Our global business landscape is shifting, and new technologies and emerging markets mean that the very structures and identities of organizations and their employees are in flux. Companies can survive these shifts if they have flexible structures, global mindsets, and the confidence to take on new arenas.
One crucial step for cultivating those organizational attributes is to hire employees who have international experience and have thus developed personal leadership characteristics that translate across borders.
Here are a few of the qualities I've found in candidates with international experience — and how those experiences translate into qualities that can help businesses soar.
1. Seeing America anew provides perspective.
Americans tend to hold very U.S.-centric world views. But when they get the chance to work in other cultures and learn new structures of leadership, work styles, and schedules, they may find that they prefer other ways of working.
This awareness can give the employee a better insight into their personal needs and desires at work. Those used to working long hours in the U.S. may blossom under the calmer conditions of a Scandinavian company, for example, and gain a new understanding of work-life balance that they can bring home.
2. Experiencing alternative forms of leadership engenders flexibility.
People who have studied or worked abroad have likely worked with a variety of leadership styles. For example, a leader in Singapore may have very different expectations from a leader in Paris. The ability to adapt without becoming defensive or losing individuality not only shows flexibility, but also forecasts more well-rounded leadership potential.
Based on my experience in a Fortune 10 company, employees with international experience have greater success in leadership positions and display higher levels of maturity, adaptability, and social skills. For company leaders trying to expand into international markets, candidates who have worked under diverse leadership should be highly sought-after.
3. Adapting to different cultures and languages builds understanding and empathy.
In general, people who experience different cultures firsthand tend to empathize with them and become more sensitive to — and aware of — others' perspectives. For example, an American recruiter who spends time in Asia may learn to navigate complex hierarchies and systems of etiquette, which instills a new attention to detail in relationships back at home.
This learned cultural sensitivity can help companies avoid embarrassing situations or misunderstandings. It can even strengthen global relationships, help decode client needs, and lead to deeper business relationships.
4. Confronting new challenges promotes resilience and resourcefulness.
Living in other countries inevitably offers new and unpredictable challenges: adapting to foreign customs, meeting people with diverse backgrounds, handling language barriers, and navigating numerous unforeseen obstacles.
When I worked in Japan, I had to confront the unique expectations facing women in leadership. For the Japanese men I met, I didn’t fit their idea of a business executive. They tended to deal with this by either avoiding me or literally translating me into a male context — speaking to me only through a translator even when they readily spoke English directly with my male colleagues. Was it uncomfortable? Absolutely. Was there anything I could do to change it? No; instead, I had to learn to work with their culture instead of getting offended by it. Learning how to adapt to and communicate with colleagues from multiple countries during these types of global experiences increased my overall impact as a leader — which led to a promotion a few months after my return.
Through international experience, many people grow in confidence and resilience and become more comfortable taking risks and stepping into the unknown — invaluable qualities in this ever-changing business world.
Give international experience a prime place in your talent management strategy, and you'll find leaders who are self-sufficient, courageous, and adaptable. They're the ones who have the vision to take your company to the next level in this new global landscape.
Written by: Chris Carosella, CEO of Beta Gamma Sigma
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