How to Lead Across Cultures


For example, it is very important to understand how your team prefers to be motivated. Should you congratulate the whole team and take everyone out for a special event, or should you reward just the high performers with individual bonuses? In a collectivistic and cooperative culture, rewarding the individual may embarrass them. In Japan, for example, salespeople rarely receive a commission.

Conversely, when providing negative feedback to team members, should you be direct and specific, or should you soften the blow by working to what you have to say in a roundabout way? In some cultures, direct feedback could be taken personally and could be hurtful, whereas in others, the softer approach could just lead to confusion.

When I was in Mexico, realizing that my style was perhaps too direct, I once said to my assistant, “Claudia, am I too direct for you?” The other person in the room laughed because, of course, she was never going to say yes. First of all, I was her boss, and secondly, it was such a low-context question for someone with a high-context preference.

It is important to understand what the communication preferences are of the people you are working with so that you can motivate them, provide feedback and
communicate without exacerbating any cultural gaps.

Anne-Marie Salmon