Being a leader at a company is challenging enough. It’s even more complicated when you’re leading teams worldwide, many of whom speak other languages and come from different cultures. Still, you have a special duty to lead differently and in a globally inclusive way.
Here are five habits that the best global leaders demonstrate to support their team members.
1. They flex on time zone
One of the most complex parts of leading a global team is that you must accept early on that you cannot change time zones. Sadly, many employees overseas work unfavorable times of day and night to meet with people in the HQ country. Rarely do executives offer the same flexibility. The best global leaders are advocates for flexible schedules, which have the side benefit of allowing people to work across time zones.
When I worked in an office setting, I often drove early in the morning to beat the Boston traffic and meet with my colleagues in Europe. I often left early for the same reason. This also allowed me to pick up my children at school and take them to activities during the workday. After my kids were asleep, I would clock in for additional hours at night to overlap with my team members in Singapore and Japan.
The best thing about being a leader who “walks the walk” on time zone flexibility is that your team members see that you live by it. It makes them feel more comfortable doing the same themselves. Just this week, a colleague in Dublin was able to meet with me during her evening hours unexpectedly but explained that earlier, she could duck out for a dental appointment. Giving people flexible schedules has tremendous benefits that pay off when you have people across many time zones.
2. They communicate in diverse ways
When leading teams worldwide, you must step up the diversity and flexibility of your communications. Consider expanding not only the formats you use but also the channels and the timing of when you communicate.
For example, I once worked with a team conducting training for employees worldwide, including some of my team members. These colleagues wondered why many people from one country, in particular, were not participating in the training very much. These colleagues felt uncomfortable in English, the training language. I suggested that they provide their slides and script to these employees so they could prepare in advance for the sessions, which proved incredibly helpful to them.
3. They are aware of the role culture plays
When you are a global leader, it’s essential to ask yourself if the reasons for a confusing behavior might be rooted in cultural differences. Sometimes, these are very subtle and can be tricky to pinpoint. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify if there might be any cultural differences at play. Ask someone in the local market to help you mediate between cultures when needed.
4. They don’t assume what applies in Market A applies in Market B
So often in the workplace, we assume that certain behaviors and expectations are universal. Quite often, they are not. When you have a program created in one geography that you hope to roll out in others, ask one of the local team members what they think first. Sometimes, a program designed in Market A isn’t necessary or even helpful in Market B.
5. They’re empathetic
The best leaders of global teams are aware of power dynamics within their company and the genuine differences in access from place to place. Some groups simply have more resources, benefits and points of connection than others because of their location. Being in a location distant from where the main action takes place can be isolating for employees and even lonely.
Your job as a global leader is not to fix all those things instantly but to show your awareness that things are different and to help others at your company understand this, too. Indeed, the best global leaders spend time in person with their teams in far-away places as often as possible to build relationships and better understand their reality.
Nataly Kelly is the chief growth officer at Rebrandly, a global software firm with customers in more than 100 countries, and the author of “Take Your Company Global: The New Rules of International Expansion.” Connect with her at BornToBeGlobal.com.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.