Whilst there are always some nerves jingling before any leadership development event, this is magnified when to be delivered overseas. Two recent and very successful trips to different parts of the world confirmed what I had probably already, subconsciously, believed: whilst geographic borders remain, the corporate and social borders are rapidly becoming much more fluid.  Cultures remain but cultural awareness has increased exponentially in recent years; meaning people more easily celebrate, accommodate and adapt to the cultural diversity that exists in global organisations.

The perceived cultural challenges are more acute than delivering in the UK (at least in the mind if not in reality so much).

  • There’s the challenge of delivering a leadership workshop for participants operating in a second (or in some cases 4th or fifth) language that only adds to the trepidation.
  • Will the ‘style’ of facilitation engage participants in the same way as it does in the UK?
  • Will the principles and practices ‘work’ as well in other parts of the globe?

On a recent flight back from Singapore, following a successful 3 days of leadership development for a UK based client, I was reflecting on the differences of delivering workshops in the UK, the USA and Singapore (and all in May 2018).  Were any of the above fears shown to be real?  The answer is emphatically ‘No!’, and here’s why:

The Perceived Language Barrier

I have a second language.  It’s French.  It’s terrible.  It just about gets me food, drink and somewhere to sleep in France!  I am consistently humbled by those whose first language is not English and yet can discuss, analyse and learn from complex and challenging subjects – in English!  It should not come as so much of a surprise though.  Having delivered workshops in Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Malta, the USA, Hong Kong, Malaysia and a few more, with participants from many times that number of countries, I should know by now the language barrier is not an issue.  Indeed, the UK-based programmes are often equally diverse.

By way of example, I was interested to understand how some of the leadership tools and techniques would translate into other languages and engaged a few participants in conversation over lunch.  We’d just covered ‘effective feedback’ and I’d shared a couple of structures.  I was keen to know how the session had landed.  I had participants from Singapore, India, Philippines and China.  The question was simple – ‘How well do the language structures in English translate into the language you use in your day-to-day leadership role’.  It’s only a small sample but the response was unanimous – ‘Easily’ (for the record that’s ‘facilement’ in French – which was no use to me whatsoever).

The Facilitation Style

Here the French helps.  As you will note from the previous paragraph, ‘facilement’ means ‘easily’ – ‘facilitation’ is to make something easier.  And that is exactly the style that workshops should be delivered in – conversational, exploratory and open to challenge and clarification.  It’s vital when the participant’s first language is English – it is critical to success when it is not!  Once again, not an area for concern.

The principles and practices of leadership 

We are rightly aware of and celebrate diversity.  Perhaps not so often do we recognise that there is a great deal of consistency in the way social structures appear in different cultures, the way people learn and develop, and the way people lead and manage.  Leadership and management frameworks such at Situational Leadership II® are based on of those fundamental similarities and, as such, are easily transportable and translatable.  I have yet to meet anyone who does not recognise the four development stages, or the need for clear goals or, indeed, the need to adapt your leadership style.  This became very apparent in taking the framework back to its founding country the USA where it was extremely well received.  This was then followed by UK and APAC delivery where the enthusiasm for it was no different.

Celebrate the diversity, focus on the similarities

Delivering back-to-back leadership workshops in three different countries, to at least nine different nationalities, in 28 days has brought into sharp focus the fact that the diversity that we recognise and celebrate should not obscure the significant areas of commonality that we should promote and share with equal reverence.

Lawrence White, Head of Learning

If you’d like to explore how Phoenix can help develop your global leadership teams, please contact Lawrence at lawrence@phoenix-training.co.uk