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The Mind Of An International Manager – Open or closed for business?

By Debbie Nicol (1233 words)
Posted in International Management on June 27, 2013

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By Debbie Nicol, Managing Director, 'business en motion"

As international managers are often ‘on the move’, they can find themselves in unknown territory, affording many opportunities for open minds to show respect, understanding and empathy.  Conversely, facing unknown territory with a closed mind can communicate ignorance and arrogance, as sadly demonstrated in this video.



To pave the way for unity & success during international assignments, take care with the assumptions you make, your attitudes towards hiring and maintaining your feed on the ground.




We’ve all seen the illusion of how assumptions make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’, and how true that is even today.  No international manager will ever be taken seriously if actions are driven by assumptions.


Alternatively, and according to Covey, when we seek to understand before being understood, much credibility can be gained.  Not only will respect be earned, but also the reality of situations will be ‘on hand’.


Great examples that the changing world has handed to me include:


Assumption 1: The facial features must typify the type of life the people have lead.


One such lady is Cath Turner, Asian by looks, Australian by accent, working for an Arab news broadcaster and living her dream in the US.  A visual assumption may have her firmly working in a paddy field, or holding a job in a small Asian city.  When these assumptions give way to reality, she is an Australian leading journalist writing documentaries for Al Jazeera TV in New York City!  What opportunities could be missed if facial features represented the driving force behind important business decisions?


Assumption 2:  The workforce in Poland is still affected by their historical baggage!


My experience has demonstrated that it is totally an untruth, with the younger generation keen to move on, not look back and get themselves on the map as soon as possible.  They readily accept that some older-generation Poles may still be focussing on the past, yet stringently deny, in words and actions that they are following suit! A generation and culture to watch!



Attitudes Toward Hiring


I have often observed many international managers who are encumbered with an attitude of ‘they couldn’t do business without me’! What a dangerous cognitive belief!  There could be a myriad of reasons for hiring an expat, and ‘they couldn’t exist without me’ should NOT be considered as one of them!  Even if that is reality, isn’t our job to ensure our own redundancy within the shortest amount of time?


Consider success and when it is evident. Can success be measured when an international manager has presence? Absolutely!  Can success also be measured after your departure – even more so yes!  This type of success will demonstrate success with the transference of knowledge, skills and attitudes, ensuring any efforts yielded long term gain.   An international manager’s greatest opportunity is to equip the local people with skills they don’t have access to currently.


Example 1:  As an international manager myself, I felt such pride when 2 years after I had moved on from my original overseas posting, the previous company’s staff rang me frantically reporting back on a serious fire that had broken out, yet more important to them was to communicate to me that not only was it contained, but not one injury occurred purely because of the training and understanding that we had embedded into everyday life!  The evidence was clear of transference of knowledge, skills and attitudes! Only then my job was declared as done!


Allow their success by the measure of your success!


Example 2:  As an international manager, you will often be blessed with a remuneration package of a higher rate than a person from that origin who may also be performing the same job.  Rightly or wrongly, it can be reality.  However, reality can change on the turn of a coin, so to speak.


When referring back to the first example above, there should be a tipping point when the gap in performance is no longer as wide as before you arrived.  When evidence of equality of performance starts rearing its head, what will your response be?  Unfortunately some feel ‘once blessed, always blessed’ to be different!  Ask yourself one question – is your purpose to reap the benefits and leave or to pass on competency and in doing so close gaps.  When will your ‘used by’ date come to expiry?  Perhaps putting yourself on the other side of the equation may bring some attitudinal perspective – go on, try it!



Degree of ‘Feet on the Ground


Many times international managers are often seen (and heard) enjoying a new life, yet without keeping their feet on the ground.  Groundedness earns respect and builds unity – great things for an international manager to have and share!


Overheard in Bangkok recently in a crowded Thai restaurant, with many local patrons, one expatriate diner exclaimed loudly: “It’s so cheap here, bring another ten bottles!’


Overheard in India recently in a local ornament shop, an American patron declared:  ‘Yep, I’ll buy 20 and give them away as they are so cheap!’


What could be going through the minds of the other diners, or shoppers?   This industry is someone else’s livelihood or treat!   Whilst one may be enjoying the perks, should separation drive our existence?  Nothing is surer: one day, some day, you will need to be back home, in the daily grind of bills and commitments.


Overheard in Dubai recently: We haven’t had to care for anything really for the last 15 years. So now I’m retiring, it will be the first time I have to budget and be price-conscious.


International managers have an opportunity to not only transfer knowledge, skills and attitudes, but also life-long legacies  - which are you working on?



{#/pub/images/debbienicol.jpg}Written by Debbie NicolManaging Director, 'business en motion' 
With leadership workshops, strategic approaches to organizational development and change, executive coaching and public speaking engagements, Debbie’s USP is the ability to open minds of those around her. Offering both traditional and contemporary toolkits focused on story-telling as the impetus for self and corporate leadership change. Sectors span across Asia, Africa and specializing in Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.


Do you have a management question for Debbie?  Please visit our International Management Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (1)

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