A few years ago, while on a business trip to Thailand, I rode an elephant to explore a nearby jungle area. I soon realized he was very headstrong. If I wanted to turn right, he seemed determined to turn left. Despite my valiant efforts to tug and pull the elephant to go where I wanted to go, he had a mind of his own. I realized that things would not go my way unless I learned how to communicate with him.
We all have a mental picture of the so-called "ugly American" - brash and arrogant, with an ethnocentric belief in America's singular greatness. When ugly Americans travel, they tout Big Macs over local cuisine and offer firm handshakes no matter the local greeting customs.
To say that I travel for work is a bit of an understatement. As an executive coach and speaker who specializes in cross-cultural management, I usually make an average of three trips a month, often overseas. It's not uncommon for me to hit two continents and three countries in a two-week span.
My coaching clients and the people who take my seminars often voice a similar frustration. By any objective measure, these leaders are ready to move up in their careers, and yet promotions routinely pass them by. When they ask why, they tend to hear things like, "You just don't seem like executive material," or, "You don't carry yourself like a leader."
When my triplets were born, I quickly learned that preparation is the key to success.
Set up an assembly line of food to feed three ravenous toddlers? Check.
Install gates all over the house to keep the kids safe even as they scrambled in three different directions? Check.
If you lead people, this scenario is probably familiar: you head into work with a to-do list firmly in hand. But people come to you with problems, and you take over, reasoning that you can do it in a fraction of the time it would take them. You're good at solving problems, after all. You spend all day putting out these fires, and you've hardly started on your own list by 5, when your employees are heading home.
We now live in a world where it is possible to work every waking minute. Technology has blurred the edges of the workday, and companies increasingly require workers to be available around the clock. This is particularly true among the global executives I coach, who do business across time zones.
A client called me recently, very upset. "My boss just told me I was stupid," he said, a tremor in his voice. "I feel so humiliated. I don't know what to do."
As an executive coach who specializes in cross cultural management and global leadership, I had an inkling of what might be wrong. "Can you tell me the exact words he used?" I asked.