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Dear Workforce How Do We Equip a New Leader to Manage a Multicultural Team?

What type of leadership training can we provide to a project manager who must lead a culturally diverse team of people? This leader is taking on an international posting, and will need to manage a workforce that includes people from Southeast Asia (Filipinos and Malaysians), south Asians (Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans), Germans, Italians, Palestinians, Sudanese and a few locals. The project is about building a dam on the Tana River in Kenya. We wish to support this person and give him as many leadership tools as possible. But we are not certain how to package the training so it produces the desired results.
May 18, 2010
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Related Topics: Diversity, Dear Workforce
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Dear Diversity Dilemma:
We are a little uncertain whether your manager needs leadership skills, greater aptitude for dealing effectively with a multicultural team, or both. Let's take them one at a time; but first you should ask this person which type of help he feels might be needed to prepare for this assignment.
If the project represents this person's first foray into a leadership role, you should be looking for some good, near-term opportunities to quickly ramp up his leadership skills prior to beginning the dam project. Some possibilities:
1. Let him co-pilot (or at least observe) another project team for a while with a skilled, veteran project manager.
2. Following a rigorous assessment of this individual's leadership competencies (e.g., communications, decisiveness, problem solving, etc.), get him some skill-specific training from a reputable provider.
3. Consider hiring an executive coach to work with him beginning now, and continuing deep into the project. Make sure that the areas of emphasis and expected outcomes are clearly prescribed.
If you're more concerned with his ability to work cross-culturally than his leadership skills per se, here are a few options:
1. Get him some quick, immersive exposure to the cultures of the principal homelands of his new teammates. If lead time permits, have him go live in a couple of those countries for a month. ("Living there" doesn't mean camping in a four-star hotel on an expense report. Go there, get a job for a couple of weeks, and learn what it's really like.) At a minimum, he will come away with something more in common with his new teammates.
2. At the very least, get him tutored in Swahili, the other (besides English) dominant language of Kenya.
3. The ability to be effective on a diverse team hinges on one's ability (and willingness) to listen, really listen, as much as anything else. Get him some specific help in this area.
Finally, one thing that falls a little outside of this individual's development, but is vital nonetheless, has to do with the quality and characteristics of his boss. This fellow is taking on a difficult and important project in a place far from home. Make sure that he is working for someone who is also up for the task—someone who knows and understands him, is willing to support him no matter what, and has the energy to go the distance with him.
Good luck. We wish him and you well.
SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, co-authors, Contented Cows MOOve Faster, April 26, 2010
LEARN MORE: Companies sometimes use special onboarding initiatives to help leaders adjust to their expanded roles.
Workforce Management Online, May 2010 -- Register Now!
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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