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Give Cross-Cultural Leadership a Language

The best tool for a leader in a culturally diverse context is to give him/her a way to establish what constitutes ”leadership deliverables” and how these are related to employee motivation and performance.  If this is clear, many misunderstandings and hard-learned lessons can be nipped at the bud.

By Karin Zastrow, Author, MBA, Leadership Development Expert and owner of ZASTROW & Co. 

ZASTROW’s Direct Leadership™ model and tools for training or organization development offers a pragmatic and operational framework for understanding and embracing these deliverables.
And not only do they work regardless of culture, in fact they build bridges between a leader of one nationality and his employees from another culture. 

Our philosophy is that certain functions that must be “delivered” during the leader’s interaction with staff members. And we know from conducting training in China that this holds true even for such different cultures as the Danish and Chinese. Actually, before taking the work to China, we already knew that it worked in Japan, where over 20000 people had already met the model. 

Now, let me stress, that we do not ignore the value of cultural intelligence, quite the contrary, but our message is: Do not confuse it with the ability to perform those functions that make the difference between professional and haphazard day-to-day leadership. 

The key ideas that sets our thinking and her model apart from all other leadership models are: 
#1: Our focus lies on deliverables as opposed to competency-, values- or personality based models. 

Good competencies, sound values and people skills will definitely contribute to the leader’s performance in all the many moments of truth when he interacts with staff members during a day or a week. However, what the employees and superiors will judge the leader upon is whether he “delivers” a solid, recognisable day-to-day interaction that motivates and helps staff members to perform their best. 

#2: We leverage the learning by “gamification”.  A central learning tool is the Direct Leadership Board Game, where the managers simulate how to connect the dots of the roles and styles in different situations. 

#3: We teach what employees need from their direct leaders in order to be productive and motivated.

The model consists of:

•7 sets of responsibilities (the model calls them 7 roles) that directly influence employee motivation and performance

•4 leadership styles that anyone with supervisory functions over others must master and apply according to their best judgement

•A crucial understanding of the fact that as a leader one must notice and “catch the leadership opportunities when they occur” much in the same way a professional ball player must always be alert to whether there might be an opportunity to contribute. 

The illustration below shows how the 7 roles alone (left side) directly impact employee performance (right side).

How does this model help when the challenge is Denmark meets China?
Our claim is that when a Danish manager goes to work in China, it is easy to see every challenge through the lens of cultural differences. And a very common solution is to allow two different and sometimes unconnected leadership cultures to co-exist in his organisation: the culture of the management team that reports to the foreign manager … and that of the rest of the organisation. 

However, not everything is culture. Regardless of culture, the discipline of leading people contains a generic set of deliverables that must be produced in the day-to-day interaction with staff. When you can make those generic leadership deliverables apparent to the main stakeholders (the managers themselves and their staff) they can all avoid the culture trap and be more efficient.  

For more information please contact: 
Karin Zastrow 
Author, MBA, Leadership Development Expert and owner of ZASTROW & Co. 
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Other articles part of Newsletter vol. 4, 2015