Three ways cross cultural experience makes stronger leaders.
3 years ago, our family relocated to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where my husband had taken a new job. It was an exciting opportunity for all of us, but it was a little scary too. I was unsure and uncertain about future possibilities, but I was confident in the God who held all my tomorrows . Ephesians 2:10 was a solid assurance for me that he has prepared good works for me to do, and I rested in that.
The journey these three years has been enriching, enlightening, and fulfilling, but also very challenging. I quickly learned that what worked in my leadership experience in Kenya did not necessarily work the same way in my new home. There were different sets of rules and expectations that were completely foreign to me. The pace of life and communication was fast. The value of time and relationships was dissimilar. The whole idea of time zones and daylight savings was an ‘out of this world’ realization.
There were moments of deep frustrations and others that were downright hilarious. More than one time I joined a video conference call at the end of a meeting not realizing that
because of Daylight Savings, the clock had been turned forward! The the clock always remains the same in Africa. I had to adapt fast!
In spite of the discomforts, cross cultural experience has given me opportunities to grow and build bridges for the sake of God's Kingdom.
Leaders, we are on mission together in a world that has become a multicultural, virtual village. Cross cultural agility is one tool that can help us grow and become stronger and more effective. Here are three tips to help:
Gaining influence happens when we choose to live incarnationally--to become as others are in order to relate to and lead them well. I have to put aside my own cultural tendencies and ask how I would better lead or communicate with people who think and do things differently. Being continually "ready for different" has allowed me to be gracious in embracing other cultures and accepting that it is ok for them to do things differently.
2. Be Aware of the Complexity of Differences
Just when I figured out Daylight Savings and joined all of my meetings on time, the clocks changed again! Goodness me! There are so many layers of cross-cultural learning. Relationships work differently, hospitality means different things to different people, gender engagement and participation brings up a whole new conversation. Leading cross culturally sometimes feels like ‘game on’ all the time; suit up and play! When we are aware of the complexity of differences that exist, we can embrace "different" for the sake of the mission.
3. Clothe Yourself With Humility
There have been many situations where I just don’t know, I just don’t get it. These moments have pushed me to greater dependence on God. Living in humility acknowledges our deficiency and embraces God’s sufficiency. There are many moments when my own cultural lenses are blind to the needs of those I lead. Having a learning posture makes room in our leadership for new knowledge and information that will strengthen our ability to lead people from different contexts than us.
Whether you are literally living in a cross-cultural experience, or you need to grow in how to lead and love anyone different from you, may you do so with courage and strength, and a willingness to humbly engage with others for the sake of the Jesus Mission.
Cathleen Rotich lives in Dubai with her family. She serves as the NewThing Global Residency Champion.