Wibbeke's Geoleadership Model®

Effective Cross-Cultural Leadership

Wibbeke's Geoleadership Model - Effective Cross-Cultural Leadership

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Learn how to manage a culturally diverse team.

Many of us lead people from many different cultures, based in many different locations around the world. This isn't always easy. Every culture and subculture has its own values, expectations, working styles, norms, languages, and communication styles.

If you're leading people from several different cultures, it can be difficult to adapt to all of these. This is where Wibbeke's Geoleadership Model® is useful. This highlights principles that you can apply to lead people from many different cultures.

In this article, we'll explore these six principles, and we'll discuss how you can use the model to lead a culturally diverse team more effectively.

About the Model

Management expert Dr Eileen Wibbeke created the Geoleadership Model and published it in her 2009 book, "Global Business Leadership."

The model highlights six principles that are important if you want to lead effectively in many different cultures. It resulted from a 12-month study, which brought together a panel of 31 intercultural experts from all over the world.

The six principles are:

  1. Get to know your people ("care").
  2. Communicate in their language ("communication").
  3. Be self-aware ("self-awareness").
  4. Respect cultural differences ("contrast").
  5. Understand the context ("context").
  6. Embrace change ("change").

(In this article, we've expanded the words used for the principles. Wibbeke's original terms are shown in parentheses.)

From 'Global Business Leadership,' by E.S. Wibbeke. First Edition. © 2009. Butterworth-Heinemann (an imprint of Elsevier). Reproduced with permission from Taylor & Francis Books (UK), www.tandf.co.uk. (Many Taylor & Francis and Routledge books are now available as eBooks from www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.)

The model is especially useful if you're leading or working with people from diverse backgrounds, as you can apply it to all cultures.

Note 1:

Some of the principles in the model are important for all leaders, not just those working with a culturally-diverse group.

Note 2:

The model originally included a seventh principle, "capability" – this relates to how you train and develop your people. We haven't included it here, as this isn't specific to cross-cultural leadership.

Let's explore each principle in more detail, and look at how you can develop your capabilities in each area.

1. Get to Know Your People ("Care")

Successful global leaders show that they care about the people they're working with. They take time to learn about their needs, values, ethics, interests, and morals, and they balance these with the needs of the business.

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To work on this principle, get to know key stakeholders well, such as your team members, boss, shareholders, suppliers, customers, and people in the local community. Learn about their values and interests, and their needs and expectations. When you do this, approach people with empathy, sensitivity, honesty, and curiosity.

Use tools like the Seven Dimensions of Culture and Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions to learn about the specific differences between cultures.

And make sure that you consider your stakeholders' perspectives and interests, especially when you make decisions that will affect them.

2. Communicate in Their Language ("Communication")

To work effectively in a different culture, you need to be willing to interact and engage with this culture. This helps you communicate better with the people that you work with, and shows them that you're interested in who they are.

Start by learning the main language of the people that you work with. Even learning a few key phrases will show your interest, which can generate goodwill with your team and stakeholders.

Also, make sure that you know what is considered normal in terms of tone of voice, speaking volume, and body language in the culture that you're working in. For instance, in Latin America it's OK to gesture excitedly. However, people in China and Japan may frown upon this in a business context.

3. Be Self-Aware ("Self-Awareness")

When you know yourself well and have the strength and awareness to manage your emotions, you can take others' wants and needs into account, and you can ensure that your behavior doesn't affect people negatively. This is especially important when you're working with people from different cultural backgrounds, as you need to be aware of the differences between your own culture and the culture that you're working in.

You can develop greater self-awareness through self-mastery, by identifying your strengths and weaknesses, by knowing your values, and by being mindful of what you're thinking and feeling.

However, while it's important to stay true to yourself, you also need to be flexible, and understand that behavior that seems "strange" in others may, in fact, be appropriate in their culture.

4. Respect Cultural Differences ("Contrast")

This principle refers to the variety of situations that you're likely to experience when working in different cultures.

For instance, people from different cultures may have different opinions on the best approach to solve a problem, and leadership strategies that work well in some cultures may be ineffective in others. Therefore, you need to be flexible in how you motivate and lead people towards your team's objectives.

First, recognize that people will see things through a different lens from yours. Their values and beliefs affect their perspective, just as your own cultural background affects yours. (Again, frameworks like the Seven Dimensions of Culture and Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions can help you understand these differences.)

Also, make sure that you know how to adapt your leadership style and motivational strategies to suit different situations.

If you're not comfortable with new situations, build your skills by taking on an unfamiliar project or by working with a new team.

5. Understand the Context ("Context")

Context refers to the surrounding circumstances that define a situation. When you're working in a different culture, it can be challenging to understand the context of a situation, and this is where misunderstandings can occur.

It's important to understand the context of all situations and communications before you make a judgment or a decision. If you're unsure whether you've interpreted a communication or situation correctly, ask! (This includes your interpretations of facial expressions, body language, or even tone of voice.)

6. Embrace Change ("Change")

This principle doesn't apply to how you manage change with others, but to how you deal with it yourself. You will experience a lot of change when you're living and working in a different culture. You're not only adapting to the new culture, but you're also coping with day-to-day changes within your team and organization.

To navigate through this, you need to remain agile and open to the unknown.

You have a choice in how you cope with the many changes in your life. You can resist change, causing stress and tension in the process. You can go with the flow, and let change happen to you. Or, you can set a great example, and proactively embrace the changes that you're experiencing.

Tip:

You can get an understanding of the emotions and feelings that you'll experience as you go through change with our articles on Bridges' Transition Model and The Change Curve .

Key Points

Management expert Dr Eileen Wibbeke created the Geoleadership Model and published it in her 2009 book "Global Business Leadership." The model highlights six essential principles that you need to understand in order to thrive and succeed as a global leader.

The six principles are:

  1. Get to know your people ("care").
  2. Communicate in their language ("communication").
  3. Be self-aware ("self-awareness").
  4. Respect cultural differences ("contrast").
  5. Understand the context ("context").
  6. Embrace change ("change").

You'll become a more effective leader across different cultures by developing awareness and knowledge in each of the six areas.

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Comment (1)
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    What a great article and a brilliant model to work with.

    At one stage in my career I worked in Lesotho (one of South Africa's neighbouring countries). The culture and business culture were different from what I was used to. The article says: Learn about their values and interests, and their needs and expectations. Something specific that I had to learn there, was not to begin a business meeting straight away, but to first enquire about people's families, health etc. If you jump straight into a meeting with the matters of the day, they experience you as abrupt.

    Something else that also made a big difference for me, was the fact that I can speak a little Sesotho. When the people realized that I was eager to learn more of their language, they just loved it and nothing was too much trouble for them to assist me with. Thr article mentions: Even learning a few key phrases will show your interest, which can generate goodwill with your team and stakeholders....I can really attest to that.

    Regards
    Yolandé