Many books have been written about international business and the behaviour, ethics and cultural faux pas associated with it. However, the more time I have spent living and working outside the UK, the more I have come to realise that successful international management boils down to five simple principles; principles that I learnt from my parents and have seen reflected in my own children.
The first of these is to listen well so you begin to understand the rationale, the motivations and outcomes desired by the other party. In leadership, as distinct from management, it is important to have, demonstrate and act on a vision. But the success of the vision depends on the people around you, whether they are your own team, partners, clients, the media or others. For change to happen, people need to understand and want it; otherwise it's a diet fad, a temporary withdrawal or submission, soon reversed. To make that change, you need to understand the common ground, the reality the other party is dealing with, to see how your goals can be reflected in theirs. However, this can be a little unrealistic. When communicating in front of teams, on stage or in small groups, it is often necessary to start talking before you listen fully, and this moves me to my next point.
Take the time to do research. We are told at school to 'do our homework', and that doesn't go away after we leave academia. Helping a client recently, I was surprised to discover he attended conferences without making prior meeting booking, or contacting local organisations, or looking in his network to see who would be in the area. If you don't have a busy schedule, then the trip is a 'jolly', either accidentally or deliberately.
It sounds obvious but being courteous and considerate of others is essential in international business and management. There is often a lot made about local manners and customs and it is important to be mindful of cultural idiosyncrasies - but respectful behaviour is universal. Saying please and thank you or holding the door open for someone seems obvious, but, frankly, I am horrified by some of the bad manners I have witnessed. There is no excuse for an otherwise professional business person to berate a check-in agent at the airport, whatever the situation. But manners are also personal, subtle and sometimes local. Whether it is understanding the seating protocol at a dinner in Japan, touring a manufacturing plant in India and understanding how the staff work during the rainy season, or knowing how early to arrive for a meeting at the White House to be processed through security, you need to be aware of these differences, while remaining true to yourself and your upbringing.
Trust goes hand in hand with respect. It is central in developing good working relationships and is arguably even more important if you are managing people across boundaries. It is true that trust can be abused but it's important to remain a trusting person. If you aren't trusting, I think you have lost a piece of your humanity. The expression goes 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me'. Trust and judgement combine to make for prudent business, but to be mistrustful destroys the ability to be open to new ideas, thoughts and business.
Finally, we need to embrace the opportunities international management brings. Living and working outside the UK since 1996, I have found myself enjoying the different cultures I encountered, but if you don't work to mix into the societies in which you find yourself, how can you understand them?
Early in my time in the US, I had colleagues who also made the move but found the differences between the countries irritating. Repeated jokes about the UK's relationship with the US took their toll on some of them, who went home. However, after living in Virginia for eight years, close to the last battles of the War of Independence, I grew to understand and respect the heritage and history of the place. I enjoy being international, having spent most of my career in Asia, Europe and the US.
Having a job abroad gives you a new common sense about the world. Working with other cultures requires you to appreciate difference but also adapt to fit in. You can continue to use colloquialisms and spell differently or you can tune your vocabulary and way of speaking to make sure you are understood.
The key thing to remember is that whatever the customs, differences and similarities, we are in business to do business. Most cultures recognise this and respect the need to get something done. All international countries have their issues, but as you start to do more business outside your home you might remember that you had problems when you started out in the UK too - it's just that then you had family and friends and business colleagues to help you.
So have these five principles helped me in my international career? Absolutely, as they say regularly in Sweden. Living by these simple rules can help make your organisation competitive, relevant, transportable and nimble. And, of course, it does the same for the leadership.
Chris Hare is CEO of the nTete Group, a strategy and innovation licensing consulting company founded in 1999. His 25-years-plus experience in the wireless industry includes his role as CEO of Data Transfer and Communications, president of Digit Wireless, a startup in Boston, and senior positions in Sony Ericsson. Hare is a partner in Moveable Code and is also on the advisory committee of the congressional internet caucus (Washington, DC) and the board of the North Carolina Technology Association.