The following characteristics of a successful expat manager were written over 20 years ago. Do they still apply today?

According to the “The 21st-Century Expatriate Manager Profile“, written by Cecil Howard and published in the HR Magazine in 1992 (read the full article), successful expat managers have these skills:

  • Multidimensional Perspective
  • Proficiency in Line Management
  • Prudent Decision-Making Skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability as Team Builder
I’d like to add that in countries which are open and indeed encouraging of trial and error, “prudent” decision-making skills may not be as effective as strategic risk-taking.

Resourcefulness can come in many forms – it’s who you know in Communitarian cultures, what you know in Individualist cultures, and what you can do with who and what you know in Achievement oriented cultures.

Managerial Implications / Core Skills:

  • Extensive multi-product, multi-industry, multi-functional, multi-company, multi-country and multi-environment experience
    (quote attributed to Ed Dunn, then Vice President at Whirlpool)
  • Track record in successfully operating a strategic business unit(s) and/or a series of major overseas projects
  • Competence and proven track record in making the right strategic decisions
  • Skillful in getting himself or herself known and accepted in the host country’s political hierarchy
  • Adept in bringing a culturally diverse working group together to accomplish the major mission and objective of the organization.
All of these core skills need years of practice – and you’re never done developing them. To get yourself known and accepted in the host country, different strategies have to be employed. For example, on the Asian continent it may be best if a senior manager can introduce you. It’s a sign that you come well-recommended and trusted.

Augmented Skills:

  • Computer Literacy
  • Comfortable exchanging strategic information electronically
  • Prudent Negotiating Skills
  • Proven track record in conducting successful strategic business negotiations in multicultural environment
  • Ability as a Change Agent
  • Proven track record in successfully initiating and implementing strategic organizational change
  • Visionary Skills
  • Quick to recognize and respond to strategic business opportunities and potential political and economic upheavals in the host country
  • Effective delegation skills
  • Proven track record in participative management style and ability to delegate.
Computer literacy isn’t enough, blogging and social media are all ways of communicating and offering transparent services. Advertising is now done on multiple platforms and new mobile streams. Indeed, technological mobility offers so many ways to engage with the customer. A successful expat manager knows which work in his country and how to leverage their effects.

The participative management style may also not work in all cultures. Some national cultures may influence corporate cultures to resemble that of a family hierarchy and structure. There’s one usually male leader / mentor at the top and he provides clear instructions what and how to achieve while taking responsibility for his employees.

The good news is, there are assessments available to gauge a candidate’s preparedness for an international assignment. In the case of skills gaps, they can be improved through targeted coaching or training. This is why it makes so much sense to involve Talent Management at the strategic level in a person’s international career trajectory.

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