My first role as a Vice President involved a move to Canada. I was asked to lead the marketing department for my company’s subsidiary, just outside of Toronto. It was one of the great learning experiences in my career.
You couldn’t ask for a much easier international transition. A flight of less than an hour. People who spoke the same language. A broader portfolio than I was accustomed to, but with many familiar brands. How hard could it be? I read a few books on Canada and its history, and I was ready to roll.
Sure, there were some language issues. Tabling an issue meant to discuss for decision, not to put it off. And then, a decision was taken, not made. British spelling was used, Governour. I had to get used to the metric system (easy guide: 28°C is 82°F, 16°C is 61°F, 0°C is freezing and -10°C is frigging cold.)
There were other subtle differences. Blinking green traffic lights, blue laws that kept grocery stores closed on Sundays, and milk in plastic bags. Some things impacted my business. Price elasticity was more pronounced in Canada. People valued order and politeness more than in the States. Concern about the environment was far more developed.
I felt very fortunate by how I was welcomed by my organization. I made friends there. I had a generous allowance for housing. I dove into my work and had some early successes. And my wife and I knew that this was to be a three-year rotation. At home with three small kids, she was more supportive than she had to be about my absences, as our family didn’t move from Connecticut until about 3 months into my tenure.
The learning experience was sometimes painful. I went through my first layoffs and firings. I overestimated the equity I had built in some of our brands. My boss become abusive as his position was threatened and he feared I was more politically connected than he was. I dealt with the awkwardness of succession as my rotation came to an end.
Truth be told, we were sorry that our expat life ended with a repatriation to the US. We were geared up for an assignment in Europe that didn’t come. Years later, my wife and I spent Thanksgiving in Buenos Aires as we considered a move there. We concluded that the culture was too far out of our comfort zone for that to work for our family.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen international assignments that didn’t go well. A colleague told me of his experience when a rotation in Greece left him with no sponsor there and no way back home for five years. In my first visit to South Africa, I ran into a newly-placed country manager who hadn’t realized what living in the Third World really entailed. I asked my company’s MD in Korea to take on a role in the US, because he was one of the best marketers in the company. He faced enormous resistance from an American team that was unconvinced that his successes in Asia would translate elsewhere.
Learning a new culture, whether it is national or corporate, is hard work. It is easy to make a misstep. Some of us are better prepared for the transition than others. Some of us read books on Canadian history, others get coaches who prepare them and their family for their new lives. Almost always, that coaching ends by the time an executive arrives in their new home. And that’s a problem.
As well prepared as my friend in South Africa thought he was, his failure came from not having help in- market. Same with the guy marooned in Greece. My own plate was too full to adequately provide the support my colleague from Korea needed in the US.
What is gained from spending the money to send an executive halfway around the world for a three-year rotation? Arguably, it makes the executive more effective and versatile, creating a more well-rounded company. Hopefully, it injects a new perspective into the host company. Leaving aside moral justifications, this is the business case for diversity practices.
If diversity is operationally defined by the number of underrepresented people hired by a company, inclusion is more about their retention and success. Inclusion often focuses on making cultural changes in the organization to encourage acceptance. That’s playing the long game. But shorter term, it often misses the opportunity to provide sponsorship to those diverse employees that the company wants to keep and grow.
Here is the lesson I learned. While almost everybody needs a coach or mentor, the need is critical for those who are different. While inclusion efforts attempt to tear down the wall to acceptance, those recruited can't wait for the wall to come down. They need a boost right now.
Image via Unsplash
This month's blog was guest-written by Elena Stewart. Elena made the jump from a corporate job she wasn’t entirely happy with, to running her own business that gives her the financial freedom and flexible lifestyle she’s always wanted. As a life coach, she now gets the happiness of helping others get to the places that might seem out of reach.
Nobody goes into business believing they'll be a lousy leader. But, unfortunately, certain leadership styles or traits can quickly derail a business. Studies show bad bosses can decrease company morale, increase turnover rates, and lower productivity.
The worst part? One survey cited by Pepperdine Graziadio Business School found that 100% of people reported having at least one bad manager. Recognizing these negative behaviors or traits can help you overcome these statistics to be a great boss who only positively influences your company. This guide from can help you get started.
Failing to Consider the Details
Even the most minor details are crucial when it comes to business. You could be positioning your business for serious setbacks if you don't pay attention to all the details, especially administrative or legal ones. As a leader, you must understand everything that needs to be done and ensure it's done efficiently. However, this doesn't mean you have to put more on your already overwhelming plate.
For example, you could use an online service to handle the paperwork and expedite your business formation when you file necessary startup documents. There are different services available, so ensure that you do your research to find the best option. For example, research the differences between Zenbusiness vs Legalzoom (pricing, turnaround time, additional services, etc.) to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money.
Or, you may find it helpful to delegate answering emails to your secretary or another qualified employee. This way, all your emails will be looked at, and you won't miss any important ones. The hired employee can let you know if any emails require your attention.
Ignoring Good Advice
A good leader needs to be coachable. Not only should they be practicing active listening, but they should also be considering feedback and advice. If advice is applicable, it should be acted upon. Good advice can come from a variety of places. You may receive sound advice from schooling, certification courses, conferences, and other business leaders in your area. But, good advice can also come from your employees, friends, or family. Sometimes advice is ignored because the source is unexpected. Other times, advice is ignored because you believe you already know better than others — try to avoid those times.
Forgetting Your Employees Are Human
One study noted by the Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute found that job earnings didn't even rank in the top five employee satisfaction factors. Among the most important factors were a safe work environment and good management.
One of the easiest ways to negate both of these factors is by forgetting your employees are human. A business doesn't always run like a well-oiled machine. Things can and will come up. For example, your secretary may need to go on maternity leave. Or an entire sector of your company could come down with something contagious and be out for two weeks.
It isn't just about happenstance, however. Your employees have a life outside the office, and they need an appropriate amount of understanding. This is especially true if an employee has made you aware of their problems. For example, an employee may be feeling overwhelmed outside of the office and suffer a slight dip in productivity. Try to be understanding and mindful.
Not Taking Advantage of Leadership Programs
Finding ways to empower your employees is an excellent way to invest in their futures — as well as the future of your business. For example, if you’ve recently hired executives and you want to provide them with the tools they need to succeed in their roles, work with a company like Executive Springboard, which pairs your executives with mentors who can help them develop their individual skills. While the end benefit is to help improve and grow your business, your employees will appreciate that you’re willing to invest in them.
Be Mindful of Your Leadership Style
You need to be mindful of your leadership style. If you recognize any negative traits in yourself, work to correct them before they derail your business. Consider leadership mentoring or coaching by Executive Springboard.
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.