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Cultural diversity

Cross-Cultural Skills

I like thinking about the future – it’s why I worked in the Tech industry in the early years of my career and why I gravitate towards innovative projects shaping the future.  It’s also why I started my coaching practice, because I believe the future of leadership shaped by Millennials and Gen Z is incredibly exciting and disruptive of the old model.  As I’ve been building my coaching practice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future workplace and the leadership skills needed to steer companies of all sizes.  And the one skill that I keep coming back to in our increasingly remote, globalized workplace of the future is cross-cultural skills.

In a lot of job descriptions, we tend to see the words “cross-functional” as a desirable skill but I don’t think that’s the right language.  Knowing how to work with diverse groups of people with different priorities is a superpower that most leaders need to learn as they take on bigger enterprise roles at a global scale.  Sure, some of it is about working across multiple different functions with competing priorities — the Marketing department often has a different culture and language than the Engineering department.  But the Marketing department in Korea may also have a different culture from the Marketing department in Germany.  In a book called “The Culture Map”, the author writes about 8 dimensions of cultures and the scatterplot of countries across those 8 dimensions.   Layer on top of that the  7 types of diversity that impact individuals.  All of a sudden, you’ve exponentially increased the amount of permutations of ways that people have different expectations and ways of working.  As we continue to promote diverse talent and offer remote work from everywhere, we will increasingly see the multiple dimensions of cultural diversity and the impact on how we get things done at work. As a result, staying open and curious about the bigger picture context of the people we work with – their beliefs, conditioning, cultural norms, communication style, etc – and adapting to those differences will be incredibly important in driving results.  

Here’s the other side of the coin: having advanced cross-cultural skills is also about seeing the things that we share in common and being able to find connection through shared experiences.  As important as it is to know how to tailor our communication to different cultures, it’s equally important to embrace our common humanity.  For instance, our needs for belonging, safety, and meaning are universal and human.  Employee retention will increasingly rely on intrinsic values versus extrinsic benefits.  Every single human being wants to feel heard, seen, and valued – how that gets expressed may vary, but the underlying needs are the same.  And it’s in holding both those realities – our diversity and our commonality – that we are able to truly unlock the magic of team stewardship.  Leaders who get this will be the top attractors of top talent in the infinite game.

Thanks for reading and reach out if you want some coaching support in exploring cross-cultural skills and leadership development.


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