An international assignment is a career, learning & leadership accelerator. It step changes your understanding of how to be effective across cultures.
A little over a decade ago, I made a decision that would change my life and those of my family. I decided to take on an international assignment. Once the initial adrenalin of making the decision subsided, I was plagued with doubt, second guessed my decision, made a million lists of pros and cons, researched like a crazed woman, and triple planned everything. The move itself … well, things didn’t go quite as planned. So, was it worth it? Absolutely!
As I reflect on the years abroad and the amazingly brilliant, talented and diverse teams and leaders I had the opportunity to work with, I can say with absolute certainty, that I have grown because of it.
I am, therefore, a big advocate of international assignments as developmental experiences, especially for those aspiring to be in global roles. We live in a paradoxical world of endless possibilities for learning, and equally narrow ways in which we consume it. Today, where the world conspires so that you hear what you want to hear, and learn only what you think you need to, and experience things in your comfort zone, it helps to seek out ‘accelerators’ – concentrated immersive experiences that step change your learning.
Based on my experiences, here are some unique perspectives that an international assignment offers. It helps us understand and explore:
How others see us
Every country in the world has a very strong narrative about what it means to be American, British, Chinese, Indian, etc. However, the world, perceives us differently. You understand for the first time what stereotypes exist about you. Understanding the battle you are in, and taking steps to change the narrative is a huge win.
How we see others and the world
People and cultures are complex. Learning that there is a unique ecosystem that enables success in different countries, is critical to understanding what works and why – for e.g. History of how a country was shaped, how an economy works and what are the key drivers, political landscape and the reasons for it, and critically, what is important to people and why. It shines a light on our own unconscious biases, and helps us see people as individuals, rather than just demographics.
Get stuff done
Every country has a different approach to work, what constitutes meaningful work, working in a matrix, work life balance, as well as, what fuels ambition, energizes the team, and their expectations of themselves on making a true difference. Delivering results is all about being adaptable and agile while finding ways to bring people along.
Lead effectively in different complex cultural contexts
Understanding people’s expectations from us as leaders in terms of coaching, problem solving, work allocation, team work, etc is a first step to figuring out how to adapt our style. The greatest obstacle to adapting leadership style is stereotypes. There is greater recognition today around the ridiculous stereotypes we used to be inundated with, however, we still have to find ways to discover and deal with our unconscious biases.
Cultivate a diverse network of connections
If we took a look at our LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends right now, how many countries, industries, organizations, functions, roles, religions, political opinions, genders, races, socio economic classes would they represent? An international assignment is a great opportunity to build a diverse network, and brings richness and depth to our thought process.
Tap talent from across the globe
We have a more realistic assessment of talent across different markets and how they stack up in relation to roles. Tapping into an exponentially larger talent pool and serving as a talent magnet for our organization across multiple markets provides a competitive edge.
Strengthen our intuition
This is perhaps the most controversial and intangible one to articulate. Living and working in diverse contexts helps to build our sixth sense about what works and what doesn’t, what makes sense in a particular market and what doesn’t and why. Many innovative, unique, and effective solutions are born through this struggle.
I would love to hear your experiences and insights on what you have gained from living and working internationally.