Being a leader is a real challenge, we can probably all agree on that. But imagine being a leader in a foreign country, where you may not know the language or the cultural and social codes.
When it comes to international relocations, expatriates often don’t truly know what to expect until they’re in the thick of it. And when you are in the thick of it – you probably feel the need for someone to guide you – a coach. Luckily we have exactly that – our coworker Johanne Spjut is an experienced Expat Coach, she is passionate about diversity and has coached managers from over 40 different countries over the years.
We decided to ask her a few questions about Expat Coaching!
Why do you need an Expat Coach?
Philippe Rosinski, in his book ”Coaching Across Cultures” explains it very well: ”In today’s global, multicultural, dynamic and competitive world, organisations cannot afford to waste their human potential nor fail to take advantage of a culturally diverse workforce and client base. Strangely enough, many companies still assume that global leadership competencies will somehow come naturally.”
Establishing a new professional and personal life abroad is among the boldest moves you can make. Much of what you know and take for granted is challenged. Your leadership effectiveness also needs to be revisited. Having an Expat Coach will help you learn the right things that are relevant in the new context, adopt the right language, behaviour and mindset and save you from costly mistakes. An Expat coach helps you integrate swiftly into a new culture, be it national and/or organizational. Quick Learning, Idea Fusion and Adjustability are key competencies to succeed in an expatriate assignment. An Expat Coach holds your hand on that journey.
What are the biggest challenges for a new boss in a new country?
The ability to see, read, understand and utilize what is going on around him/her is a major challenge when you are new to a foreign country. A big part of communication is expressed in other things than language and it does take time to see and read the codes of a new culture.
Another big challenge is to set up a support system in an unknown environment. You need to be very proactive in reaching out to new people and in establishing trust. This process usually takes time and is pretty confusing without the help of a local.
A third challenge is to achieve a sense of balance and contentment in the new life, both for the expatriate leader and for his/her family. Many expatriate assignments fail because the family does find their place or a valuable role in the new environment. Family dynamics also need to be rearranged because the expatriate leader needs to invest 100 % of his/her time and energy to adjust and perform in their role. Home logistics is often underestimated when moving abroad and it can be quite overwhelming if you have not been prepared.
What are the biggest mistakes?
One big myth about expatriation is that life is going to be easier and more glamorous than at home. It is not! Expatriation is very challenging for a Leader and their family: it is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces and without a model … There can be glamorous moments but they are few compared to the hard work!
One another mistake is counting on the HQs constant attention. Once you move away from home, you are also less visible on people’s radar. When challenges hit, it is not uncommon to be left alone to solve them. Benefiting from local help is extremely valuable when you don’t have the keys to a problem yourself.
Unfortunately, many organizations still assume that expatriate training and coaching is not necessary. They tend to overlook the potential (huge) costs of early repatriation.
Your best pieces of advice?
I am passionate about learning. Therefore, I would say cultivate your curiosity. Be inquisitive about the new culture and its people: how do they live? What do they think? What is accepted and familiar? What is not? What do people care about? What is highly valued? What is not? What should you avoid? What should you encourage? What are the buzz words? What are the taboo topics of conversation?
Many things are uncertain when you move to a new environment. One thing is sure, though: you are going to be challenged! Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable! Adopt a growth mindset: it is more important to improve than to prove yourself. Your mind is like a parachute: it works better when it’s open! Many things can be learned. One key thing to learn is to become a trustworthy leader because you cannot be successful alone.
Read more about our coaching here.