Many of you will be able to imagine a scenario similar to this: You are working overseas, on foreign assignment. You have been making steady progress in speaking, reading, and understanding the language of your host country. You are an expert in your field and you know how to lead. Your success rate at home and your subject matter expertise are two of the key reasons why you are here today - working for your company abroad.
But now you are in another culture and sometimes you feel like a fish out of water. Sometimes, during meetings, you ask yourself if all of the “A players“ on your team really hear what you tell them. You sense that you are not getting through to some of them. And then there is this moment when you are completely honest with yourself and you remember that back home your results were better. So now what?
Welcome to the dilemma of global leaders. It is probably safe to suppose that most of you deal with clients who work outside of their native culture. And being in this field, you most likely experienced for yourself that being efficient when working across cultures has its challenges, right?
Well, I can come only from my own experience and I know that’s how it has been for me.
In a typical corporate context our clients will have offered their team members cultural training around the beginning of their expatriate assignment, or shortly after arrival. Often they will have asked us to tell their employees about the Dos & Don’ts and business etiquette rules of their destination. Even better, really great clients appreciate us for going beyond the tip of the iceberg of cross-cultural dynamics (apologies for the reference to this overused metaphor) and dig deep into the values-based beliefs and WHYs of foreign behavior. We can probably agree that cultural training programs will have a hard time being taken serious, if they fail to address these nuances and don’t offer strategies which will help expats adjust to otherness efficiently.
Today, most organizations fully understand the value of preparing employees for the behavioral standards in foreign work environments. After all, successful overseas business often depends on how well team members are able to cross cultures.
And chances are, your training participants remember many of those “101 rules for XZY Country“ you taught them - after all, they may be helpful in avoiding some major faux pas. And yet your former students will at some point realize that their success rate isn’t what they expected it to be.
Senior executives, C-suite leaders, and high potentials are typically well qualified and talented high performers. However, the challenges of global leadership and change can’t be solved with only knowledge and hard skills. What got you here to your current position, will most likely not be the same skill set that will get you to where you want to be in your career as a global leader. What worked at home may not work overseas.
Yes, cultural training in connection with leadership coaching and mentoring are effective tools to build and grow cultural savvy. However, in many years of cross-cultural practice I have found that the most sustainable and dramatic solution for expanding the skills and acumen of global leaders is being a part of a Mastermind group.
Masterminds have become quite the rage in recent years and ever since I joined my first group I realized how powerful they are as a people development strategy. In fact, they completely changed the way I work on my business. In his 1937 world bestseller “Think and Grow Rich“ Napoleon Hill describes the nature of a Mastermind as “the coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.“ Hill didn’t invent this concept. It may be as old as mankind and Western cultures have been using the power of the mastermind since Plato and Socrates. In today’s corporate context Masterminds morphed into Boards of Directors and executive teams. Unfortunately, the structure of modern business has robbed the idea of many of its original benefits. That’s why smart global leaders are reviving the pure Mastermind concept.
Most of you may be familiar with the phrase "If you are always the smartest person in the room, it is time to change the room." Ideally, a Mastermind group is what I call the "higher room," the environment that supports growth - personally and professionally.
There are three types of purposes for a Mastermind group:
1. A group of people come together for the purpose of one outcome or one business.
2. A group of people that are all in the same industry trying to overcome or solve a common problem in that industry.
3. Or, a group of people from different industries helping individuals with different or similar issues.
In order to utilize the power of the Mastermind for global leaders, I found that a hybrid of types 1 and 3 is most productive. The one outcome, the similar issue for the group is the development of cultural competence and global business success. Ideally, this will be achieved if the members come from different industries and diverse backgrounds. Some qualities to look for in a participant include similar drive and commitment, diverse skill sets, problem solvers.
Now, let’s look at what a Mastermind is not:
• It’s not a training class. While groups may decide to bring in guest speakers and experts, the main focus of a Mastermind is the brainstorming and accountability support among the group members.
• It’s not group coaching. Mastermind groups are about the members sharing with each other, not about the facilitator coaching individuals in a group setting. There should be feedback, advice, and support from everyone.
• It’s not a networking group. While you may share leads and resources with each other, that should not be main focus of the meetings. However, through your connections with other members, you will find plenty of joint venture opportunities, lead sharing, and professional networking.
Make no mistake, effective Masterminds aren’t simply social clubs. It takes an experienced facilitator and a strong context or group code of honor to make the group work. There needs to be mandatory participation by every member. The group will have a clear meeting structure which offers a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a confidential group setting to sharpen the members’ business and personal skills. Participants challenge each other to set powerful goals, and more importantly, to accomplish them. Members act as catalysts for growth, devil’s advocates and supportive colleagues.
This is the essence and the value of a Mastermind. Are you ready to find yours now?
Christian Höferle is a cross-cultural business consultant who has extensive experience in working with multinational companies.
German by birth, U.S.-American by choice, and Bavarian at heart, Christian is a fan of building bridges and not enthusiastic about walls. With his company, The Culture Mastery LLC, he helps people in closing the gaps between their home culture and the target culture they are working with.
Coming from a bilingual and bicultural background, Christian has been working on various levels of cultural consulting, coaching, mentoring, and training. He has helped in relocating and training hundreds of individuals, families, and teams from Europe, South America, Asia, and the United States.
He is also the host of The Culture Guy Podcast, which is available through iTunes and Stitcher. Christian stays committed to improving his Spanish and Italian skills (with slow progress). When he gives speeches or keynotes, Christian sticks to English or German.