Having traveled a bit outside of the United States, there is some sense that cultural differences are challenge enough without having to lead an organization within them. Organizations must deal with worldviews that make assumptions of how things area rather than how they should be (Sire, 1997, p 16). Beyond worldviews; complexities in geographical terrain, language, laws, and customs should all be considered.
Understanding terrain aids in developing and looking for opportunities for the organization to develop relationships and pursue knowledge which can translate into an impact within the marketplace (Black, Morrison, and Gregersen, 1999, p 51). Considering the terrain of a country aids in managing high levels of uncertainty and balances tensions in the global marketplace (Black, et.al, 1999, p 87 and 95). Such tensions as customer demands, employee practices, government policies, production technologies, and competitor responses differ greatly between countries (Black, et.al, 1999, p 95-96).
Language, Customs, Values, Traditions and Laws are all part of what James Sires called cultural relativism. Cultural relativism relies on the ideal that culture will preserve itself when threatened (Sire, 1999, p 87). Cultural language barriers, for example, can severely restrict the ability to listen and effectively understand (Black et.al, 1999, p 119). Black et.al (1999) argues that any absence of cultural sensitivity will result in mistakes and may hinder emotional connection with those within the culture in which you operate (p. 120).
Understanding people within a given culture requires familiarity with local conditions (Black et.al, 1999, p 121). This understanding highlights the context from which people develop and express viewpoints and thereby improve the quality of decisions made (Black et.al, 1999, p 121-124).
Global leadership is a complex matter appearing vastly rooted in an ability of leaders to understand and connect with the culture and its people at a deeper level.
Sire, James W. (1997). The Universe Next Door. Third Edition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press
Black, J.S., Morrison, A.J. and Gregersen, H.B. (1999). Global Explorers. The Next Generation of Leaders. New York, NY: Routledge.
Philip A Foster, MA is Founder/CEO of Maximum Change Inc. Elevating leaders and their organizations to the next level since 2005. Master Certified Coach, Philip A Foster, MA and his associates facilitate effective positive change by helping organizations, leaders and individuals in high demand — design and implement strategies that maximize focus and deliver results. Specializing in Organization and Strategic Leadership.