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

Creating a culture of inclusive leadership

Leaders that have been successful in the current environment and that will be successful in the future have a few things in common.  They are resilient, agile and human centred.  They focus on connectivity, empathy and INCLUSIVENESS.


Why is inclusive leadership important?

In a diverse world with diverse cultures and diverse people with diverse skills, styles and personalities, those organsiations that harness the power of diversity and are inclusive will be on the front foot.  As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with up to 88% of organisations encouraging their workforce to work remotely (1) and an increase in people feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, the need to belong, feel supported and heard by our leaders has never been more important. 

Research by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido shows that Inclusive Leadership directly enhances performance. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. They also found a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism. (2)


But what is an inclusive leader?  

Juliet Bourke defines an inclusive leader as onethat assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired”, and has the 6 traits shown in the below diagram: Cognizance, Curiosity, Cultural Intelligence, Collaboration, Commitment and Courage. (3)

Source: Deloitte, The six signature traits of inclusive leadership


So how do I create a culture of Inclusive Leadership?

To embed an inclusive leadership culture, we recommend looking at the following 5 areas: 


  • Re-think your D&I strategy

2020 has challenged organsiations beyond recognition and forced many to re-think their Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing programs in a real time, reactive manner.  Take time to step back, reflect on the last few months, engage your leaders and re-think your diversity, inclusion and wellbeing strategy.  Ensure that you have a clear vision, strategy, implementation plan and measures for success.  Then embed inclusive leadership as part of your organisation’s values and weave your D&I strategy throughout all of your talent strategies from recruitment to termination.


  • Truly value the power of diversity 

Showcase stories of leaders that are inclusive, the benefits of diverse teams and the impact that this has on your people and your organisation’s purpose.  It comes back to the aged old quote of “you can’t be what you can’t see” (Marian Wright Edelman).  Showcasing ‘success stories’ and role models will help to engrain inclusive leadership into your culture.  This can be something small such regular informal virtual team catch ups through to a personal share about how a leader has supported someone through a challenging time or how leveraging a diverse team helped to better meet a customer’s needs.


  • Your leaders should walk the walk, not just talk the talk

Being an inclusive leader by example is critical to fostering an inclusive leadership culture.  This, however, may not come naturally to many – and everyone has something that they can work on!  It is therefore critical to build inclusive leadership awareness, capabilities and competencies at your leadership level and throughout your organisation.

This can be done by providing inclusive leadership training or coaching and enhancing specific specific skills such as empathy, authenticity and vulnerability.   Get your leaders thinking about inclusive leadership by joining our next Leadership Lounge on 23 October from 1pm – 2pm. Register your interest now.

You can also make resources available to your leaders, such as information on diversity, inclusion and wellbeing and tips on how to be an inclusive leader.  A small action such as a quick reference placemat can make a huge impact.


  • Make your leaders accountable

Commitment and accountability are essential for building your inclusive leadership culture.  The new ways of working have encouraged many organisations to re-think how success in measured – outputs instead of inputs, employee wellbeing/ inclusion instead of, or as well as, financials.  Including D&I metrics as part of an organisation’s performance as well as a leader’s performance is one way to really impact the culture.  These should be SMART and reward and recognition should tie to these metrics.


  • Ask your people

Having 80% of your leaders complete an inclusive leadership training does not automatically make your culture or leaders inclusive!  Ask your people for their opinion – this in itself will encourage inclusiveness – pulse survey your organisation about what is done well and could be done better, ensure your leaders check in with their teams about their performance.  Review the feedback, engage your leaders and make change that will stick!


For more information about how KEASE international can work with you to determine the right steps for your D&I strategy and inclusive leadership culture, please contact us on enquiry@kease.com.au or via our Contact Form.



  1. Garter HR 
  2. Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedio, Why Inclusive Leaders are good for organisations, and how to be one, https://hbr.org/2020/03/the-key-to-inclusive-leadership, March 2019.
  3. Deloitte, The six signature traits of inclusive leadership, https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/human-capital/articles/six-signature-traits-inclusive-leadership.html, 2016