Chances are, as a leader in today’s fast-moving, increasingly complex, and competitive global environment, you will be exploring ways to accelerate your own development, as well as ways to grow the leaders you guide. New pressures, opportunities, and risks face new and seasoned leaders around the world and those who proactively embrace their own development will be best positioned to achieve successful outcomes for themselves and their organisations. Coaching can be the pivotal lever you need to help you progress.
The most effective coach to help you grow may well come from a distinctly different cultural background and location to your own. A coach with a wide global view and experience base can be the catalyst you need to help open up your thinking. But, cross-cultural and long-distance coaching is not easy and brings with it challenges as well as opportunities. As an executive coach working with senior leaders around the world for many years, I would like to share some of my observations and tips to help you optimise coaching outcomes for yourself and your organisation.
Authentic, cross-cultural engagement is fundamental. As a leader in the global environment, you will need to effectively engage with diverse team members, peers, and senior stakeholders, often across cultures, markets, and borders, sometimes virtually and in the midst of ever changing circumstances. A cross-cultural coach can be of immediate assistance to help you widen your perspective, as well as hone critical senior leadership skills. However, it is easier to be influenced by those who are similar to ourselves and share our views. Begin by building a strong relationship with your coach, on a foundation of trust, where you feel valued, safe to learn, explore, and create. To do this, explore your own beliefs in relation to diversity, and inform yourself about differences in culture, so that you can engage authentically. Discuss role expectations and cultural dynamics. Effort put into listening, checking understanding, feedback, demonstrating respect, and open, flexible thinking is essential to optimising the opportunities of cross-cultural interaction.
Is the market region you are in influencing your receptiveness to learning and change? In emerging regions, countries are often in the process of transforming themselves socially, politically, and in terms of their economic and business environment. Rapid growth often occurs alongside unpredictable, over-burdened infrastructure, with corruption and poverty a problem in some cases too. In my experience of coaching leaders in many of these regions, a high percentage demonstrate an outward looking, entrepreneurial, self-questioning approach, along with competence and an energy to learn and embrace new challenges. Ensure your coach understands your regional pressures and explore opportunities for faster learning and increased global exposure. In developed markets, growth is slower, with sound infrastructure, communication systems, safety, and security all leading to a greater sense of stability and strong, positive feelings of self-worth and competence. Concern about the economy does not always translate into a sense of urgency or into seeking fundamentally new approaches in order to be competitive in the long-run. The cross-cultural coaching relationship is an opportunity for you to grow in new ways.
Manage the virtual space wisely. Face-to-face time is valuable, particularly while establishing the relationship, but not essential. When structured carefully, to balance the “social” and “technical” elements of the interaction, long-distance and face-to-face coaching can be equally effective in achieving optimum coaching outcomes. In the absence of non-verbal cues, providing opportunities to reflect on feelings is essential. Include regular social reviews of how you are working together, and consciously share some of your reactions to what is being discussed. With possibilities to connect at our fingertips, meaningful, regular engagement without travel cost and time lost is easy, even with busy schedules. But, with a global world that runs 24/7, shape expectations with your coach and plan how you will deal with infrastructure or technical problems that may occur.
Centre coaching on critical business imperatives and facilitate stakeholder alignment. Tap into what matters most to you personally, inspires you, and addresses your primary business priorities, with expectations for current and future performance. That way you can focus on current business priorities and meaningful development simultaneously, with progress adding value to your business results. I have yet to meet the senior global leader who is not facing significant time pressures. Focus on a few key areas that will make the real difference, and keep it simple. A coach with a sound understanding of the business and a wide global view can add significant value to you here. Your primary stakeholders, often located in different countries, can hold distinctly different views. Clarifying understanding and inputs early on and agreeing sufficient communication and feedback loops, will build their support for your development journey.
Agree on the coaching process mindfully in relation to the organisation’s systemic landscape. Discuss with your coach factors in the wider organisational system that can help or hinder your development journey. For example, what is the impact of organisational structures, practices, and any relevant power relationships? In what way can key stakeholders provide support to enable your ongoing development? Draw on the organisational experience of your coach as you think through implications and take these into account.
I hope some of these insights will be useful to you and your organisation as you engage in coaching as an important part of your development journey and strategy.