5 leadership qualities to succeed in multicultural organisations

International leadership means interacting and communicating across national borders, adopting new habits, and evaluating and understanding unfamiliar situations and decision-making processes.

By Jaap Boonstra

Internationally successful leaders and managers know themselves and their own values, are sensitive to what is happening and are curious about the values of others. They have a feeling for cultural nuances and know what they need to avoid doing in order not to embarrass the other party. They are also good at interacting and are focused on collaboration.

The challenge for global leaders, managers and professionals lies in the development of a relationship of trust and involving others in decision-making and company development, fully recognising that people from different countries have different qualities, expectations and convictions.

To be a successful leader in a multicultural and globally aware organisation, five dimensions are essential:

  1. Value-driven leadership
  2. Adaptive leadership
  3. Meaningful leadership
  4. Social leadership
  5. Confident leadership

1. Value-driven leadership

Value-driven leaders have a profound understanding of the fundamental values in our global community and a feeling for people's social and basic human needs. Through their understanding of and feel for what is happening around them, they express the values the organisation stands for.

Value-driven leaders are unambiguous with regard to integrity

Value-driven leaders are unambiguous with regard to integrity and human worth and explicit with regard to unacceptable behaviour. They can cope with ethical dilemmas and dare to make choices accordingly. They inspire and motivate others by sharing a future vision rooted in compelling and shared core values.

2. Adaptive leadership

Adaptive leadership has to do with how sensitive you are as a leader to cultural variations and how you cope with situations that are new and ambiguous. Adaptive leadership demands a global view and having an open attitude to other cultures.

Adaptive leaders are aware of the developments around them and the needs of customers and other interested parties. They see what the competition is doing, what possibilities new technology offers and where opportunities are to be seized. It is important to be sensitive and cope with strategic dilemmas and cultural tensions, and furthermore to balance consistency in values with flexibility in behaviour.

3. Meaningful leadership

Meaningful leaders have a long-term perspective on the business idea and the societal significance of their organisation. A meaningful leader interprets unclear events, giving meaning to the world around us.

Through collectively creating a vision of the future and sharing their stories, such leaders create shared understandings. Skill is required in order to strike a balance between stability and renewal and to foster commitment to lasting changes and to the creation of value for customers and other interested parties.

Meaningful leaders have a long-term perspective on the business idea

4. Social leadership

Social leadership requires leaders to value cultural diversity and to employ the tension between cultural values for strategic and cultural renewal. Social leadership has to do with the quality of teamwork in multicultural and virtual teams.

Present-day and future leaders are team players who advance complex collaborative processes in which people share knowledge, work together and achieve results. The challenge is to understand, surmount and exploit cultural differences in order to achieve results.

5. Confident leadership

Confident leadership means being aware of how others see you and how you yourself view reality. Confident leaders are conscious of their own emotions, perceptions and cultural biases, as well as the emotions and perceptions of others. They know the source of their identity and know themselves and their motivations. They know their weaknesses and strengths.

Confident leaders are conscious of their own emotions, perceptions and cultural biases

Self-aware leaders are approachable, sincere and candid, and they never shun anyone. This approach makes undercurrents and emotions open for discussion.

These five leadership qualities are not personality traits; they can be developed through an attitude based on curiosity, humility, self-reflection and relating to people with other cultural values.

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.