Book excerpt: Soft skills focus for global managers

Samanthani Singh takes an excerpt from her own book about how global leaders can succeed through embracing their soft skills.

If you are a global manager reading this, chances are, you are already thinking how your CEO misled you or your CFO messed up. But you have the power in your hands because as a global manager, you are on the ground to say exactly what needs to be done, and what can go wrong. What you did not realise was that you may be missing some skills.

One of the problems is that global managers did not quite understand to what extent the differences in culture led to their company’s success or failure. It’s not adapting to the foreign culture, but being able to balance the foreign culture with the company’s culture that leads to success.

How a global manager is chosen presents either an ‘all foreign culture’ that contrasts the corporate ideology, or a home manager forcing the corporate culture in the foreign market.

Companies cannot be successful and accomplish goals if the teams and leadership are not synchronised in the same behaviours and actions to boost and sustain a culture and brand of leadership. The leadership skill is what promotes a productive work environment and successfully achieves the business goals.

A manager must capably excel in that leadership language for success. Corporate culture means constantly changing the company’s way of doing things, such as responding to situations that involve employee attitudes and leadership decisions, among others.

Interpersonal relationships in MNCs are influenced by the national culture of employees, managers and external partners. Therefore, a balance still needs to be found between global integration and cultural differentiation and localisation.

Local culture affects organisational culture, which has to be implemented in a strong and acceptable way by the global manager.

Dealing with diversity and cultural complexity contributes to enhancing cross-cultural relationships. Corporate culture can provide that bridge for a multicultural organisation but the leader must possess the required cultural intelligence, cultural competence, intercultural communication competence, and inter-cultural effectiveness.

This process is also affected by the ‘strategic mindset’ and personality of the global manager. Corporate culture affects cross-cultural interactions in the MNC. Not implementing the appropriate corporate culture affects the integration process.

Local culture affects organisational culture, which has to be implemented in a strong and acceptable way by the global manager. However, the organisational culture must promote trust, value, and respect of the cultural diversity.

Therefore, a manager must be capable of building interpersonal relationships exuding trust and loyalty in the internal and external network of the MNC to realise an acceptably influential corporate culture, credibility, and competitiveness.

The second problem highlights that global managers often do not have a balance of hard skills and soft skills. The intellectual, psychological and social skill sets in global managers are often not balanced and this impacts the confidence, trust, and integrity that emanates from the leadership.

This is where the ethical platform often gets undermined in the gold rush. Many scandals arise from such situations. It is the essential people skill for social and business etiquette that is so essential to domestic and international culture to maintain values, ethics and integrity.

It remains a challenge to find managers who are comfortable and effective in the globalized economy because they lack two understandings: the unique cultural knowledge of that region to manage people and the experience to apply the corporate practices in the cultural geographic context.

Enforcing leadership actions such as coaching, giving feedback, and resolving conflicts are most  effective when everyone is using a core language that sets norms for innovations and collaborations, and guarantees employees, clients and partners are experiencing a consistent engagement that will promote the business strategies.

It is a combination of values, including showing others respect, even in difficult situations; listening to people and demonstrating that you hear them; attaining mutual trust (trusting and being trusted); promoting ownership and accountability for one’s work and responsibilities, and providing and receiving support to achieve goals.


Good leaders must initiate interaction that will achieve goals as well as provide and accept feedback effectively. This leadership skill is value-based and also works in tandem with trust and transparency.

While respect, listening and feedback vary from one culture to another, and can be challenging in some regions, like Asia, where these are not common to a business practice, cognitive balance is essential. A manager must be able to think about getting a facilitator or mediator with whom the staff can identify.

The third common problem found that global managers are eagerly trained for cultural adaptation when they are to be relocated to another country, but they are never trained in soft skills.

These managers become the expatriate because they may possess the abilities to manage a subsidiary, yet they are not equipped to balance the hard and soft skills that will ensure their success in the country of a different culture.

This is why many expatriate managers crumble, not primarily because of culture shock, but more so because they cannot find the balance between how their home corporation is run and how to blend that with the new culture they are faced with.

Such balance requires a special perceptive ability that stretches the emotional intelligence to blend the corporate culture to which they are accustomed and the foreign country’s culture to make it work for them, company, and country.

Emphasis should be on the integration of the global business manager’s role in strategy, management and coordination. This requires strong leadership skills, recognising international diversity and potential, and capably and effectively applying productive strategy.

It means being cognizant of national demands and the corporate strategy, and being confident in translating and repositioning the corporate strategy to meet the local culture when it is required.

Having expatriates in international assignments is about organisational development and the development of the manager on the assignment, among other areas of development. This is combined with the need to transfer the headquarters coordination and control through the expatriate.

The expatriate’s skills embody informational communication and social skills, but clearly in limitation, and only to the subsidiary staff and not to the business development aspect of the network/partnership engagement role of the manager.

The role of the manager is of simply being a knowledge recipient of the organisation and its development. A manager should be able to communicate effectively and possess the ability to build good relationships − these are necessary people skills.

However, these skills can fail if the manager is unable to harness the differences in the cultures to effectively manage, harmonise and partner with people.


About the author

Samanthani Singh’s book, ‘The Importance of Soft Skills for Global Managers‘ is out now.


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