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Intercultural Manager's Mindset

Updated on June 19, 2013

What Does it Take to be an International Manager?

Obviously, anyone aspiring to be an international manager should concentrate on the core business studies like economics, finance, and management. It is also important to remain well versed in the constant inflow of new studies and current events. Yet, I believe that this information can only take a person so far in global business or life. The basis for an international manager’s mindset should be awareness, understanding, and acceptance, but not necessarily in that order.

Managers should be aware of who they are as individuals, what they value, and where those values come from. Yet, what are the sources of those values? People learn their values from their families and communities, the surrounding social structure; culture. Yet, what influences culture? Paul Tillich wrote that “Religion is the substance of culture; culture is the form of religion.” Culture and religion are inextricably intertwined. Religion provides culture with patterns of belief, morals, values, and codes of conduct. Religion and culture provide people with a method for interpreting and understanding the world. They have a strong influence on individuals’ perceptions. An aspiring manager must analyze their own belief structures and how they decide what they value and deem right or wrong. Only then can they truly be aware of the differences between themselves and others. No one can know someone else if they do not know themself.

I think it is important for the manager to gain an understanding of the culture/s of the people they will be working with. While cultural profiles may be useful for this, I think that they may be to a certain extent over-generalized and stereotypical. Rather than learning the basic characteristics of a given culture, I think a manager should immerse themself in that culture. One way would be by reading that culture’s literature, since literature is a reflection of culture. It could be as simple as reading the mythology or folk lore of that culture. Myths personify the morals and ideals of culture and religion. Yet, a reader must be careful not to interpret such things through a myopic lens.

Managers must be able to accept and respect cultural differences. Instead of assuming that their way is best or being ethnocentric, managers should accept that individuals from other cultures have their own way of doing things. Managers should be respectful of this. Yet, at the same time, managers should not sacrifice their own values. Instead, managers should help the people from other cultures develop an understanding as well which will make compromise and negotiations much simpler.

Developing awareness can help a manager develop cultural empathy. It can also aid them in thinking “outside the box”. Understanding and acceptance can be the building blocks of respectful intercultural relationships. Also, understanding a culture can make it easier to adapt to, and adaptability is necessary for an international manager.

Finally, strong communication skills are vital for an international manager. Yet, I think it may be one of the most difficult skills to develop. Miscommunications often occur even among people who are well versed in the same language and from the same culture. Managers who are aware of what they are saying and conscious of misunderstandings which may occur from speaking in metaphors or idioms will avoid such things.


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