Corporate leaders are often assumed to be authoritarian individuals; the story goes that having risen through the ranks via adversarial tactics, it will come as no surprise when they enforce employee productivity through singular use of authority, or make final decisions with minimal consideration of employee well-being.
Yet while this may be the perception, reality tells a different story. A study recently conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, has revealed that those who are selfish, manipulative and aggressive are no more likely to succeed in business than their more empathetic counterparts. Being an effective leader in fact has much more to do with cooperation than competition.
For a manager to truly empathise with clients and colleagues, understanding their cultural background is a must. Cultural differences are often subtle, but can result in significant misunderstandings. In the United Kingdom, for instance, being overly direct can be deemed rude. Consequently, emails will include such phrases such as, “I think you may have forgotten to send the file to me”, rather than “you didn’t attach it”.
This lack of directness can also create confusion; direct requests can be conveyed as though they are optional suggestions and criticism is often veiled by faint praise, such as “your report was interesting”, the meaning in fact being that it was not particularly appreciated. In South Korea, questions pertaining to your personal life should not be considered intrusive, but should instead be seen as an attempt to solidify a relationship.
While some leadership training programs educate on cultural differences (although arguably not enough!), the most successful leadership training will also offer language courses. This is particularly useful for leaders who are to be expatriated. Adjusting to the dynamics of a new office is a challenge in itself, but being hampered by a lack of linguistic fluency will have a negative impact on business results, easily leading to misinterpretations of directives, loss of international work and breakdown in team camaraderie and collaboration.
Many companies do include language training as part of their relocation packages. Eszett Business Language Services, which offers online and in-person language courses to employees and their families, offers the support many companies need.
One should not expect that colleagues or clients will be able to converse easily in languages like English, which is often regarded as the world’s lingua franca. In order to foster close relationships with contacts abroad, speaking the language of one’s interlocuter is essential. French, vSpanish, Japanese, Portuguese and German are just some of the languages managers should learn in order to tap into lucrative markets and a wide customer base, as well as to leverage cross-selling opportunities.
In an increasingly inter-connected world, business success depends on investment in language training. With technology allowing for virtual language instruction, it has never been easier to start perfecting your linguistic skills.