Thanks to globalization and the digitalization of business, the days of “local” or even “national” business are past. Your business may cater predominantly to a target audience in a local community, but there’s no reason it has to be so strictly confined. Across the US, small businesses are extending their global reach and finding a new customer base in countries thousands of miles away.
But with this opportunity comes some potential culture “land mines.” Other countries are accustomed to conducting business in their own ways, just as we are here. A willful ignorance of or disregard for this fact can significantly damage a company’s success in doing business abroad. By contrast, US firms with effective global leadership are well-positioned to see significant strategic growth in the years to come.
Tips for Effective Global Leadership
Here are seven tips for CEOs and business owners to keep in mind as they seek opportunities to strategically grow their business and expand into foreign markets:
1. Be open to differences in culture and language.
Yes, English is spoken in many countries and within a wide range of international businesses. But if you want to strengthen ties with leaders and managers abroad, you’ll gain more sympathy and traction by trying to learn at least some of the local language. A business leader who can converse, even in a rudimentary manner, with his or her counterpart in another country will build considerable goodwill between potential partners.
2. Know the acceptable method of greetings.
First impressions are critically important, so you should understand the appropriate method of greeting another person in a foreign setting. In the US and other western European countries, individuals greet one another with a handshake. In countries throughout Asia, on the other hand, people greet one another by bowing. Do some research on proper greetings beforehand so everyone is at ease from the outset of your first encounter.
3. Make note of non-verbal cues and body language.
Whether meeting in person or engaged in video-conferencing, take time to observe how the other person (or people) sit, stand and otherwise display non-verbal cues. You can learn a lot this way, especially if you’re willing to relinquish preconceived notions based on your own “non-global” experience.
For example, notes global business leader Vivek Gupta, “an Indian employee will often nod their head ‘yes’ or make sounds in the affirmative” during conversation. This doesn’t necessarily suggest agreement with what you’re saying Gupta adds. Instead, “this is a gesture to show that they’ve heard what you said,” which shouldn’t be misconstrued as displaying absolute agreement.
4. Be respectful of different ideas of status.
In the US, success in business earns a leader respect, regardless of how old he or she is and the extent of their business experience. In some other countries, people in business don’t have the same opportunities for overnight achievement, “and therefore success is typically only achieved through years (age) and experience,” writes business consultant Peter Gasca. As a result, “younger business professionals are expected to respect older peers, regardless of education, achievements or socioeconomic status.”
5. Do appropriate research prior to engaging in business discussions.
There may be times when it’s OK to “wing it” during a phone call or video-chat with a potential partner or client. This approach is decidedly wrong if you intend to move beyond US borders.
The more familiar you are with another country’s local or regional business customs, the greater likelihood you’ll strike up a rapport that portends well for future negotiations. Of course, it’s also the respectful thing to do. Your overseas contacts will likely be impressed and grateful that you took time to properly prepare for this initial contact.
6. Be prepared to veer away from top-down leadership models.
Centralized, top-down leadership is the norm in the US, but this model isn’t universally adopted. Be ready to engage in more collaborative discussions, sometimes involving employees who wouldn’t normally be in the same room with senior leadership. Explore areas of mutual interest and possible cooperation, volunteering time and resources from within your organization that match what your potential partner or client is willing to provide.
7. Know how to deliver your message.
Communications, not surprisingly, vary from nation to nation. As Harvard Business Review notes, “In Hong Kong, China, India, and Singapore, men are expected to command a room in a forceful manner,” while in “Japan, Brazil, and Russia, women are expected to command a room by facilitating others’ dialogue.” No doubt this is a general observation, and times do change, but business leaders are well advised to learn as much as they can about differing modes of communications.
8. Be cognizant of international business dining etiquette.
Just as in the US, many key business transactions take place over the dinner table, or at least budding business relationships begin to thrive in such a setting. When the time comes to sit down with a potential partner or client overseas, it’s vital that you adhere to etiquette appropriate to your location.
Top Travel Tips offers these helpful guidelines:
- Showing up for dinner on time is important, “but in some cultures, you can be considered greedy or too keen if you arrive early.”
- Act respectfully towards your host at all times and refrain from getting too chummy.
- Do not drink too much or make gestures that can be interpreted as obscene or disrespectful.
- Although the setting is more informal than an office or conference room, avoid the impulse to “share thoughts and feelings of more personal nature than you normally would.”
The safest bet is to observe good table manners at all times.
Not every small business in the US is prepared to conduct transactions abroad. But if the opportunity arises, a CEO or business leader should be prepared to handle the challenges of international trade. It can make all the difference for the future growth of your business.