What are the qualities of a successful leader? The answer to this question is not simple. Depending on where you are in the world, the answer to this question can vary dramatically.
A large portion of companies in the United States cultivate a very specific image of the model business leader. Words like outspoken, direct and ambitious are key values of ideal executive presence.
These values, however, are not necessarily the global leadership norm. In Asian countries, for example, the cultural values that can positively affect workplace productivity – respecting of authority, quiet, hard-working – are quite different from those often revered and associated with executive presence in the US.
What happens when your personal cultural values are not recognized as leadership assets in your organization’s culture?
Studies on career advancement point to a crucial need for a potential leader to develop both technical skills and emotional/social intelligence early in his or her career. Research shows that minority leaders can potentially fall behind their colleagues in developing key social intelligence skills such as executive presence, personal branding, networking and relationship building due to the culture clash between what is expected of them and their own cultural value systems.
This clash can lead to confusion about the use of these social skills in developing leadership potential. As a result, many potential minority leaders tend to fall back on their technical skills in order to prove their management abilities, thinking that if they work hard and excel at their jobs, the work will speak for itself. The consequence of this thinking is that many are overlooked for advancement, their talents are underutilized and turnover can increase.
How can tomorrow’s multicultural leaders bridge this divide?
A crucial step is to acknowledge one’s personal cultural values and recognize their benefits as well as their perceived drawbacks. Then, leaders need to take an honest look at cultural expectations (both implicit and explicit) around executive presence in their organizations. What values, beliefs and behaviors are rewarded?
Understanding your own cultural values and how they can be misperceived within your organization’s culture can give you the clarity to balance the two worlds. How can you leverage your own values and differences as career enhancers? When do they become career derailers?
Here are some tips to help you balance your own expectations of leadership with those of your organization:
Expand. Remember that learning new skills does not entail an abandonment of who you are, but instead can lead to an expansion of who you are. As you grow and develop, strengthen your toolbox by adding new skills so that instead of relying on “good-enough skills,” you will be able to use “just-right skills.”
Understand. Recognize there are multiple ways values “show up” through behavior—no one way is either right or wrong. For example, a strong value around “harmony” can show up as being a good team player and working well with others. It can also show up as lacking authority or an inability to be assertive. It’s important that leaders ask themselves how their values influence their behavior and the perception others have of them
Balance. “Overuse” or “over-reliance” on values, particularly cultural values, can turn those values from strengths into weaknesses. Instead, balance these values to leverage them as strengths while exploring different methods for expressing those same values.
Remember that your personal cultural values are points of color in the tapestry of your career. Capitalize on the strengths of what makes you unique, but also be honest about the leadership skills that may seem elusive to you. Strike the right balance to help bridge the divide between you and a strong executive presence.