Your “Natural Cultural Mindset”…will others change for you?

An executive who is on a global assignment is responsible for big things. They may need to open up new factories, lead a new sales team, initiate major company changes, and build alliances, whatever the project; it is a complicated process of acclimating and adjusting to their new environment so they don’t feel like strangers in a foreign land. In this piece, we will explore your Natural Cultural Mindset, (NCM) understanding it allows you to use your native functioning ability no matter where in the world you are.

Let’s face it, when we enter any new environment we always need to be cognizant of how to best work in that space, whether you are at home and working with a new team or overseas leading a global operation, the same principle applies, you will need to adjust “YOU” in order to work effectively.

Many leaders who are in charge of big things overseas think that those around them should adjust to their style of behavior. This mindset will disappoint, and leave you feeling frustrated, because people will not readily change who they are to accommodate you.

What made you successful back home will, not make you successful in your new environment. Back home you knew how to communicate with your peers, your colleagues, your customers, even the local marketplace. You knew how to behave, what to think, how to think, what to say, how to say it, you intuitively understand body language and the subtle expressions on someone’s face and its meaning. You knew how to delegate, motivate and inspire those around you. Developing plans, setting up meetings, doing presentations were a breeze. You understood the timing of projects and how quickly or how slowly to move projects, you understood the values of your team members and co-workers you knew how to maneuver yourself within those value systems.

Doing those things were natural to you, you did them without thinking. That natural feeling is what made you successful in your own home turf.

However, when you enter a new culture to live and work, there will be a series of beliefs and practices that are biased and skewed by the local culture’s Natural Cultural Mindset, their NCM, you may be unaware of how the locals think and feel, and they in turn, are not aware of the subtle differences that exist between their own mindsets and yours. This is because the people you are interacting with are on their best behavior and so are you. Each party is entertaining each other; there is a lot of politeness, and everyone is working at getting along. However, what both sides are seeing is not reality, but a glimpse of people at their best behavior. Think about a first date. At first, both persons are on their best behavior, careful of how they look, what they say and how they say it. The same happens when you go overseas on “look-see tours”, or travel back and forth, or while you are waiting for your visa to get approved. These first impressions and early interactions are not real; they are people behaving at their best. Everyone is hosting each other. Once the romance is gone everyone is left with real situations to tend to.

This lack of reality from both sides, yours and the locals in the new culture that you will be interacting with, will actually cause you to believe that your “homegrown success” will work anywhere. Many times, you will not be able to duplicate that same success in the local environment. You may think that everyone will “get it.” and may be disappointed when you learn that they didn’t. For example, you gave a compelling speech to your new team and colleagues, they enjoyed it, so now you think you will be able act and behave in the new culture exactly as you did when you were back home. Nothing can be further from the truth. Chances are you missed the local cues that told you even though people were listening they may not have fully understood you.

Once the newness of being submerged in a new culture wears off, you will no longer be traveling back and forth, the “look-see tours” are over, you are now positioned in your new office and responsible for making things happen, this is the point when situations start to occur. You may become disillusioned and may begin questioning everything. You may begin complaining, you may become confused and your work may stall. If you are not careful an attitude of them vs. us begins to develop. I call this the Cultural Awareness Syndrome or the Four F’s. You can learn more about it on my website,

If I can leave you with one tip, it is to be aware that you bring who you are to every situation. You can’t expect others to change for you, even if you are their boss. You must be cognizant of the differing ways in which people behave, think and feel. In addition, be aware of the early patterns of social behavior that affect you when you first enter a foreign land. It’s fine to submerge yourself into your surroundings and to learn as much as you can about the culture, but know that in the beginning of each assignment, you will be in a sort of romance phase and once it wears off, you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves, because that is when the real work starts.

You have own Natural Cultural Mindset, but so do those around you, begin early in the process to understand theirs and you will be well on your way to success, no matter where in the world you need to accomplish great things.


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