Google’s traveling managers illustrates how this and many other companies search to find unique ways to educate their managers about both the global challenges facing them and the strategies that can help them succeed. Google’s strategy is in line with research on experiential learning.2 This body of research suggests that we learn through experience if we are able to reflect and make sense of those experiences and transfer this understanding into new theories of action that will guide our future behaviour. Multiculturally competent managers are able to make sense of situations by seeking answers to two main questions: “what is going on here?” and “what should I do?” “What is going on here?” involves an understanding of the situation where the manager is – is this interaction happening at home, at the business partner’s territory, or somewhere else? With a deep understanding of what is happening, managers can then answer the question “what should I do?” Here it is helpful to think of a simple model of managerial choice and action originally introduced by Oxford University Professor Rosemary Stewart.3 Stewart makes a cogent argument for rethinking our approach to management, global or otherwise.
As illustrated in exhibit 2, informed sensemaking relies on observations and prior knowledge as well as in an active search of information to understand what is going on. What differentiates multicultural competent managers from others is that they have sophisticated models of culture and human behaviour that are situationally dependent.
Multicultural competence is obviously not a have-or-have-not proposition; it is a matter of degree.
As a starting point, global managers can work to enhance their knowledge and awareness of human behaviour and how it can be influenced by cultural and contextual variables.
Once a manager has an understanding of what is required, the next step includes adjusting his or her behavioural strategies and creating, and then experimenting with, new action plans in the field.
Managers need both managerial and multicultural competencies to succeed in today’s complex business environment. In this article, we have argued that managers need both managerial and multicultural competencies to succeed in today’s complex business environment.
This required balance is both difficult to attain and sometimes even more difficult to maintain. This article is based on the recent book by the authors, Management Across Cultures: Developing Global Competencies (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Luciara Nardon is an Assistant Professor of International Business at the Sprott School of Business, Carleton University. Leadership in a Diverse and Multicultural Environment : Developing Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills by Mary L.
Overview - Leadership in a Diverse and Multicultural Environment provides leaders with the tools necessary to effectively interact with all individuals. Noted scholar, Noel Tichy, argues that, “Traditional managerial skills, such as financial acumen, manufacturing expertise and marketing prowess are important ingredients in most organization success stories, but not sufficient for organizational transformation and sustainability. Among the most significant of these qualities was a strong view that leaders must strive to create a more generous society where global organizations have a social responsibility to host nations and international partners.
Beyond social responsibility, global leaders must also be comfortable and effective in dealing with uncertainty. But, he also admits that the pace and interconnectedness of international events, along with the speed and impact of technology, is challenging. If global leaders are required to manage through uncertainty, then they must also be flexible and responsive to change. This view is shared by Kerry Kerr, a senior product manager at another multinational company that manufactures and supplies furniture parts to Europe, Asia and South America. In all, these four executives each expressed common factors that influenced their effectiveness and development as global leaders.
Global business in the future will require leaders to be like explorers, guiding their organizations through unfamiliar and turbulent environments. Given the challenges and opportunities that emerge from global business, leaders of the future will need dynamic people skills, perhaps even more than academic and technical competencies.
Moreover, they must transcend the old ways of transactional relationships and seek more enduring, sustainable and transformational relationships. When interviewing these four leaders, I found that each had a fundamental sense of passion— a passion for their job, organization and followers. Just as Jesus demonstrated transformational leadership by training and empowering the disciples to go out into the world to continue His mission, these four executives have come to understand the need to be transformational leaders. The recently published Management Across Cultures: Developing Global Competencies (Cambridge University Press) takes a look at the ideological challenges managers are faced with and proposes different strategies for developing greater multicultural competence.
Over time, we increasingly come to realize that business cycles are becoming more dynamic and unpredictable, and companies, institutions, and employees come and go with increasingly regularity. Business and institutional knowledge is transmitted through interpersonal interactions and, if managers are able to build mutually beneficial interpersonal relationships with partners around the world, they may be able to overcome their knowledge gaps. Different cultures have different assumptions, behaviours, communication styles, as well as expectations concerning management practices. Being multiculturally competent is more than just being polite or empathetic to people from other cultures; it is getting things done through people by capitalizing on cultural diversity. Indeed, a pivotal question facing both training directors and managers themselves is exactly how global managers can be developed. Google is now sending its young ‘brainiacs’ on a worldwide mission.1 One recent group of trainees began their journey in a small village outside of Bangalore, India.
In the case of Google, managers were intentionally placed in unfamiliar circumstances where they quickly had to seek understanding and be aware of their first-hand experiences.

As illustrated in exhibit 1 (two center circles), learning is a result of observing, reflecting and making sense of experience. In order to learn from experience it is necessary to make sense of what happened, understand the causes of problems, the strategies that worked and the ones that didn’t, and more importantly understand why things turned out the way they did. The model’s central argument is that all managerial work is confined in varying degrees by existing demands (what people must do) and constraints (what people must not do). As managers try to make sense of an on going situation they rely on their observation skills to identify as many cues as possible regarding the current situation. They have a deep understanding of how and when culture influences behaviour and they continuously refine their models as they engage in new cross-cultural situations. Most managers by their very education and experience understand how behaviours can differ across cultures. This knowledge can be instrumental in facilitating sensemaking when a manager is exposed to novel situations. Self-learning may sound a little esoteric and disconnected from the business world, but it is probably one of the most critical tools for a successful global career. For example, the manager that has realized her tendency to direct and assertive communication, now needs to develop the skill to communicate more indirectly. As noted above, global managers must succeed equally in New York, Shanghai, or Buenos Aires, requiring enhanced insight and understanding into environmental and situational differences, as well as sufficient awareness and flexibility to adjust to unique situations on the run. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, and the US. Steers is professor emeritus of organization and management in the Charles Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon.
Although much of the research related to multiculturalism has focused on expatriates and international assignments, the book also focuses on leaders in domestic organizations, as they can benefit from developing their own multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills.
I set out to answer this question by interviewing four executives at different organizations. One executive, Rick Snider, directs international resources development for a non-profit organization.
Neal Holladay, oversees training and client relations for an international management training firm focused in South American markets. Carla Della Valentina, CEO of Valen Group International, leads a multinational company that manufactures wood drawer component parts in Italy, the United States and Romania. Kerr adds that he is supported by corporate leadership in his ideas of continuous improvement, learning and development. With a fast start into the 21st century, the practice of global business is more prevalent than ever. With markets, suppliers, competitors, technology and customers around the world constantly shifting, traditional leadership models no longer work. In addition, they will need to be proficient in languages and have exposure to multiple cultures and experiences in other countries.
In other words, leaders must empower their employees and seek to facilitate the employee’s development interests. I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice, the unmistakable glow of a transformational leader.
They are savvy to provide followers the guidance and resources necessary to shape their experience, then let go and allow that collective wisdom to help them navigate through uncertainty and complexity. Wayne A Oppel owns the consulting firm, OPPEL Consulting Group in Winston-Salem, NC and serves as an adjunct faculty member at Guilford Technical Community College. And increasingly, managers realize that that much of what they believe they see around themselves is often something entirely different. Much of this uncertainty is the result of economic forces that are beyond the control of individuals and major corporations.
The ability to deal with these differences in ways that are both appropriate and effective goes by many names, but we refer to it simply as multicultural competence (MCC).
It includes skills such as identifying cultural rules, changing and creating group cultural norms, communicating across cultures, dealing with conflict, developing trust based relationships, understanding the constraints and opportunities imposed by the micro-context of an interaction, and manipulating those when appropriate. As a result, managers often turn for advice to those who specialize in cross-cultural training and development for help in preparing for foreign assignments. There were no computers in the tiny village, only unpaved roads surrounded by open fields where elephants roamed and trampled local crops at will. They needed to reflect and make sense of these experiences and identify important lessons for the future.
This “processed” experience can than be integrated into learning that will guide future experiences and sensemaking efforts. We refer to this process of reflection and understanding as informed sensemaking, to highlight the fact that a heightened level of self- awareness and understanding of the processes surrounding the experience and the context of the experience is necessary.
However, within these limitations, managers typically have choices about what is done and how it is done.
They draw upon prior knowledge and experience in order to look for similar situations that can provide insight into the present, and they seek out the missing information through multiple means, including asking questions when appropriate, consulting with more experienced individuals, or testing alternative scenarios. The challenge facing inexperienced managers is to develop a foundation of understanding that will allow them to make sense of their first cross-cultural experiences and use them as a platform for further learning.
This understanding may be acquired through seeking information about culture and human behaviour in general, as well as specific cultures of interest, and by reflecting upon their own and others’ experiences, observations, and analyses.
Being self-aware means knowing one’s own values, beliefs, styles, and patterns of behaviour, and being able to explain these to others. From a managerial standpoint, the fundamental challenge is not just to learn but also to consolidate learning so it becomes an integral part of people’s daily routines. As a consequence, there is just so much that managers can learn in preparation to the difficulties of global work, and a significant part of the learning must happen on the fly, as new situations emerge and evolve. Her research explores the role of culture on management practice, with particular emphasis on identifying skills and processes required to succeed in multicultural environments. His research interests include employee motivation, leadership, and cross-cultural management.

He has hold visiting appointments at universities in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and the US.
Effective leaders can shape the culture of their organization to be accepting of individuals from all races, ethnicities, religions, and genders with a minimum of misunderstandings. This reality presents a challenge to companies who must develop leaders despite the constraints of limited time and financial resources. Each unique perspective shared by these leaders revealed significant characteristics about global leaders and the challenges facing their development. He explains, “Our organization has come to recognize the decline of nation states and boundaries and the need to create a more generous society worldwide.
They have a desire to help people through international public service and genuinely believe that the openness and expanse of international work are more challenging, engaging and energizing than leading within one’s own country. They must also have multidisciplinary perspectives, which are essential for problem solving in complex and changing environments. This ideal of transformational leadership is essential if the organization is to evolve, adapt and change to pursue a wealth of opportunities.
Can you envision an organization that embraces building relationships with people from different backgrounds, that thrives in complexity and acts with high ethical standards knowing when and where to initiate change?  I leave you with the most important question concerning global leadership in business today: Are you ready as an individual and an organization to embrace a sense of exploration and a desire to experience innovation in ways you may have previously never imagined?
Much results from recent waves of technological change that resist pressures for stability or predictability. The visit was aimed at educating Google associate product managers about the humble, unwired ways of life experienced by billions of people around the world. At the same time, these managers had to organize what they saw and develop theories-in-use for future actions that could be tried when they returned to the field. Inexperienced managers engaging in a cross-cultural situation may be able to notice symptoms, such as a difficulty to negotiate an agreement with a foreign partner, but may not be able to understand the causes of that difficulty or identify possible solutions. The goal here is to better understand why other people did what they did, not necessarily to evaluate it. The success of any cross-cultural interaction (and mono-cultural interactions as well) is the result of some type of interdependent learning in which the parties involved learn about each other’s goals, preferences, styles, and limitations, and negotiate ways of working together.
Her latest publications include the book Management Across Cultures: Developing Global Competencies and articles in the Journal of World Business, Organizational Dynamics, and Asia Pacific Business Review among others.
He is a past president and fellow of the Academy of Management and currently Senior Editor of the Journal of World Business. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Global Competencies (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and the Handbook of Culture, Organization, and Work (Cambridge University Press, 2009). And what can informed managers do to moderate or attenuate the impact of such contradictions?
And much results from individual and corporate failures to understand the realities on the ground when they pit themselves against local institutions, competitors, and cultures. Much has been written on the topic of developing global management skills, and much of what has been written is contradictory, simplistic, and sometimes simply incorrect. On their first day in Bangalore, the visitors went to the Commercial Street shopping district for a bartering competition. The challenge for the manager is to understand the constraints—cultural, organizational, and situational—within his or her environment and then act within these limitations. As managers progress in their global career and are increasingly exposed to other cultures and contexts, this foundational knowledge will expand and become more sophisticated.
For example, a manager that is typically highly assertive or direct when communicating may need to adjust or explain his or her style in a cross-cultural setting in which individuals from other cultures expect more subtle and indirect ways of communicating. This learning is a continuous and on going activity that overtime will shape the way a manager thinks and acts, but also will shape the situation itself. His latest work includes a forthcoming paper on cross-cultural ethics for the Journal of Business Ethics and the second edition of “Management across Cultures“, both coauthored with professors Nardon and Steers, and the teaching case “Haier in Japan” (IESE Publishing 2012, with professors Lee Yih-teen and Sebastian Reiche). Knowledge is power when it comes to global business and, as our knowledge base becomes more uncertain, companies and their managers need to seek help wherever they can find it.
Successful global managers tend to rely on themselves, including their own perceptions and assessments of what is going on in the world. Each Google manager was given 500 rupees (about $13) to spend on ‘items that don’t suck,’ with a prize given to the one who attained the highest discount on the purchase. Given the innumerable situations facing global managers on a daily basis, it is clearly not possible to learn about all individuals and situations a priori, but knowing about oneself is already half of the work. In the world we live today, it is no longer necessary to cross the world to have a multicultural experience. Throughout this process, the manager as a critical thinker becomes at least as important as the manager as an initiator. He has held academic appointments in England, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, and the US. With the high levels of global migration, many societies have multiple cultures represented.
Indeed, what often differentiates successful global managers from unsuccessful ones is that they have developed a way of thinking about the world that is flexible and inclusive and guides their behaviour across cultures and national boundaries. Seeking out different cultures in our own neighbourhood may go along way in sharpening our understanding of culture and human behaviour and developing a starting point for the development of multicultural competence. But one of her colleagues won the competition by purchasing a deep-burgundy sherwani – a traditional Indian outfit – for one-third of the original asking price. In addition, increasing arrays of short-term foreign experiences are available for aspiring global managers to hone their skills.

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