5 Basic Principles for Efficient Cross-Cultural Coaching

Senior executives, C-suite leaders, and high potentials are typically well qualified and talented high performers. However, the challenges of global leadership and change can’t be solved by knowledge and hard skills only. What got you here to your current position, will most likely not be the same skill set that will get you to where you want to be in your career as a global leader. What worked at home may not work overseas. That’s why coaching can be a valuable tool.

Our Global Leader Coaching Program (for individuals or groups) follows two main goals: to maximize potential and to minimize frustration. You have been introduced to different work and management cultures through expat training programs, by working in multinational teams, or by frequent business travel. Now you are ready to get to the next level of your cultural competence with our Global Leader Coaching.

How many of you would agree that in today’s global business it has been best practice for years to provide executives on foreign assignment with cross-cultural training? Most organizations fully understand the value of preparing expatriates for the behavioral standards in foreign work environments. After all, successful overseas business often depends on how well team members are able to cross cultures.

While cross-cultural training can lay an amazing foundation for increased global leadership competence, it is also too often seen as a one-off initiative in many companies. The challenge with cultural work remains: how much information of a two-day cross-cultural training program will participants retain? And how much of it will they be able to apply independently weeks and months later?

This is why we recommend to most our clients a combination of training and coaching. I’ve written about this model before on my personal blog:

“This extension of cultural training appears logical to most of our clients. There’s a caveat, though. Not every cultural trainer is efficient as a coach. Obviously, like trainers, they have to be familiar with both the home and the host culture of the coachee. They need to understand the background of the person they are working with. For example: If the coach is from a more egalitarian culture like the U.S. or Northern Europe and the coachee from a more hierarchical culture in Asia, the way this relationship is set up in the beginning will be critical.

Now add to that the fact that coaching as a development tool is a predominantly Western, if not Anglo-Saxon, concept. And its methodologies may not always apply when coaching across cultures. The mere idea of working with a client as a peer will not have the same desired effects in all cultural contexts. Let’s look at the West vs. Asia example again: A coachee from a group-oriented culture with traditional hierarchies will most likely not give Western-style feedback to the coach. He will tend to see an elder in the coach and will be more obedient, which in turn defines how the coach can inspire and motivate the client.

This is usually where the rubber meets road in cross-cultural coaching. Once there is rapport between both parties and once there is a mutual understanding of what the process is and what the expected outcomes are, coach and client can begin their workout routine. This practice pattern will sometimes become a dance: You’ll step on each other’s toes, you’ll apologize for your clumsiness, and, most importantly, you will draw learnings from it. In a way, cross-cultural coaching will become the practice laboratory in which the client is safe to make a cultural fool of himself as much as he wants.

There is another caution for switching from training to coaching: Just because trainers can teach about the dynamics of cultural transition doesn’t mean they are experts in guiding the adjustment process of specific cultures. Herein lies one of the core qualities of an efficient coaching relationship: That the teacher allows the students to make their own experiences and deduct individual learnings from these. And depending on the student’s background this will require significant adjustment on the coach’s behalf. There is good news in this: As a coach, if you remain open to learning for yourself, if you are willing to trust your own process, you will not only become a better coach over time, you will also increase your own cultural competence.”

In my opinion these are the five basic principles for an efficient cross-cultural coaching relationship:

  1. Study the foreign: To build rapport with a coaching client a coach needs to diligently explore their culture of origin. This may sound like stating the obvious, however, the more a coach familiarizes himself/herself with the nuances of a client’s background the better. Of course this includes studying about the various sub-cultures one may find in the country of origin.
  2. Know thyself: Only if a coach is fully aware of his/her own culture will he/she be able to resonate with people from another.
  3. Context trumps content. A coach needs to look at the context as the container of the client/coach relationship. Imagine a cup that represents the framework of the relationship. If this cup has a crack, any content poured into it will eventually seep out through the crack. Coaches shouldn’t use templates with their coachees. Every client is different. Defining what the relationship will be like is critical for success.
  4. Some see this as optional, personally I make it mandatory: Once good rapport is established, there should be a written agreement which states how the coach will work with the client. Call it framework, contract, or Code of Honor: It helps to keep each other accountable.
  5. Trust the process – That’s true for both, coachee and coach.

Cross-cultural coaching can definitely bring immense benefits to an organization. And it is critically important that companies select the right person for the job: a specialist coach who can help global leaders with their specific challenges on the job. I have written about this before for Harvard Business Review, together with my colleague, Andy Molinsky (“Will That Cross-Cultural Coach Really Help Your Team?” – April 29, 2015).

Our Global Leader Coaching program helps executives to look into themselves to understand where they can unlock potential, and also to see different perspectives and engage with themselves and their role as a global leader with greater clarity and understanding.
Cultural knowledge can be learned via training and increased cultural competence needs practice. A successful global leader should want a workout buddy to practice with. One who accompanies them on their journey to realizing their full potential in an increasingly diverse work environment. The Culture Mastery Coaches accomplish this via a structured workout regimen which includes face-to-face meetings, regular coaching calls, video conferences, and email support.

 

Let’s talk about how cross-cultural coaching can benefit your organization. Whether it is in a group setting or via a personal, 1-on-1 engagement.

Christian Höferle and your team at The Culture Mastery

Learn how to motivate, inspire, and lead across cultures now!

 

 


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