global leader

To Be a Global Leader, Master Each Country’s Approach to These 3 Things

Global mobility specialists are leaders on an international scale. You may not feel that at times, and your executive might not tell you that frequently, but it is the truth. Think about it. You are the one who makes the decisions which assignees to hire and place in your company. Every single one of them brings not just the required skill set, but an international perspective that can enrich your company and make it stronger in a global economy.

Creating a pipeline of assignees also means dealing with partners and allies from other countries. Again these relationships do more than just infuse talent into your corporation; they can tip you off on how companies in those countries can respond to certain crises (think Brexit) advise you on how to maneuver on certain concerns (e.g. immigration), and provide you a holistic perspective on where certain governments stand on various issues.

Don’t be quick to dismiss all these bits of information you pick up. Gather their sum total, analyze their impact on your company (and not just your department), and your boss just might thank you for helping him finally make up his mind on a resolution he was uncertain about.

To repeat for emphasis, global mobility specialists like yourself are global leaders. At this point in your career, you would already have recognized that each nation has its own kind of business etiquette. Some business practices, such as gift-giving, may be recognized and even encouraged in China; on the other hand, they may go directly against company policies in European countries. Another example is age. While American business culture has people of different generations treating each other as equals, Asian and Scottish assignees may show their more elderly colleagues greater respect and deference.

And to continue growing as a leader, there are three cultural aspects that you have to master in dealing with partners, allies, and other associates in other countries. These aspects have to do with how they view hierarchy, community, and communications.


Be sensitive as to who are the actual decision-makers in the international companies you deal with. More important, learn how they wish to be treated and shown respect. The competitive banter that has become part of unofficial protocol might be viewed with alarm by Asian executives.

Chinese companies are mostly top-to-bottom corporations where senior executives pass down their decisions to the younger staff whose opinion on the matter may or may not be consulted. At the other end of the spectrum, the egalitarianism in the Netherlands may prove frustrating to Americans used to quick decisions. Dutch managers make sure everyone — and that means, everyone — is consulted before passing a resolution.

Community or organizational loyalty

Where should the individual employee’s loyalty ultimately lie: to professional career or his company? That question cuts deeper than you might realize. In our search for the American dream, jumping from one company to another to land a better job and better pay is not only accepted, but can even be admired. The higher you go up the ranks (and not necessarily in the same company, the more applause you get from your peers. The international companies you deal with may not hold the same view. Many of them, like the Japanese who places significant investment in staff training and regard them as a second family, may not be able to separate individual professional advancement from overall corporate success. Remember that  not too long ago, the Japanese practiced a system that was literally employment for life.

The companies in Sweden are able to balance individual achievement and advancement with company loyalty. Each employee is encouraged to be self-reliant, independent, and innovative; he can speak out on any issue and discuss his ideas even if they go against the norm. At the same time, while long-term career development is encouraged (and usually happens), very little tension breaks out when an employee does decide to shift careers.


Understand the unspoken but important non-verbal communication going in in a country’s business culture and you just might find yourself establishing a lot of strong, long-term ties with global colleagues. An earlier blog had already discerning hand signals and body language (e.g. the U.S. OK sign is an affront to the French who reads it as ‘no value’). But there are other subtler signs of communications that go beyond that; knowing and practicing these unspoken cues can win you points.

Just to give a few examples: In Brazil, stand physically close to your colleagues during conversations as this establishes trust. Meanwhile, in India, never say “no” directly, which is regarded as rudeness. Instead use more diplomatic phrases like “I will do my best” or “I will try.” During visits to Muslim countries, even the more open ones, do not order alcohol of any kind.