Leading across borders

The importance of cultural awareness

Did you know that in Japan the most senior person tends to lead the business conversations, and it is not uncommon for their colleagues to hardly speak at all.  Whilst in Australia communication is often friendly and relaxed, but it can be direct and to the point.

For a leader, being aware of, and understanding the national cultures of their team (and clients/ customers) will have profound impact on their success.

But what is culture?!  Hofsteade describes culture as: “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others” and that “National Culture cannot be changed, but you should understand and respect it.” (2) – an important message as too often leaders try to fight and change a way of doing things, rather than accepting, understanding and compromising.

Hofsteade’s model of national culture consists of 6 dimensions which represent independent preferences for one state of affairs over another that distinguish countries (rather than individuals) from each other. (2)

Source: https://www.cleverism.com/understanding-cultures-people-hofstede-dimensions/


How culturally aware are your leaders?!  Here are our top tips to being culturally aware to successfully lead across borders.  Share these with your leaders today!


  1. Develop your culture intelligence – make a conscious effort to understand differences in culture. Learn about other cultures, understand how business is done, how success is measured, how people typically behave – and why.  For example, in certain countries it is seen as disrespectful to disagree with your boss.  Which is very different from other collaborative cultures and can be challenging when you would like to get the honest opinion of your team.  There are different techniques and tools you can use to gain trust and seek the information you need.  It almost always comes down to relationships and acceptance that your team may not challenge you in the way that your own culture might. Being agile and flexible is key!
  2. Be curious with your team members – ask questions, make an effort and show a genuine interest in understanding the country culture of your team member. Relationship building is even more important with a different culture and when working remotely. Find something in common – food, sport, travel, work, family, etc.  Be conscious of certain cultural norms for example not eating certain food or drinking alcohol but don’t avoid – ask questions and show an interest.
  3. Cultural awareness training and support – undertaking cultural awareness training is essential.  There are many tools out there where you can complete online training and compare your culture with another or understand top tips for working in another country.  Team cultural training is invaluable in helping a cross cultural team to bond and understand how to work best with each other.
  4. Clarity of the ask – one of the biggest miscommunications that we hear of is when you ask someone to do X and they do Y. This challenge isn’t directly relating to national culture!  It is always good to clarify the ask – encourage your team members to repeat back to you what you have asked them to do and then work through any differences in understanding and give clear deadlines.
  5. Do your research – when running a meeting or workshop for your team, do your research. There are some great resources available which compare working styles and business etiquette in different cultures.  Or download our guide of questions to ask when exploring working with another culture. For one of our associates, running client workshops in China and Malaysia was both exciting and nerve wracking.  You can’t assume that what works in one country, will work in another.  Our associate did her research, spoke to local colleagues whom she had a relationship with and had back up plans to ensure interaction.  We recommend not only considering culture but also thinking about language (the workshop in China was in Mandarin!), learning style and communication style.
  6. Consider personality – now that you are culturally aware, it is easy to make assumptions that all people from a certain country will act in a certain way. Which is not the case!  Remember that everyone is an individual person with different views, preferences and styles.  Having this human centred approach to leadership will enable you to build strong relationships, bond and perform as a team.


We hope you find these tips helpful and share these with your leaders.



1 https://richtopia.com/effective-leadership/how-business-etiquette-is-different-in-different-cultures

2 https://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture

Leadership skills for the future

2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all industries.  For businesses to survive, recover and grow; agility, digital transformation, creativity and strategic direction is essential to balance the needs of the business, the changing environment and the evolving workforce.

The pandemic has truly challenged what it means to be a leader.  The leaders of today, and tomorrow, will need to leverage and develop different skills.  This is something we are passionate about at KEASE.  We have outlined below our thoughts on the critical skills that leaders need to be successful.



If you research ‘skills needed to lead through COVID-19’, resilience is top of the list.  Psychologist Adam Grant describes resilience as ‘our strength and speed of response to adversity’.  It is not about how much resilience our leaders have but how do we provide the right environment for our leaders to build resilience and learn what does it take for them to find strength in a tough situation (1).  Chances are that we will not click our fingers and go back to a pre-COVID world.  With a pandemic comes disruption and with disruption comes challenge, opportunity, excitement and nervousness.

But how do you create an environment that enables your leaders to build their resilience?  Josh Bersin’s below captures what is needed to create a resilient organisation and individual resilience.



Leadership agility means being able to anticipate change. This means taking a proactive approach to business decisions, rather than a reactive one (2).

The pandemic has encouraged, or forced, many companies to re-think their purpose, focus and to be agile.  For example, in the construction industry many projects have been delayed or put on hold as many businesses are not in a position to invest in premises in the current environment.  Contracts have had to be managed, supply chains re-thought and schedules re-worked.  At the same time, governments are considering advance spending on infrastructure to reinvigorate the economy (3).  It is hard to predict what the future will hold and to keep businesses evolving and workforce engaged, agile leadership will be critical.

In addition to agility, creativity and innovation are key.  Whilst a leader may not always be the person behind the ideas, creating a culture of adaptability, agility and one that fosters innovation and change will be important. The market shapers—those that shape the future of their industry rather than adapt to it—will emerge stronger (4).


Human Centredness

‘A company is only as resilient as its people’ (5).  It is common knowledge that being a technical or subject matter expert does not necessarily make a good leader, and this is something that many industries such as utilities, construction and healthcare have acknowledged for some time.  Now more than ever leaders need to be human centred.

But what skills does a leader need to be ‘human centred’?!

  • Emotional and social intelligence – Social and emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own and others’ feelings – in the moment – and use that information to lead yourself and others (6). Strong relationship building skills are important, as is empathy.  Brene Brown said that “Empathy fuels connection” (7) and connection is this new world will pull apart a great leader from an ok leader.
  • Self-awareness – of themselves (including how they react under stress!), as well as awareness of their team. Exploring this area further will enable leaders to build relationships based on trust, honesty and empowerment.
  • Leading with digital transformation – digital transformation has been on the cards for some time in many industries. Prior to the pandemic 70% of power and utilities leaders (6) were focused on recruiting or retaining talent for digital (8).  COVID-19 has fast tracked digital transformation in many ways and future digital transformation is critical for business growth.
  • Strategic vision – Leaders will need to be forward thinking, strategic and insights driven. Take the healthcare industry for example, which is fast paced, high risk and constantly evolving (even more so over 2020!). Leaders will need to have the ability to balance the needs of the organisation, customers and workforce – and bring their people on the journey.
  • PowerSkills – Leaders will need to leverage or develop the following skills for success:


Strong communication and change management

COVID-19 may fundamentally change the culture of the workplace and how leaders engage their people. Communication, in particular thinking through the why, who, what and how of communications is critical, especially throughout a crisis and in the months and years of recovery where there is likely to be further change and prolonged period of uncertainty.

Communication, collaboration, trust and transparency is essential for leaders to engage the hearts and kinds of their teams.  Leaders need to have good communication skills focused on empathy, resilience, reassurance and direction.



What can you as an organisation or HR team do now to invest in your leaders?   “To face the challenges of the future, we need to invest today in the people who will be the leaders of the future” (9)

Our leadership programs at KEASE are based on proven methodology (such as DiSC) and can be tailored to your organisation and your leaders.  Our clients have seen up to a 33% increase in engagement, staff retention and productivity after completing one of our programs.

Get in touch with KEASE to understand more about how we can help you.




  1. Adam Grant, https://www.linkedin.com/learning/sheryl-sandberg-and-adam-grant-on-option-b-building-resilience/the-importance-of-resilience
  2. Study.com, https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-leadership-agility-definition-elements.html#:~:text=Leadership%20agility%20means%20being%20able,the%20interworking%20of%20your%20business.
  3. Accenture, https://www.accenture.com/au-en/insights/industrial/coronavirus-engineering-construction-impact-response
  4. Deloitte, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/covid-19/heart-of-resilient-leadership-responding-to-covid-19.html
  5. Arianna Huffington
  6. Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence
  7. Brene Brown
  8. PwC, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/energy-utilities-resources/publications/powering-up-the-energy–utilities-and-resources-workforce.html
  9. Mandarin.com.au, https://www.themandarin.com.au/137058-we-cant-let-stem-skills-become-a-casualty-of-covid-19/

The future of work and leadership

futuristic woman

Experts have been predicting the ‘future of work’ for some time now.  And there is nothing like a global pandemic to fast track some of these predictions, or quite frankly completely turn them on their head!

Businesses that may have been thinking about remote working frameworks or leveraging technology/ AI have unwillingly had a crash course in new technology systems and ways of working.   What we now have is a more tech savvy, flexible, wellbeing conscious, global talent pool that have seen the benefits of a different way of working.  Going back to the ‘old way’ is not an option.

We love the below infographic that outlines the mindset shifts needed for organisation transformation to thrive in the new world.  And these mindset shifts need to start and end with your leaders.  So what will the future of work look like and what does this mean for your leadership? 


From Profit to Purpose

The COVID-19 pandemic has really shone a light on what really matters to people.  In the past the success of a business would typically be measured by the financials and how much profit they make.  How a business has responded to the pandemic, including how they have supported their communities and their people has really had a lasting impact.  The focus has had to shift from profit to survival to purpose and employee wellbeing.  Those companies that looked after their people will reap the benefits.

We have seen an influx of redundancies across Australia and the world.  Many enjoyed working for a corporate because of ‘job security’ which is hard to promise these days.  The rise in redundancies have given people the opportunity to re-think what they want to do, where, when and how; and as a result, we have seen an increase in gig and contingent workers.  Talent attraction, retention and development of the workforce (including gig and contingent workers) in the future is going to be different.  Employees, workers and customers will want to work for/ with a business that has a clear purpose, looks after it’s people and has values that align with their own.

For generation Z, it is not enough for their employers to simply have a compelling purpose. They want to see purpose lived out authentically through bold actions (1).  But it is not just Gen Z that have worked differently during 2020.  All generations have gone through a fast change and have had the opportunity to reassess their purpose, which will impact who they work with/ for in the future.


From hierarchies to networks

In the past there has been a focus on the person moving to a job – whether it is a daily commute or physical relocation.  When travel is restricted work still needs to be done.  Business continuity has been a big focus of business’ response and survival of the pandemic. There has been a trend towards ‘bringing jobs to people’ and savvy businesses are seeing the benefit of this. You need an academic or a scientist with a particular skillset in Australia?  What about looking at the talent pool across Australia, Asia Pacific or even the world.  Imagine the skills, ideas and calibre of talent you could have access to remotely. 

Businesses have also been planning for future talent needs and have recognised that they may not need a full-time employee based in Brisbane, and so the mindset is shifting further to a more contingent workforce.  

At KEASE we operate on an associate model – we have our business vision, goal and employees but supplement this with Associates who are experts in their fields, who want to be part of a team and who want to work flexibly.  And we have to say, it really works! 


From controlling to empowering

Gone are the days when everyone needs to be sat in an office working core hours, being watched by leadership and judged if they take a slightly longer lunch break or talk too long at the coffee machine.  For many leaders this was the biggest challenge in adjusting to working remotely – how do you know what your people are doing?!  The answer is – you don’t!  And that has to be ok.  Businesses that are going to thrive are ones where there is TRUST that people will get the work done.  There will be a focus on outputs instead of inputs – looking at productivity, feedback, completion of a construction project, engagement of a team as opposed to hours spent looking at a screen or being on site.  Reward and recognition will need to shift too, this should also be focused on the outputs instead of inputs.  Dolly Parton and her ‘working 9 to 5’ is no longer!


From planning to experimentation

The businesses that have survived the pandemic and will thrive in the future are those that have been agile.  For example, to succeed in the future of the utilities industry, the right balance between reinventing, growing its core business, and expanding into new business models and revenue streams must be maintained (2). 

A COVID-19 pulse of HR survey (3) found that:

  • 87% of employees felt that businesses must adapt and may not survive
  • 77% need more creativity to reinvent the business they are in
  • 61% need to reskill the workforce to grow and adapt. 

With access to a wider, adaptable talent pool, with fresh ideas and perspectives, and leveraging digital and AI there is huge opportunity for experimentation, growth and innovation. 

Even the best laid plans at the beginning of 2020 were ripped apart.  The future is uncertain, and leaders need to have flexibility, agility and innovation at the forefront. 


From privacy to transparency

If there is a benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of this could be the increase in openness and authenticity of leaders and their teams with each other.  At the beginning of lockdown, many would still get up and dress for the working day, use zoom ‘corporate’ backgrounds and maintain a high level of professionalism.  Fast forward a few months and jumping on a zoom call post morning run with kids and pets in the background and the washing hanging up is the norm.  People have let their guards down and teams have felt more connected with their leaders seeing the ‘human’ side.  To ensure the safety of the workforce and community, people have been willing to share event more personal data.  People have placed trust in their leaders and have been more transparent.

Being comfortable to be transparent with what is going on in their lives or industry that may impact the delivery of work, take supply chains for example, has created a deeper level of trust and empathy.  Leveraging this transparency, trust and deeper relationships to move forward is essential and the workforce and customers.

Businesses and leaders have already gone through huge mindset shifts but work is needed to ensure that this continues to happen.  At KEASE we are passionate about human centred leadership and creating the right mindset shifts.  To see how we can help you, take a look at our website.



1 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/millennial-gen-z-talent-workplace-leadership/

2 https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/industry-blog/en-gb/cross-industry/2020/06/25/the-future-of-the-utilities-industry/

3 COVID-19 pulse of HR – PwC, joshbersin, cultureX and MITSloan