All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation. —Max McKeown
When you live and work in 6 different countries, your eyes tend to open to the diversity that is all around you. The bottom line is that culture matters, and it matters a lot! This is particularly true when it comes to leading effectively in an international environment. Note that the term used was “effective” leadership and not simply leadership standing alone. Leadership on its own is not enough. Leadership alone is bland, outdated and a general concept that cannot be defined. Effective leadership on the other hand involves one's ability to reach, inspire and direct their followers by using the necessary soft skills to earn their respect and relate with them on a personal level. The acronym SWAL (Sensible, Worldwide, Adaptable, Leaders) encompasses the essential soft skills needed to have effective leadership in a global world.
This is a must before any directions are given! Being sensible involves assessing the atmosphere before acting or making decisions. One of the biggest mistakes anyone entering a leadership role can make is to simply use their résumé as their reasoning for directing people. Regardless of your experience or your past success, there needs to be a personal connection made in order to earn the respect of your followers. If you try to direct before earning respect this is a recipe for failure in the long term. So how does one demonstrate sensibility?
Sensibility starts with listening. The ability to listen is so underrated in today’s society. Often, leadership gets caught up in feeling like they have to prove their worth in terms of their accomplishments to earn the respect of others. However, there is much more power in being able to listen to someone else's story before telling yours. And always keep in mind: listen to comprehend, do not listen to respond. A lot of people listen, but they listen to respond to what the other person is saying. Instead, you should be listening to comprehend their story. From there, you can apply comparable situations in your own life to relate to that person on a deeper level. In the end, people do not want to feel like they are alone. When you can relate to people and their problems and issues in life, you can earn their respect. Once you have that, you are on the right track to being an effective leader.
Every day the world is becoming more internationally connected. This makes intercultural competence all the more important in terms of effective leadership. Intercultural competence starts first and foremost with acceptance. This is such a simple concept, and it seems so obvious. However, its general application has failed to be utilized for generations. Just look at war for example. I hate to speak in general terms about the subject, but when we look at the root of war and why it happens, it essentially starts from a lack of acceptance. Whether that be rejection due to religious beliefs, politics, sexual orientation, social class, status, etc.
Humans have failed to truly accept others for who they are. Until the human race makes a commitment to truly accept each other’s differences while also trying to understand and adapt to those differences, conflict and lack of potential opportunities will always be present. Effective leaders need to have a “Worldwide” mindset and understand that often their followers are not always going to agree with them nor hold the same beliefs. If those in leadership roles can effectively show their ability of acceptance, their followers are much more likely to respect them and will still want to follow their lead despite their differences.
Being adaptable is only possible after acceptance. Once one truly accepts others and their differences, then they can use this acceptance to learn and adapt to this person’s strengths to help them become the best versions of themselves. And when everyone is operating as the best version of themselves this is all the better for collective efforts within the business or team. Just remember acceptance before adaption. It legitimately cannot work the other way around.
Leaders (Effective Ones)
It is truly an art form in today’s world to become an effective leader in a multicultural environment. The most important thing to remember is that before one can effectively lead others, they must first have the ability to effectively lead themselves. Only then is the SWAL concept possible to implement. Leading yourself effectively involves having a solid personal foundation. The ability to listen to comprehend, the ability to accept and then adapt all are a by-product of your foundation as a person. Think of it as building a house. Before you can build the structure, you have to have a strong foundation laid.
So, before these soft skills can be put to use, your foundation has to be strong. Everyone aspiring to attain a leadership role should first and foremost understand themselves as a person and prioritize their foundation before taking on the responsibility of effectively leading others. Please be humble enough to understand when you are ready and when your foundation needs work. And also realize that it is alright to be a follower in the beginning. Despite the negative undertones associated with the word follower, sometimes in life, you have to be under the tutelage of those more capable than you in order to build your foundation and to reach your potential.
So, you must understand that long-term success in a leadership role can be dependent on the ability to implement the SWAL concept. Please understand that it all starts with you. Prioritize yourself and your development over anything else. It is not selfish; it is necessary. Our world is in desperate need of SWALeaders. While they certainly do exist in today’s world, there simply are not enough.
So, look within yourself and ask: am I sensible? Do I think "worldwide?" Am I adaptable? Am I an effective leader? If your answer is no to any one of these questions, remember: start with yourself.