Leading teams across countries and cultures means far more than travel
It doesn’t necessarily follow that managers who prove themselves in one country will replicate this success in another. Executives for international brands are expected to offer guidance, knowledge, and action to teams operating in a range of markets.International leaders need to adjust to new environments quickly and know how to navigate different cultures and get the best from their people.
It’s a big task. My own career has taken me to more than 250 cities and 65 countries, creating irreplaceable experiences that have expanded my skillset and shaped my approach to leadership.
Adobe has 12 active markets in the Asia-Pacific region alone. As APAC Director of Marketing, I travel to Seoul, Singapore, Sydney and more cities so I can physically embed myself in the team. Today’s digital advances make it easy to fall back on technology to build relationships, but that’s when you miss the action.
A phone call won’t let you understand the cultural nuances of how your team interacts with a customer, and an email won’t give you the full picture of how customer expectations are changing or where the next opportunity lies.
To lead teams across multiple countries and cultures, it is my job to understand the challenges they face and give guidance where I can. This takes more than showing up – it means shutting down your inbox, cancelling your afternoon schedule and being present in the moment to support your team.
Learn more than required
My early career was focused on technical skills both in and outside my marketing specialisation. While working for a healthcare software provider, I signed up for a diploma in clinical risk and claims management. As a marketer this certainly raised a few eyebrows, but I had an appetite to learn about the minds of my customers. I wanted to understand the day-to-day grind so I could provide them with a real solution to their business pain, not just a piece of software.
Talking to customers at a technical level is one of the most important aspects of any role, but one of the hardest to keep updated as your career matures. Success depends on the team, so soft skills become your number-one priority as a leader. I have found that allowing my people to honour their strengths is the best way to motivate and energise a team. Understanding my people and their potential, and aligning this with business objectives has become my passion and method of success.
Embrace your surroundings
Every culture has its own exciting business challenges. Korea has an intense respect for its elders that leads to a strict hierarchical system. Government involvement is common when moving within the Greater China market. And South-East Asia distils one of the greatest truisms in business and life: “same, same – but different”. Each market has its own way of doing things that demands we, as leaders, embrace the uniqueness and navigate our way through.
CMO.com is Adobe’s online publication produced for and by today’s digital leaders. When I joined the company in 2013, we had contributors from all over the United States and Europe, but none from the Asia-Pacific. This region, now experiencing the fastest economic growth in the world, offers great value and needed a voice on the platform.
This task wouldn’t bring immediate business impact and sat at the bottom of a long list, but I knew it was important to give our audience of digital marketing and business leaders in our region a seat at the table. Embracing this perspective has deepened our understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and the business challenges it faces.