Coaching in the Cross-Cultural Context
In many organizations, leadership coaching has become the
method of choice for enhancing executive job performance. Executive
coaching has become a commonly accepted leadership practice in part because
companies experience the its magnitude of return on investment (ROI) is large.
Coaching is no longer used just for remediation, as a
solution for a problem executive who is in danger of derailment.
Rather, it is more often used now to enhance the performance of high-potential
individuals to help groom them in specific areas. Some of these areas
include leadership competency development, transitioning from a
command-and-control style to manager-as-coach, adapting to a merger, adjusting
to an increase in scope, just to name a few. One of the most common
situations in which coaching can be useful, is in a cross-cultural context, that
is, when the person must learn new behaviors in order to adapt to a new culture.
What is coaching in a cross-cultural context?
As globalization and the speed of change increases,
companies require that their executives be constantly prepared to run a large
enterprise. Executives must learn the requirements of the new job so
quickly so that they can make correct decisions early in their new assignments,
minimizing risk for the corporation. In normal everyday situations
requiring coaching, there is often a gap between the competencies the executive
brings to the job and those that are required for successful performance.
In the situation in which there is a cultural difference of some sort, the gap
can be enormous.
Examples of situations in which the cross-cultural context
is salient may be when a person is transferred from one country to another,
makes a job move to a foreign-owned company, or even just comes from a different
sub-culture within a country. The overall situation may initially feel
very overwhelming as the executive is suddenly faced with learning a new
language, learning different ways of behaving and expectations, and
understanding and interpreting others behavior in a new light. Nevertheless,
companies often demand that the executives thrust in the roles still function at
a very high level, while leading large teams of people. Compounding the task is
the very public environment in which every move made by the executive is often
under scrutiny. Coaches can increase an executives chance of success in
these situations by helping him or her learn the new information and skills to
be most effective.
How do you prepare expatriates for cultural transitions?
In general, expatriates (those who are relocated to live
and work in a country outside their own) who are effective in the new culture
have several things in common. They communicate well. They interact
socially with local people. They also accept the local culture as being
valid for the local people, even if they disagree with some aspects of it.
They have learned about the history, politics, religion and many other aspects
of the local culture.
There are a number of competencies which enable a smoother
cross-cultural adjustment and which may serve as the focus for a coaching
engagement. They are:
and respect for differences in cultural and business norms and behaviors.
and dealing effectively with people from different cultures, positions and
levels; interpersonally perceptive in a multi-cultural environment.
frustration well; dealing effectively with disappointments or rudeness.
and family members are knowledgeable and supportive of an international
assignment and who are interested in experiencing new opportunities in a
Coaching in the cross-cultural context often deals with
some aspect of these competencies. Coaching can help executives reflect on
new situations encountered, become comfortable operating in the new environment,
and exceed expectations in the fulfillment of the job.
How do you find the right coach for a cross-cultural context?
Finding the right match between an executive and a coach is
a subjective process. In addition to the commonly asked questions used to
select competent, credible coaches, some questions that are especially
appropriate in the cross-cultural context are:
Describe a coaching case in which cross-cultural issues
were in the forefront. How did you handle it from beginning to end?
What types of problems were addressed and how did you approach them?
What was the outcome?
What do you consider to be the most important
competencies for an executives successful adjustment to a new culture?
Give examples of how you coach to those competencies.
What types of people relate best to you? What
types of people do you prefer not to coach?
In sum, business is becoming more global. As such, we are
likely to see the need for more talented individuals to work across geographic
boundaries. As they do so, sensitivity to diversity becomes an important
competitive advantage. Executive coaches, like Industrial and
Organizational Psychologists, who are trained and experienced in cross-cultural
work issues can produce a high return on investment because they help improve an
executives performance in another culture and can help to achieve business