In today’s interconnected world, multicultural work is becoming increasingly prevalent. As leaders and CEOs, it is crucial to possess the skill of global dexterity, enabling smooth transitions and effective engagement across cultures.
Drawing from extensive cross-cultural experience, we share six essential adjustments that can transform your approach. Just like adjusting buttons on a music mixing desk, these adjustments include directness, enthusiasm, assertiveness, formality, personal disclosure, and self-promotion.
In this short video, Keith Coats, Global Leadership Thinker and Futurist, helps you with embracing global dexterity to further unlock your leadership potential.
One of the immense privileges that I have working in Tomorrow Today Global is to do extensive cross cultural work throughout the world. I’ve just come back from Rwanda, I’ll be in Nigeria soon, and pretty much all four corners of the earth we have worked in. I’ve worked in over 60 countries personally, and so cross cultural transitions become very, very important.
Some years ago, I came across a book by Andy Malensky called Global Dexterity, and I must confess to you, Not knowing much about the book, I bought it purely on the title. I love the title Global Dexterity. And in the book, Malensky gives six things that you can use when you work cross culturally or you cross a cultural border.
So the six things I have used and employed ever since and have found incredibly helpful and practical. Here they are. The first question to ask, and maybe the picture you need to have in your mind, is that of a music mixing desk. And on a mixing desk, buttons will go up or down. So you’re thinking about adjusting the button upwards or downwards in each of these six areas.
The first area is directness. As I go from this culture to that culture, do I need to be more or less direct? So excuse me for… using a personal illustration. But my wife and I in 2015 moved to the UK from South Africa. We’ve just returned back to South Africa after nearly six years in the UK. And let me use that as the story behind each one of these areas.
So moving from South Africa to the UK, what we found is you have to move the button down. South Africans tend to be far more direct than the Brits. And so being direct in the British culture was downwards. The second button that you adjust is enthusiasm. As I step into this culture, do I be more enthusiastic or do I reign the enthusiasm in?
Especially if you’re presenting or leading a workshop. Again, in our experience moving from South Africa to the UK, that button also came down. We had to tone down the enthusiasm with which you presented yourself. The third button was assertiveness. Do I need to be more assertive or less assertive? Again, going into the UK, that button came down, less assertive was the way to adjust to that cultural norm.
The fourth adjustment or the fourth button is formal. This is the only button that actually moved up because moving from South Africa to the UK, we had to engage in a greater degree of formality, both professionally and sociably. So, formality was something that had to go up. The fifth one is personal disclosure.
What is appropriate personal disclosure? South Africans, using our analogy, build rapport by disclosing or asking personal questions. How many children do you have? Where did you grow up? As a way of building that social cohesion. In the UK, that’s not always appropriate. And so personal disclosure was something you had to tread lightly on.
And in our case, that button came down. The last button was Self promotion. Do you promote yourself? Again, the South African going to the UK, that button came down. Americans often promote themselves. In fact, I remember reading a story of a Chinese person who was applying for a job in the US and she didn’t get the job in spite of being the most qualified.
When they asked the interviewer why she didn’t get the job, his answer was she lacked confidence. And when they asked, well, why do you think that? He said, well, when I asked the question, why should we give you this job? Which is a fairly standard question in an interview process. That is the cue for promoting yourself.
Telling the interviewer why they would be lucky to have you as part of their organization. But of course, being Chinese, she was very self demure. She stepped back, she didn’t promote herself. He interpreted that. As you lack confidence. So, as you work cross culturally, here are the six things that might really help you make that transition smooth.
Do I be more or less direct? Do I be more or less enthusiastic in my communication style? Do I be more or less assertive, more or less formal? Do I disclose personal information as a way of building rapport, or do I promote myself to a greater or lesser degree? Cultural dexterity.
About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Keith Coats
Keith Coats is a founding partner of TomorrowToday Global and leadership specialist. He is now based in Cape Town, South Africa having relocated from London towards the end of 2021. Keith works with blue chips companies and in multiple business school leadership programmes worldwide helping senior leaders prepare today for the challenges and threats of tomorrow…and sometimes, the ‘day after tomorrow’.
Recently Keith’s travel has included working throughout the UK, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, and of course, South Africa.