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The Intercultural Manager: Management Skills for Today

manager riding international bikeThe role of a manager is evolving in response to the needs of companies operating on the international stage.

The complexities of globalisation and international systems require today's manager to adapt in order to offer modern solutions to modern problems.

One area in particular of growing importance is that of demonstrating intercultural management skills.



Why intercultural skills are important for managers


The majority of companies can no longer escape the need to buy, sell or work with people from different cultures. Multinationals have offices spanning the globe; manufacturers increasingly rely on foreign markets and distributors; services and products are no longer solely marketed at native audiences and many industries rely on immigrant labour.

In short, very few businesses are untouched by culture in some way or another.

As a result, companies are increasingly recognising that in order to grow, diversify and retain a competitive advantage, intercultural management skills are critical for their top tiers.

Culture Savvy Management Skills

'Intercultural management skills' is a loose term used to refer to the capability of a manager to communicate and deal effectively with people from different cultures. Management of people of course is included in this.

Such skills are seen as critical to business performance in a variety of ways.

Internally, a manager needs to be able to act as a medium between senior personnel and staff; communicate clearly and effectively with colleagues; build and nurture efficient transnational teams and display strategic global thinking.

Externally, a manger must demonstrate business acumen within a framework of awareness to supervise entrance into foreign markets; oversee the proper selection, mentoring and guidance of company representatives working with foreign interests; negotiate and manage conflict with clients and provide insight into potential areas of success or failure emanating from intercultural differences.

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The manager is therefore tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that communication between colleagues, clients and customers is clear, coherent and free from intercultural misunderstandings.

In order to achieve this, certain key attributes are needed. These are namely, cultural awareness, flexibility, capitalizing on differences and patience.


Cultural awareness is the fundamental foundation of all intercultural management skills. One must possess hands on experience of living and/or working in different cultures, an understanding of how culture manifests in interpersonal interaction and have received intercultural training to consolidate those insights and awareness. Only through an appreciation of intercultural differences will the manager develop further skills.

Once intercultural awareness is active within a manager and they are able to see beyond surface level manifestations of cultural differences, flexibility naturally occurs.

Flexibility refers to the ability of the manager to adapt their behaviour and management style to deal effectively with intercultural challenges and to think out of the box when it comes to offering solutions. The flexible intercultural manager is able to cushion intercultural tests and control outcomes positively.

Similarly, the intercultural manager needs to be astute in using intercultural differences positively.

Cultural differences do not inherently lead to negative consequences. They only do so when mismanaged. It is therefore the responsibility of the manager to assess the potential of personnel, products and policies being steered by cultural differences and ensuring it does so for a constructive outcome.

Finally, the intercultural manager needs patience. As the Dutch proverb says, "A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains." Patience is the key to a successful manager as it allows one to maintain focus, analyse problems coherently, evaluate options and implement solutions.

In conclusion, the success of businesses in today's globalized world economy relies heavily upon them investing in cultivating  managers that have are culture savvy. With human traffic across borders constantly on the increase and business interests dependent on foreign markets, the intercultural manager is critical to the co-ordination, supervision and implementation of clear communication.

Practical Management Tips for International Managers


If you're interested in some country specific management tips then check out  our Intercultural Management Guide where you can get pratical tips on being a manager in a foreign country.