Couple of months back my former colleague invited me for lunch. She got a promotion and was going to Europe for several years. She was excited and scared, and knowing that I spent last 8 years of my career on expatriate assignments, she wanted some advice.
My friend is not alone at her scary place. Many professional women have high expectations of themselves and a very low tolerance for failure. When I talk to successful female executives most of them are convinced that their dedication to excellence and high standards are the main reasons for success. And yet these could also be among the key reasons female professionals turn down promotions and go through enormous stress when taking challenging assignments. At the same time I know from my personal experience that, when done right, an international assignment can really accelerate your progress as a leader – nothing else could compare with its impact on learning and maturity.
Here is what I shared with my friend. I hope this could also be helpful for people who are continuing with their current role – whatever is their leadership role today.
You got the job because of how good you are. Your skills and competences are noticed ; and the management believes that you can contribute to business in your new role.
There is no need to prove your greatness on day one. Chances are you will get something wrong, as you still need to improve your knowledge of the local business and culture, and need to get your insight into local customer expectations. The best strategy during your first days is to get out to the market, talk to as many people in the organization, and ask lots of questions. Be curious – even if you have decades of industry and management experience – assume the ‘beginner’s mind’ and ask your questions without an agenda. This would help to get information free of filters and frames.
Do not rush to conclusions and instead use this period as an opportunity to connect.
Show up for people – do not expect that everyone will genuinely welcome you at your new place. Thank those who do welcome you, acknowledge those who don’t, promise yourself to try and understand where the latter are coming from. Share your story, your expectations, and ask for permission to get closer and know more. Invite people over, share a traditional meal, put on your favourite music. I do not mean that you should throw a party if you do not feel like that – take people for lunch to a local coffee shop or bring some take out to the office, if that’s more your style – the secret is to be authentic. Show up for people and invite them to be seen – the true warmth and desire to connect will will invite your colleagues to come closer, to make a step forward and they will help you become a part of the team.
SET YOUR PACE
Do not get me wrong – I get that there will be business to attend, decisions to make and projects to execute from day one. You are part of the business and let it be seen that you are up to the challenge and they you want to act in the best interest of theorganization. Often this best interest requires that you spend your first days observing and learning. Put together an induction plan and discuss it with your supervisor. Get clarity about your priorities for the first 90 days. Ask for permission to take certain things slower than others. Explain your challenges, especially if your family has not yet moved. Agree on check points, outline how the important decisions will be made while your induction plan is being implemented. This transparency will be well-received and will allow you to tackle first thing first, start acting in sync with your team, and demonstrate how serious you are about contributing to the success of your new organization.
GET OFF THE TOURIST BUS
Treat your expatriate move as if you have come to the country for good. Try to learn about the culture and customs of the place so you can better decide how and where to start connecting. Learn more about the history of the country, inform yourself about most relevant political and social issues. Get to know what sports people play and follow, read about local celebrities…. When we came to Latin America one of the things that helped my family to building our network was our interest in contemporary art. Make an effort – whenever possible venture beyond the expat community – come to local markets, travel to fares, or visit local vacation spots – find the way to connect with local community outside of your workplace. It will help you appreciate real lives of your colleagues. In addition you will better understand your customers and make better business decisions.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
It is not going to be easy. Your first months will be hectic – you will have a lot to learn. Before your family moves in you will be tempted to dedicate yourself to work 24/7. Please remember to take care of yourself. Commit to settling down as soon as you can – organize your home, find ways to get back to your hobby – be it sports, dance, or book club – promise yourself to start regularly practicing it within your first month. Get out if the office and dedicate your week-ends to establish the local infrastructure for your family and to explore the country and culture. My friend Tracy calls ithis strategy Holding the White Space – a space where you can slow down, reflect upon your experience and check in with yourself. How is your energy level, are you progressing at the pace you planned, and if there a need to change your objective to adapt your strategy? Spend this time to measure your satisfaction with your professional growth and personal fulfillment. Think if you could improve or accelerate any of those aspects by tapping to your support network and asking for help.
ASK FOR HELP
You would make yourself a huge favour by mobilizing your support network in advance of your move. Have a heart to heart conversation with your family members to make sure everyone is clear on why the move is happening, what to expect of it and agree to stay open if it would not work for any of you. With your friends plan how you will maintain connection and what to do if you need to send a ‘distress signal’. Think about potential challenges you could face on your new job and reach out to your professional connections for advice and recommendation of resources. Hire a coach, ask your mentor for guidance.
There is a way to make your expat assignment a rewarding and a fulfilling experience. Like in my case, it migh become the best thing that happens to you as a leader.
You can make it, you can learn from it and you will enjoy it.
What are your secrets about making a job move a success?