How To Lead Successfully In Diverse Sectors And Cultures

In this article I would like to share with you my concrete experience, tips and tricks I have appreciated on my leadership journey from acquisitions, green field projects to change management of different intensity in all sorts of cultures, company environments and industries.

Management vs Leadership

Often I am asked what is the difference between management and leadership and if one can live without the other. In my understanding management is about coping with complexity mainly but not only in large organizations. Without good management, complex enterprises tend to become chaotic in ways that threaten their existence. Leadership is about coping with change. It is so important because the business world has become more competitive and more volatile. Strong leadership with weak management is no better, and is sometimes actually worse, than the reverse. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.

Before I will describe my experience in different companies and industries I would like to mention +3 dimensions of management and leadership which are important to distinguish.

3 main dimensions of Management:

  1. Manage Complexity – Planning and Budgeting
  2. Develop Capacity to Achieve Plan – Organizing and Staffing
  3. Plan Accomplishment – Controlling and Problem Solving

3 main dimensions of Leadership:

  1. Leading Organization To Constructive Change – Setting a Direction
  2. Aligning People – Communicating
  3. Achieving a Vision – Motivating and Inspiring

How To Lead Successfully In Diverse Sectors And Cultures

1. Agricultural Sector – Culture: Multinational Company

In the 90´s of the last century my main leadership role was to help manage mergers and acquisitions successfully. The management teams as well as employees in the acquired companies had a different level of identification with the changes. The company environment was often dominated by low motivation and employee engagement. Looking back today I would say that the following leadership practices worked for me the most:

  • Foster constructive debate about options and alternatives (what happens with the company business and employees “if we don´t”)
  • Helping employees understand the new company's overall business strategy
  • Inspire others by my own conviction and passion
  • Be people oriented, like them and be genuinely interested in their colleagues and sub-ordinates.

2. Manufacturing Sector – Culture: Japanese Company

In the year 2000 I was the first employee of a green field project – startup of a Japanese automotive manufacturing plant including construction. The experience of dealing with all kinds of authorities to enable the plant construction and managing in a non-European culture was invaluable for me and helped me grow into a more mature leader. The Japanese management team had a clear vision and my key role was to help them take it into life. It was an unforgettable and successful mission although I had to seek and use feedback often.

The following leadership practices worked for me the most:

  • Understand cultural stereotypes
  • Adapt to cultural differences (national, functional)
  • Be sensitive to local culture and context

3. Insurance Sector – Culture: Public Sector Company

It was during my public sector experience that I started my still ongoing leadership journey called “change management”. The CEO of the company invited me to join her in her efforts to carry out a major transformation and restructuring of the company to achieve greater efficiency across the whole region. The resistance of the traditional teams was significant and their engagement in the change management was more or less non-existent. Yet, in spite of the state intervention in the end, we managed to accomplish a lot of changes and I got christened then as a change leader. In the tough environment -

The following leadership practices worked for me the most:

  • Set the direction
  • Formulate the vision
  • Have the courage to take risks

4. Consulting Sector – Culture: Multinational Company

I never imagined that more or less all support functions can be outsourced and delivered from anywhere on the globe in principle until I worked for a huge outsourcing division of a multinational firm. Some clients for example decided to outsource the entire HR function except a few strategic business partners. My task was to set up and manage teams in various European countries to deliver the agreed HR services to the clients. My leadership style and skills were taken considerably to another level at that time as change was all around the place. Today looking back and comparing my different leadership experience I can say that

The following leadership practices worked for me the most:

  • Be heart of the business
  • Be committed to make a difference
  • See things from new angles
  • Seek opportunities to learn

5. Banking Sector – Culture: European Banking Group

When I entered the banking sector several years ago many people did not give me much chance to succeed. However I do not give up without trying and challenges keep me going as well as developing and testing my potential. Upon hiring the CEO told me my task in the bank is to “take HR to another level”. It was up to me as an HR professional to propose what the next level is, come up with the vision and bring it to life. It had direct impact on 150 HR employees and direct as well indirect impact on the whole company. The 5 years in that large bank were most probably the biggest leadership school in practice I was ever able to get. I came across all sorts of difficulties and opportunities and I met and worked with many great leaders I got inspired by. Thanks to this leadership mission I became ready to take on my executive journey I am on today.

The following leadership practices worked for me the most:

  • Be able to identify the opportunities
  • Act with integrity
  • Bring out the best people
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Be open to constructive criticism
  • Be endless well of energy

6. Telecommunications Sector – Culture: Global Company

A year ago I became a member of the executive team of the Czech subsidy of a global telecommunications company. Additionally to human resources management I am also responsible for property management. The company is dominated by customer focus, speed, all kinds of diversity, ambitious young people and constant change due to changes in the whole telco sector. Change is actually part of daily life. In this job and company I have to switch on a lot of if not all of the leadership levers in order to manage successfully and follow the right direction. After one year I would highlight
The following leadership practices that work for me most so far:

  • Seek broad business knowledge
  • Systematically manage in order to successfully accomplish a project to make concrete profit
  • Benchmark against others, copy practices, network externally to learn
  • Enhance diversity and allow lots of experimentation to innovate
  • Share information with employees on both company performance and team performance - relative to strategic business objectives
  • Help employees understand how they contribute to achieving key business objectives
  • Develop people by giving them more challenge than they think they can handle
  • Make sure that people are clearly accountable

To conclude with: many people also ask me if it is possible to become a leader even if one is not born with a natural leadership talent. I personally believe that people can choose to become leaders if they really want to because people can learn the above leadership skills. Additionally the best leaders

  • Have strong charisma
  • Perceive people as links without which the goals could not be achieved
  • Bring their values to work
  • Take the time to get to know every one of their employees
  • Make mistakes, learn, and live to tell the tale

Good leadership is a tough job but often it is very rewarding if you do the best with what you have where you are.