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FOREIGNER IN CHARGE

FOREIGNER IN CHARGE

Success strategies for
expat leaders in Singapore

Padraig O’Sullivan

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First published 2015

Exisle Publishing Pty Ltd
‘Moonrising’, Narone Creek Road, Wollombi, NSW 2325, Australia
P.O. Box 60-490, Titirangi, Auckland 0642, New Zealand
www.exislepublishing.com

Copyright © 2015 Padraig O’Sullivan

Padraig O’Sullivan asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. Except for short extracts for the purpose of review, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.

Print ISBN 978-1-921966-97-2
ePub ISBN 978-1-77559-287-7
Cover design by Saso
Text typeset by Midland Typesetters, Australia

Disclaimer

While this book is intended as a general information resource and all care has been taken in compiling the contents, this book does not take account of individual circumstances and is not in any way a substitute for individualised professional advice. Neither the author nor the publisher and their distributors can be held responsible for any loss, claim or action that may arise from reliance on the information contained in this book.

CONTENTS

Foreword by Marshall Goldsmith

Introduction

Part 1: Getting your bearings

1. Transition overload

2. Welcome to Singapore

3. The impact on the expat family

4. Leading in Singapore

Part 2: PALDER – a framework for expatriate leadership

5. Introducing the PALDER framework

6. The pre-arrival phase

7. The arrival phase

8. The look, listen and learn phase

9. The decide phase

10. The energise phase

11. The review and renew phase

Part 3: Support

12. The journey continues

Resources

Endnotes

Acknowledgements

Index

TESTIMONIALS ABOUT PADRAIG ‘POD’ O’SULLIVAN

‘He is a true thought leader. I always come away from our time together feeling inspired.’

—Simon Youngs, Global Head of Learning, Coats

‘My coaching sessions with Padraig were critical in helping me see deeper into the challenges I was having and how my reactions affected the people around me.’

—David Gibbons, COO, BBC Worldwide

‘Having worked with Padraig for two years, he has provided invaluable support and guidance. He offers a different perspective by asking the hard questions and helping reframe each situation to uncover the real opportunity for knowledge, organisational development, learning and self-improvement.’

—Steve Keys, Senior Vice President, Software AG Asia-Pacific and Middle East

‘Padraig is a world-class coach whom any senior executive would benefit from. He was the ideal coach to guide me through a significant professional and cultural transition.’

—Martin Grossman, Managing Director ANZ, Actelion Pharmaceuticals

‘Padraig was an outstanding executive coach for me, dare I say, a successful leader but contemplating my own set of key questions and development challenges. We connected easily and focused on the outcomes I was after. He is an incredible listener, highly insightful, honest and experienced in his counsel and coaching. The program was more helpful and defining than I’d imagined.’

—Pete Everingham, CEO Seek Asia

‘I can’t really put my finger on what he said, untapped or triggered to spark such a turnaround in who I am as an executive. However, what I can tell you is that I have been on a good to great journey ever since I met him! Padraig intelligently leads you down a path of self-discovery, which can be confronting but well worth the journey.’

—Teresa Warren, Melbourne Convention Bureau

‘In moving to NZ to join the leadership team, the content of this book gave me invaluable tools to balance making a positive impact while assimilating to the new environment. Padraig applies his strong emotional intelligence and his vast experience of professional coaching and team-building insights to bring you this simple and useful guide. An excellent professional and personal journey, as well as a great read.’

—Bevan Adin, Managing Director, Beam Global (NZ)

‘Padraig O’Sullivan understands leadership and understands how people can come together to collectively succeed in the work environment. His powerful insights and logical advice have been of immense benefit to me and the teams I’ve led. Padraig is an incredibly insightful and pragmatic coach, who kept reminding me “Leaders lead” and “There is little risk in practising different leadership styles but plenty of upside”.’

—Alex Condoleon, Medical Director, Sanofi, China

‘As the new MD of the affiliate of a global company coming from overseas, Padraig O’Sullivan’s coaching sped up by several months the induction into my new job and the onset of my added value to my business and organisation.

Padraig’s thoughtful preparation of our monthly sessions, outstanding questioning and listening skills fast-tracked my learning of the Australian business and people culture in general and of my own affiliate in particular. Through the development of an acute self-awareness of my strengths and weaknesses in the face of these, he was a catalyst to focus my leadership on the right issues and opportunities.’

—James Priour, Managing Director, Amgen

‘There has been much written about the failure rates of expats across the world. With this book we now have a well-developed guide on how to actually succeed as an expatriate business leader.’

—Dr Gordon Spence, Director of Masters Business Coaching program, Sydney Business School

‘I have had the pleasure of working with Padraig O’Sullivan in a number of roles and across a variety of organisations throughout my career. What separates Padraig from others is his ability to truly and quickly get to the essence of people and situations regardless of the complexity, to connect and build trust and coach people to focus on the things that will really make the biggest difference for their leadership and their organisation. This is especially valuable in times of increasing complexity and globalisation where businesses require more from leaders than ever before.’

—Jill Tapping, Human Resources, Eli Lilly

‘A must-read for any expat appointed to a leadership position elsewhere. The book’s engaging case studies and analogies, backed by proven and practical frameworks, also form a valuable resource for any newly appointed CEO.’

—Stephen Shepherd, Founding Partner, Altus Q

‘The advice and guidance that I received allowed me to make some material changes to my routine and focus, which had an immediate positive impact (personally and professionally). The work we did together helped me work through some challenging times and ensured that I am better armed to deal with issues in the future.’

—Jonathan Engle, International Marketing Director, Software of Excellence (a Henry Schein Co.)

‘Padraig has brought his blend of practicality and theory to bear on a crucially economic topic for international businesses. The theory is never left high and dry but is rooted in reality, whether through case study or practical wisdom. A workman-like book by an excellent coach.’

—Robin Linnecar, co-author of Business Coaching and Founding Chairperson, Praesta International

‘Padraig O’Sullivan’s book is the definitive book for senior executives and spouses of expats.’

Human Resource Director Magazine (hcamag.com)

FOREWORD

Being tapped to advance to a job assignment overseas can be a great opportunity — there is risk and potential for great reward. However, being successful in one context is not an indicator that a leader will remain successful in another, particularly if that context is foreign. Pitfalls abound not only in assimilating to a new cultural context but in the ability to acclimate to the new position, new colleagues and, in many facets, new ways of doing business. Among the hazards facing such executives are their own ‘proven’ successful behaviours that got them this opportunity in the first place. How could they anticipate that what got them where they are could now be their greatest obstacle to success?

Padraig O’Sullivan has spent years as an executive coach and is a Certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach working with successful executives helping them to become better leaders. Stakeholder Centered Coaching is a method I developed requiring leaders to identify and make changes in their behaviour; it focuses on leaders who want to improve — which is half the battle. The remainder of the process involves bringing about an accurate self-awareness of habits that actually inhibit achievement and alienate colleagues in a cross-cultural environment. Padraig has seen that these kinds of behaviours — if left unacknowledged, unchecked and unchallenged — can result in a staggering failure rate for expatriate executives.

Engaging stakeholders and placing a strong emphasis on action, implementation and follow-through is essential if leaders truly want to succeed. Padraig emphasises this in his coaching work and in this helpful text. Multinational businesses require more from leaders as they must effectively direct geographically dispersed and culturally diverse teams. And it all must be done now.

Leadership lessons can be learnt; and one of my favourite methods is through storytelling, which in many cases translates well across cultures. I love the way a good story can communicate a concept to people, so thatthey can relate and identify with it in a visceral way rather than grapple with understanding jargon. Padraig is an excellent communicator and storyteller whose anecdotes bring practical meatiness to the bones of theory, creating a text of substance and value. I commend him for his passion to focus on the often overlooked expatriate executive experience and recommend those who find themselves on the cusp of a business move to seek out Padraig and use well this book.

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching methodology, which guarantees measurable leadership growth combined with his global network of certified executive coaches, has been the world’s leading executive coaching organisation for many years. Furthermore, Marshall has been recognised as the number one leadership thinker in the world and the number seven business thinker in the world at the biannual Thinkers 50 Ceremony sponsored by the Harvard Business Review. Dr Goldsmith’s PhD is from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where in 2010 he was recognised as one of 100 distinguished graduates in the school’s 75-year history. He teaches executive education at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and frequently speaks at other leading business schools around the world. He is one of a select few executive advisors who have been asked to work with more than 120 major CEOs and their management teams. He served on the board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for ten years.

INTRODUCTION

When Donald came home to tell his wife he had received a promotion and they would all be heading to Singapore, he was really excited. This is what they had been working towards for the last five years. Finally, he was being rewarded for his hard work and was being given the opportunity to lead his own business internationally. His wife was excited and also nervous about the changes lying ahead of them. Three months later they arrived in Singapore with their two small daughters. Finding the right home was daunting but they found a comfortable condo with a pool. The kids settled into school and the family found a new rhythm.

Fast forward twelve months and Donald was having a serious conversation with his boss that ultimately led to him being given a clear and pointed message: ‘Shape up or you will be shipped out.’ What went wrong?

Donald made mistakes and errors of judgement over those twelve months that negatively impacted his leadership credibility and lay the path for his eventual demise in the role and exit out of the organisation. So how could someone of his capability and experience end up making these mistakes? How did the organisation, a well-respected multinational company with hundreds of international assignments on the go, fail to set him up for success? Why did the local leadership team let this happen? Was he sabotaged? What could he have done differently to create a different outcome?

Unfortunately, this is not a made-up story. It is real, and it illustrates an all too common outcome for expatriate leaders. Studies put the failure rate at between 25 and 50 per cent.1 Internal hires, in general, fail at a rate of approximately 20 to 30 per cent and this rises up to 50 per cent when international expatriate assignments are included. Failure most often occurs at or before the eighteen-month mark.

When you consider the obvious cost of a) recruitment, b) international relocation, c) transport, d) housing and accommodation, e) school fees and other benefits associated with expatriate assignments, the cost of expatriate leaders is enormous. In general, the cost is deemed to be between two to three times the total package. This does not account for the hidden expenses, including the time and focus of the organisational resources at both home and host locations. So when the assignment fails this is a significant expense for the organisation. It has been suggested that for senior executives whose base salary is above US$250,000, the cost of a failed expatriate assignment can be up to 40 times the base salary.2

So what is failure?

A failed expatriate assignment, at a professional and developmental level, is defined under three categories:

  1. The assignment is ceased early and the executive is recalled home.
  2. The executive is returned to their original position upon the end of the assignment.
  3. The executive is deemed to have not performed adequately and leaves the organisation.

For some industries, such as the mining industry, many expatriate roles are set up on a per-project basis with full expectation that the leader will return to their original role. This is not defined as failure, of course.

On a personal level, it has been reported that almost 50 per cent of expatriate marriages end in divorce, accelerated by the stress caused by international assignments.3

But there is hope

This book emerged from The Expat Program, a professional service delivered through the consulting business I founded, OSullivanField. Our work with expatriate leaders has developed in response to organisational requests to support leaders arriving to work in different countries. This holistic program has been developed to meet the needs of the expatriate leader, their family and the employing organisation.

We noticed there seemed to be seven foundation principles:

  1. All executives arriving to work in overseas countries want to be successful, and their families have made sacrifices to allow and support that success. No one embarks on an international assignment planning to fail. No one makes the effort to travel across the world to live in a foreign country while harbouring the notion that this might derail their career rather be a building block.
  2. Going to live and work in another country can be viewed (by the expatriate and/or their family) as being anywhere from a major inconvenience to a grand adventure. However, our clients tell us they are often surprised at the challenges they encounter. Expatriates talk about their need to work very hard to build up relationships. Their enjoyment of the country and lifestyle remains with them long after they leave the country but it is often seen to be an adventure that is less exciting than they expected.
  3. There are core transitions every expatriate goes through when taking on a new assignment. Successful expatriate leaders manage these core transitions, learn the new culture at personal, family, team, organisational and country levels while delivering to assignment requirements.
  4. While every leader is unique in their own right we have never experienced a 100 per cent unique assignment! All leaders who embark on an expatriate assignment experience the same core transitions and often encounter similar issues at leadership levels in their new affiliate. While the mandate they have been given as a leader in the new affiliate may vary from one organisation to the next, the pathways towards success are well known, well trodden and easily understood.
  5. Successful expatriate leaders work hard at building credibility and minimising damage that may occur through mistakes they inevitably and inadvertently make. They understand credibility is needed to gain the buy-in of peers, colleagues and direct reports to execute their mandate. This credibility is earned — it is not a right.
  6. Given the natural ambition of expatriate leaders, the need to develop core transferable skills is essential. There are nine core skills every expatriate leader needs to master and these will apply to every role upon which the leader embarks. These are outlined at the start of ‘Part 2: PALDER — a framework for expatriate leadership and at the beginning of each chapter in this section.
  7. Given the cost of each assignment and the cost of failure it is important that you, your family and the organisation all win by having a successful expatriate assignment. Implementing an integrated support program for an expatriate leader can increase the likelihood of success by two- to threefold.

Why this book now?

As outlined earlier, the failure rates for expatriate leaders are quite stark. The fact that expatriate leaders experience multiple transitions at the same time, and often for the first time, increases the likelihood of failure.

Yet there has been and will always be many successful expatriate leaders who have led organisations in international locations. These leaders leave a clear pathway to achieving their view of what success looks like. They have had the ability to develop interpersonal skills that relate at a local level. They have learnt to listen and learn and look for cultural norms that are different to what they have experienced before and to use these cultural norms as accelerators, as opposed to inhibitors, of change. Successful expatriate leaders have understood the need to manage their own transition and that of their family while executing the task for which they were employed. Finally, successful expatriate leaders are able to align their personal goals with those of the organisation both locally and internationally, and are able to consciously forge a path that will satisfy the needs of all parties.

Psychologists suggest that a pre-assessment of core traits can lead to predictive success rates. The ability to be open, vulnerable, keen to learn and the desire to enjoy the new and local culture are traits deemed to help executives be successful in a new environment. But our experience suggests this is not enough. Having worked with hundreds of expatriate executives we also understand that transitioning into the country, from a cultural perspective, is only part of the overall success. Being able to successfully transition to a new level of leadership in a remote, unfamiliar and unsupported environment is also a key part of an executive’s success. Lastly, being able to lead and guide one’s family to fully enjoy the experience of overseas living and working and leave with lasting, positive memories is a critical element in ensuring a successful expatriate assignment.

Different approaches

Organisations that support expatriates tend to fall into four different categories with regards to the support they offer expats and their families.

Little or no support

The organisation provides very basic relocation, transport, accommodation assistance and basic information about office logistics. This satisfies the short-term transactional needs and rarely goes beyond the first week after arrival in the country.

Cultural support

Many organisations offer short programs on explaining the cultural differences between the host and home countries, and the family of the executive are often included. Some organisations give insight into the host country’s history, political and education systems. While most executives are grateful for the information, many comment that it is while learning to lead the organisation over the ensuing three, six and twelve months that they really start to understand the local culture.

Financial and logistics support

Many organisations are generous in assisting expatriate relocation through financial and insurance means. While very welcome and financially rewarding, such organisations do not necessarily assist the expatriate leader to settle into the new role itself.

Role support

Executive coaching is a well utilised and known mechanism for supporting executives transitioning into the role. Learning to elevate the level of thinking that needs to be employed, the level of leadership required for the new position and the level of influence this has across the organisation is as much a nurtured and learnt framework as it is a natural ability. Many organisations support executives by providing an internal or external coach to work alongside them for the first three or six months. Traditionally, an executive coach will focus on the role only and will not take into account the multiple transitions the executive is experiencing.

A more integrated approach

Our experience in OSullivanField is that for expatriate leaders to maximise their effectiveness and for organisations to attempt to ensure success, an integrated program of support needs to be offered. This book is based upon such a program.

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Figure 1: Levels of support

An integrated support program ensures all five transitions are managed and the executive is planning for and executing each phase of the transition from the day they arrive to the end of the first year. The skills needed for each phase are explored and are, if need be, developed in conjunction with their coach. Preparation and practice for the highly visible events where the leader is on show are conducted, for example, messaging on the first day, first leadership team meeting, first town hall (whole of location or region) presentation to the wider organisation, the strategy development and cascading down the organisation and many other public events where the credibility of the leader is being tested by their audience.

Acknowledging the natural human fear that sits with every leader around potential failure, an integrated program helps build resilience and self-confidence by using evidence-based strategies from positive psychology.

Learning to lead remotely while managing up in a different part of the world is a skill most expatriate leaders have not yet mastered when they arrive in their new location. The need to do so is essential, given the organisation has expectations of successful transitions that are probably more demanding than the reality of how fast executives can transition on an expatriate assignment.

Helping the family to prepare and integrate into a new country — introducing them to strategies and circles of friends and acquaintances — decreases the potential risk for instability and allows for a more successful family experience.

My hope for this series

This series of books emerged from our work. It captures the conversations and the pathways developed for expatriate leaders to follow to ensure their success in their expatriate assignment. It shares suggestions to enable you to explore new ways of leading and to lead successfully internationally.

My hope for the book lies in four key areas.

Your success

Given the risk and ambition that lie in every expatriate assignment we hope you will have a successful assignment. You bring with you international experience that is valuable to the organisation. You leave with experience that will shape and fashion your leadership for the next and future assignments.

The local team benefits

We hope the local team will be enhanced. Teams and individuals can learn from their international colleagues who arrive on assignment, and indeed develop their own international career path in a similar way. As globalisation continues, the need to have wider and varying perspectives than those gained in your own country will become essential. Having worked for expatriate leaders, locally based executives will naturally widen their own perspective. For the leaders involved in recruiting the new expatriate, we hope the decision proves worthy.

The organisation benefits

We hope local organisations continue to embrace expatriate leaders and provide them with every opportunity to be successful. One of the advantages of expatriate assignments is that organisations as a whole get to increase connectivity to the wider world and become more successful as a result. It is important that expatriate assignments continue to provide a development ground for executives both inbound and outbound, and we believe this book will be useful for both the expatriate leader and those leaders who support expatriate leaders in organisations.

Your family has an adventure

We hope your family will have an adventure to remember and will enjoy their experience in the expatriate assignment. We hope that, with some careful planning, spontaneity and a dash of courage, expatriate families will reach out and enjoy their time.

How to use this book

This book is divided into three parts. ‘Part 1: Getting your bearings’ offers a brief introduction including history, geography, political and school systems and a general look at what makes Singapore tick. The role of family in an expatriate transition is also discussed in detail — the experience your family has will play a huge part in determining your success in your expatriate assignment. We cover the main points you need to be aware of in relation to your family, along with some thoughts and tips on how to ensure their experience is a successful one. This section also explores some the unique challenges faced by expat leaders.

Part 2 of the book focuses on you, the expatriate in your role of leader within a business context. We set out a framework, called PALDER, which looks at different phases of transition and explores what stage you should be at on a month-by-month basis. The core skills of successful expatriate transitions are fully detailed and the outputs associated with each phase are explained. Some frameworks are offered that will allow you to assess your leadership team and organisational culture; a framework is also included that is aimed at building team performance and holding the organisation accountable to their leadership mandate. We suggest you read Part 2 and come back to it throughout the next twelve months as you experience each transition in real time.

The final section, Part 3, is designed as a support section to complement the first two. Thoughts are offered on key support networks, how to work and how to work with your leadership team, mentors, confidants and other key figures in your network. Checklists for each stage are available for download, and tip sheets to ensure your success at key events are also available. A range of online videos is available that illustrate other expatriates’ experiences, typical scenarios faced and suggested pathways to success. There is a ‘Resources’ section at the back of this book and on our website that includes a list of useful websites for expats and their families (see www.osullivanfield.com).

The case studies in this book are all real stories that have been encountered through our work. The names, industries and locations have been changed but they have been selected as they are an accurate portrayal of the challenges and triumphs of expats in transition.

As with all transitions, your level of openness to change, your ability to learn new things and the degree of vulnerability you are prepared to experience while in transition will determine your overall success. The organisation has invested in bringing you and your family to Singapore because it believes you are the best leader for this job right now. This book can help you make that success a reality.

To help support you on your leadership journey, a number of supplementary handouts and worksheets have been developed to accompany this book. Head to www.osullivanfield.com for more information.

Being a foreigner: Padraig’s story

Growing up in Ireland I think I always knew I would live abroad. The Irish have moved overseas throughout the ages, sometimes not of their own choosing. Whether due to political or famine reasons we left our home country in our thousands and aimed for all continents. England initially settled many Irish emigrants. Then America called and opened her arms. Over time almost every country in the world had the Irish settle within.

Australia became a natural migration destination. Under British rule many Irish convicts were sent to settle the new country, and over time the Irish kept coming. The weather certainly helped. Anecdotally, today almost one in four Australians can trace roots back to Ireland somehow.

I remember the moment really well. Mike Murphy on the RTE television station in Dublin did a six-part TV show, called Murphy’s Australia, in the late 1970s. He traced a range of Irish immigrants to Australia, showcasing their journeys and how Australia had treated them since arrival. As an eight year old I was amazed at how much Australia seemed to offer. It was referred to as ‘the lucky country’ and the young child in me totally believed that to be true. Sun, sand, surfing, sailing ... while out the window of my bedroom in Ireland I could see sleet, snow and not much else in the pre Celtic Tiger era! At that point I decided I would eventually live in Australia; however it took almost two decades to actually achieve that, with time living in London and travelling across South-East Asia en route.

My first stop was Singapore. I had read so much about the strictness surrounding dropping litter and drinking in the streets that I was quite nervous! But for me Singapore was a delightful entry into a long love affair with the Asian region. The humidity was a shock and a good lesson for living in Sydney later in life. I can still remember my first taste of laksa and street hawker delights. While my initial trip was only for two weeks, I returned many times in later years and almost settled in Singapore permanently.

Moving to Australia and actualising the dream has had its ups and downs of course. The sun, sand and surf are exactly as I was led to believe. While I will never be a regular surfer there is no better way to spend a Friday evening after work between October and March than having an outdoor barbecue with friends after a dip in the water at a Sydney beach. Despite living here for twenty years I am still amazed at the animal life, the bush walks and the native fauna that is Australia. While I have seen many parts of the country I still have lots to explore.

Australia is a society that travels a lot. Everyone goes overseas regularly, be it to Asia, Europe or the Americas. What surprised me is that university students don’t travel. There seems to be a natural ‘leaving the home nest’ in many countries when children leave home to go to university. Maybe Australians are saving for their overseas trips but university students seem to live at home for a good many years. I have regularly reminded my children of their European heritage when it comes to planning university choices, i.e. feel free to leave home!

Singapore is a regular destination for Australians, whether travelling through Changi Airport en route to elsewhere or, in more recent times, to visit the emerging international city that is Singapore itself. As many other expatriates have found, Singapore is an easy and comfortable city to live in or to visit.

I now spend one week per month in Singapore. My work has carried me there and each time I leave Sydney for Singapore, I board the flight with a sense of ‘going to my second home’ and an optimism for the upcoming week. The lifestyle in Singapore is in contrast to my life in Sydney. I still am amazed at the low taxi fares, superb chilli crab and the ever-evolving skyline. While some argue against the style of government that is present in Singapore, there is no doubt that the country gets stuff done on time and within budget. Speaking to locals, they are happy living in Singapore and appreciate how the city has evolved.

If you have a spare hour sometime, ask a local taxi driver to tell you stories about the history of Singapore and the separation from Malaysia. Get them to explain how life has changed over the decades. Over my time travelling in and out of Changi Airport, I have noticed an overall increase in the national confidence. There is no doubt the city has earned its place as an international city despite its small geographic area.

Had my life turned out differently I would have moved to Singapore a number of years ago but now I get the best of both worlds, spending time in two countries. If you are travelling through Changi Airport, watch out — I might just be behind you arriving for another great week there!

PART 1

GETTING YOUR BEARINGS

1

TRANSITION OVERLOAD

As the expectations of leaders and of leadership have increased in recent times, so too has our tolerance for poor leadership decreased. The average tenure for a publicly listed CEO is now less than three years.1 When we consider the demands we put upon our leaders it is no wonder the failure rates can be very high.

With expatriate leaders, however, there are nuances to the causes of failure that are unique to the assignment. Primarily, multiple transitions are experienced simultaneously, compounded with this often being the first time this has occurred in the expatriate’s career.

Compound issues

Compare the experience of an executive living in Paris who is, say, managing a marketing function. The executive is then promoted to group head of marketing. In this scenario, the only real transition is their level of responsibility and peer group. There are no changes for them at an organisation familiarity level, at a family level, at a functional expertise level or indeed a cultural level. However, if the same head of marketing is then promoted to take on the General Manager role of an international affiliate, they will experience multiple transitions simultaneously and often for the first time. These transitions include: increased responsibility, complexity and visibility; cultural transition; increased pressure on self; and family stresses.

Increased responsibility

The executive’s role increases in responsibility from a functional role to a general role. They are now required to sync across multiple functions. Their previous functional expertise, while useful and having served them well to the point of being promoted to this role, could now hinder their success if overreliance in this area hinders an ability to adopt a general management approach. They need to elevate and expand their thinking and perspective in a horizontal fashion as opposed to the old vertical fashion.

Increased complexity

The level of complexity dramatically increases as often does the number of direct reports. Using our Paris example, this person would typically move from having a function of twenty to 30 reports in Paris to responsibility for 300 to 500 reports in the new country. Clearly, the opposite can also happen if someone was, for example, a Sales Director in the United States and is now a smaller affiliate’s Managing Director. They may experience a decrease in overall numbers from, say, 2000 sales representatives to 400 or 500 reports in the new country.

Whichever way it works, the implication is that how things worked in the old scenario is not necessarily going to be appropriate or effective in the new.

Increased visibility

Becoming the Country or Regional Head brings a level of visibility that expatriate leaders have often never experienced before. Depending on their sector and industry speciality, they may now be asked to represent the organisation at political meetings, with statutory regulatory authorities and other external stakeholders. This requires a unique approach and skill set.

Cultural transition