Effective communication is one of the cornerstones of international leadership. I chatted with communication coach and cross-cultural trainer Victoria Rennoldson to find out about her insights on this topic.

This conversation was filled with practical tips and deep reflections, so if you’re looking to enhance your global leadership skills in today’s multicultural world, you’re going to want to read until the end.

A quick intro to Victoria

Victoria Rennoldson

Victoria Rennoldson, communication coach and cross-cultural trainer, is the CEO and founder of Culture Cuppa. She helps global leaders to elevate and amplify their communication skills, and multicultural teams to build trust and collaboration with cultural intelligence, growing themselves and their businesses globally. She is a keynote speaker, Certified Associate Trainer with the Cultural Intelligence Center, and the host of the top-ranked podcast, Cultural Communication Confidence.

Victoria’s background is rooted in languages, having studied German and Russian, and spent significant time in Germany, Austria, and Russia. Her interest in different cultures extended beyond mere language acquisition; she delved deeply into understanding cultural nuances, including how things are done, what is considered inappropriate, and the real dynamics of communication. Victoria has always been captivated by the intricacies of cultural communication.

Following her academic pursuits, Victoria moved into marketing. She initially worked with a healthcare company before moving into the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, specifically in the food sector, where she spent 12 years. Throughout this period, Victoria collaborated extensively with teams across Europe, the United States, and India. Her role involved frequent travel and teamwork with diverse groups, which provided her with invaluable insights into the varied motivations and approaches people take towards achieving common objectives. Her academic background in languages and her keen interest in different cultures played a significant role in shaping her career in international business.

Victoria particularly enjoyed analysing why people expressed themselves in particular ways during meetings, whether they were virtual or in-person. This curiosity eventually led her to establish her own business nearly nine years ago. She recognised that both individuals and companies often require assistance with communication, especially when working with diverse teams. Observing how different cultures approach communication and leadership continues to be a source of fascination for Victoria.

What is a Leader?

The concept of a leader is nuanced and varies across cultures. It encompasses how people relate to hierarchy, make decisions, and involve others in conversations. If you look up the definition of a leader, it often talks about directing people and telling them what to do, but modern leadership is about much more than that.

A leader needs to be able to motivate and inspire teams and effectively communicate their vision. This might involve speaking assertively and handling challenging conversations. There’s also an element of what’s often called executive presence or leadership charisma—something that makes a leader’s presence felt, even when they’re not physically in the room. This presence can be different things to different people—gravitas, charisma, or a formal, grounded energy.

The pandemic highlighted the need for international leadership skills

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of cultural intelligence in leadership. In Europe, for example, leaders were often expected to share a message of unity and vulnerability—acknowledging that they didn’t have all the answers but outlining the steps they were taking. This created a sense of shared experience and honesty, especially when leaders were seen in their home environments.

In contrast, in many Asian cultures, there was a greater expectation for leaders to be more directive and solution-focused, even if it was about providing a sense of direction rather than concrete answers. Understanding these cultural differences in leadership expectations is crucial. Leaders who are successful in one cultural context may need to adjust their approach when working with teams from different cultural backgrounds

To speak like a leader means different things in different cultures, and understanding these differences is crucial. Leaders need to communicate in ways that connect with and engage their teams, and that often means adapting to different cultural expectations and communication styles.

Victoria Rennoldson

This kind of difference is visible in day to day scenarios such as meetings as well

In the UK or the US, people are often encouraged to speak up spontaneously in meetings. However, in many Asian cultures, this isn’t the norm. For instance, in Japan, meetings are often more formal and serve as a rubber stamp for decisions made in smaller, prior discussions. People might prefer to contribute in ways that allow for reflection, such as through written comments or small group discussions. Understanding these nuances and being able to adapt is a key part of cultural intelligence for leaders.

Imposter Syndrome is often a barrier to effective communication in international leadership

Most global leaders are non-natives in English & whilst they are fluent by any “normal standards” in the language they still experience doubt. No matter how experienced they are or how much they feel deserving of a promotion, they still experience some level of imposter syndrome. They worry about expressing themselves in the best possible way. Is what they’re saying clear? Do they sound articulate? These individuals are typically very good at what they do, and this frictionless expertise contrasts sharply with their concerns about communication.

The barriers are often self-imposed, stemming from internal beliefs about what it means to be a confident speaker or to speak like a leader. There’s this misconception that effective communication is an innate skill, something people are born with. In reality, most people learn these skills over time.

Victoria Rennoldson

When it comes to their speaking skills and communication, they worry about how they come across. This can lead them to hold back in meetings, waiting until they’ve thoroughly thought through what they want to say. They might struggle to articulate their brilliant ideas spontaneously, especially if they see others around them speaking with more confidence, often in a louder, more assertive manner that can be culturally driven.

Native Speakers need to be mindful of their language use in global leadership settings

When native speakers dominate a conversation, it tends to speed up and become full of idioms and expressions, which can be alienating.

Non-native speakers might struggle with cultural or sports references and humour, which are often used to engage and connect but in an international context can instead exclude and create a sense of not belonging. This isn’t about English skills; it’s about communication.

Leaders with diverse, multilingual teams need to consider how they’re adapting their communication to be inclusive. How are they ensuring that all voices are heard, not just the loudest ones? It’s crucial for the team’s success to hear a wide range of ideas and opinions.

Victoria Rennoldson

Some people, when interrupted or questioned, might completely shut down, especially if past experiences have led them to associate such interactions with making mistakes.

It’s important that native speakers are mindful of their language use, avoiding idiomatic expressions or cultural references that might not be understood. Communication should be clear and accessible to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Communication is a two way process

It’s about bringing people along on the journey and making sure they feel included and engaged. It’s not just about speaking but also about listening and understanding what’s not being said. This requires cultural intelligence, recognising when pauses might indicate disagreement or when a person’s non-expressive manner might be masking their true feelings.

In global teams, leaders need to understand the various levels of communication, including non-verbal cues, which can vary greatly across cultures. It’s essential to have social intelligence to navigate these differences effectively.

There are four key pillars that Victoria focuses on when working with international leaders: influence, confidence, clarity, and empathy. These pillars help leaders overcome challenges and effectively communicate, ensuring that they engage and inspire their teams across cultural boundaries.

  1. Confidence: As a leader you’re confidence will be challenges with tasks beyond your comfort zone
  2. Clarity: How you communicate to get the message across concisely.
  3. Connection: This is a key pillar of cultural intelligence and vital for leaders to master.
  4. Challenging conversations: learning how to give feedback, deal with conflict or simply manage passive-aggressive resistance to ideas are all skills that leaders need to learn

Practical Tips for Developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Developing CQ starts with self-awareness. Leaders need to be aware of their own cultural biases and how these may impact their interactions with others. Recognising your own cultural biases and how those dynamics affect your behaviour is a good start. Victoria emphasised the importance of continuous learning and being open to feedback as essential components of building CQ.

A key factor across all these pillars is thinking about people. It’s essential to consider who you’re talking to. Often, in communication, we’re so focused on what we want to say that we don’t think enough about the people we’re addressing. This applies whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a virtual meeting, or a large-scale presentation.

Effective communication always comes back to understanding your audience. What motivates them? What’s on their minds as they enter the meeting? What are they concerned about or likely to challenge?

People often plan for presentations and meetings by focusing on what they need to convey, which is important. But Victoria recommends starting by asking, “Who are you talking to? What’s in their heads?” This approach requires emotional and social intelligence, especially when working across cultures.

Anglo-Dutch translation - effective communication is a key building block of successful international leadership

Another crucial aspect is considering how you want your audience to feel. People typically think about what they want their audience to know or do, but they often overlook how they want them to feel. The emotional energy you bring to a relationship or meeting is vital. Do you want your audience to feel inspired, reassured, or perhaps to confront some hard truths? This intentionality about emotions can significantly impact how you approach and deliver your communication.

Expressiveness in body language or facial expressions is like a volume dial. We all have a natural level of expressiveness, whether that’s minimal or very high. You don’t want to be completely different from who you naturally are, as that would feel inauthentic and uncomfortable. But you can adjust your expressiveness depending on the context and culture. If you’re typically at a level 7 in terms of expressiveness, maybe you dial it down to a 5 in a more reserved cultural context, or up to a 9 in a setting that appreciates more passion and warmth. It’s about experimenting and finding the right balance.

Observing body language and non-verbal cues can provide a lot of information about what’s happening in a meeting.

I recall working with a team in Germany and presenting new ideas, only to be told directly, “Victoria, I don’t like your ideas.” It was a straightforward comment, devoid of malice, just an honest opinion. This directness is quite different from the UK, where feedback might be more cushioned. Understanding these cultural nuances is key to effective communication.

Victoria Rennoldson

The Five P’s of Effective Communication

Victoria introduced the concept of the “Five P’s” as a framework for planning and executing effective communication:

The five P’s are straightforward but can be challenging to apply consistently:

  1. Purpose: Define what you aim to achieve in the meeting. This includes the energy you want to bring and how you want to show up as a leader. For instance, should you be charismatic or serious to convey gravitas?
  2. People: Understand who you’re talking to and what’s on their minds.
  3. Plan: Think about the structure of the conversation. It doesn’t always have to be in a formal meeting room; sometimes a walk or a casual setting can be more effective. Steve Jobs was known for his walking meetings, which he found fostered creativity.
  4. Prioritise: Focus on the most important points. If your time gets cut short, you need to be able to distil your message to its essence. What are the top three points you need to convey?
  5. Points of Action: Clearly define the next steps. Be specific about what needs to be done, by whom, and within what timeframe. This is often overlooked but is crucial for ensuring clarity and accountability.

This isn’t about manipulation, but about choosing the right language and setting to facilitate effective communication. Many people don’t put enough thought into this, especially when dealing with difficult conversations or negotiations. They often have a fixed idea in their heads without considering alternative approaches or solutions.

Also, don’t forget the cultural aspect—consider how you can adapt your communication style to engage the entire team, not just the most vocal or expert members. This is crucial for aspiring leaders who want to be effective across diverse groups.

global leadership starts with effective communication strategies

Adapting Leadership Styles for Different Cultures – Communication Skills for Professional Success

Cultural intelligence helps us navigate and adapt our communication styles to fit different contexts, leading to more successful outcomes. This approach is not just for international situations; it’s valuable in all interactions, even within our own cultural contexts. Recognising that people have different behaviours and communication styles can help us interact more effectively across various settings.

Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Effective leaders recognise that different cultures have different expectations and values, and they adapt their leadership style accordingly. This flexibility is essential for leading diverse teams and achieving success in international business.

The Leadership Spectrum

Our discussion highlighted the importance of viewing leadership as a spectrum of behaviours rather than a set of fixed traits. Leaders must be able to shift their style based on the context and the needs of their team. For instance, some cultures may value a more hierarchical and directive approach, while others may prefer a more collaborative and inclusive style.

Practical Strategies for Adapting Leadership Styles

  • Observe and learn: Pay attention to the cultural dynamics within your team and adjust your style accordingly.
  • Be flexible: Be willing to switch between different leadership styles depending on the situation.
  • Communicate your intentions: Clearly explain why you are adopting a particular approach and how it aligns with the team’s goals.

Effective Communication: The Path to Effective Global Leadership

In today’s globalised world, effective leadership requires more than just traditional management skills. It involves developing cultural intelligence, adapting your communication style, and being flexible in your approach. By embracing these principles, you can become a more effective leader and successfully navigate the complexities of international business.

If you can develop your self awareness and observational skills, this will be a key first step to more effective communication, no matter what the make up of your team is.

Watch the full discussion here:

If you found these insights valuable and would like to learn more about enhancing your leadership skills, Victoria offers a range of coaching programmes and assessments designed to help you succeed in the global market. Feel free to reach out to her for a complimentary communication assessment or to discuss how she can support your team’s development.

You can contact Victoria here:

Related Resources

If you enjoyed this post, you might find these posts about intercultural topics and business culture interesting:

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