Pucik and Saba (1998) define expatriate managers as “an executive who is able to assume a leadership position fulfilling international assignments across countries and cultures.”

Yet most companies choose expats based on technical / managerial performance alone. Past behavior may be the best indicator for future behavior when it comes to psychology, but as soon as you cross borders; your usual behavior will yield very unusual results.

Expat leaders have to be culturally aware and open to adapting their style in order to be successful.

Rothwell (1992) defines six characteristics all successful leaders expatriates possess. He defines:

1. “International knowledge
As “general knowledge about the world and global economy; national information about conditions in a specific country; and business understanding of strategy, process, and leadership style.”

Black and Gregersen (1999) found in their research that companies differ in how they assess candidates, while looking for the following characteristics:

2. “A drive to communicate,”
Which includes not being afraid to use rudimentary foreign language skills and being embarrassed?

3. Abroad-based sociability,
Which allows expatriates to move out of close expatriate circles and form ties with all kinds of locals?

4. “Cultural Flexibility” and Cosmopolitan Orientation,
Which both describe the open mind an expatriate needs to have when experimenting with different cultures, understanding and practicing them. 

The final characteristic is:

6. The “collaborative negotiation style.”
Expatriates need to be aware of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of international negotiation. For example, people coming from a low context culture like the Germans and Scandinavians appreciate explicit and clear forms of communication, whereas high context cultures, like Spain, divulge less information officially, but tend to be better informed than their counterparts anyway due to informal networks (Leeds, 1994).

These findings were publicized over 10 years ago.

– How does your company choose international assignees?
– Which training programs are in place to allow potential candidates to bridge the gap and obtain necessary qualifications?

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