Expat Execs: Losing and Finding Your Authenticity

You were sent to a foreign land for a reason…

You are charged with taking the company’s high minded principles and plant them into this fertile soil.  You’ve been instructed to “stop at nothing” and “drive the change” remembering to “push hard” so that you can “move on to something even better.”

You engage your team with an impressive fiery passion.  You push and prod and pull – using all the skills that earned you this spot. Senior Management believes you’re the right person to wrangle this faraway company asset. And you’re going to prove them right…

But at 6 months in, it’s just not feeling right.  The tricks you learned to get things done at home just aren’t working.  The ways you work are so… “you” … that you feel like changing them would betray some inviolable part of who you are.  Your previous teams always related to you, understood you, even finished your sentences for you.  This IS you! How in the world are you supposed to change everything and still be….you? And if you do decide to completely revamp your approach and communication style, does that now make you an inauthentic leader? 

What to do when your authentic self just isn’t working

I, too, struggled with these questions. These feelings are real.   

I was so excited when I was chosen to go to Asia. But that high faded quickly once I figured out that the me I cultivated for so long…that authentic self…wasn’t getting it done. My tricks weren’t working at all.  My first response? I thought about just hanging it up. I was just too damn tired and frustrated to make this work. 

But that wasn’t really an option. I wanted to succeed. I had to succeed. My family needed me to succeed.

Changing yourself feels uncomfortable and even painful.  I didn’t want to change the deep stuff, but I knew I had to. And chances are, you probably do, too.  

There’s good news and bad news.  

Bad news first.  The bad news is that if you feel that it’s not working, most likely others feel it too.  You can fake it if you want…but everybody knows. It’s not a good look, for you or for them.

The good news is really good though.  There is absolutely no need for you to be fake. You can still be YOU. And it starts with a  humble, authentic request for help.

But wait, you say, I was sent here because I have all the answers…

Were you?  

You may be selling yourself short.  You weren’t sent here because you have all the answers.  You were sent here because you have the combination of factors it takes to survive and thrive here. That, my traveling friend, is a much higher compliment.  You were sent here because, in the end, your leaders think you have what it takes to figure it out.

The Solution: “Adding to” your Authenticity

 When you examine your story you may be missing one key element.  The things that got you here will almost never, ever, get you to the end of the story.  Those previously learned team building tactics and strategies for change are important, but they have to be augmented with new skill sets, new competencies, new tricks.  

This doesn’t change who you are…it enhances who you are.  And if you master them then the new authentic self you end up being is full of superpowers.  Superpowers that you would have never had before.

How do you make sure you are adding to and not changing your authenticity?

1.  First, know thyself.  (A 5am wake up call, a cup of coffee and a brand spankin’ new legal pad works wonders for this exercise.). 

It’s time for some deep, caffeine-induced thinking.  List the following: 

 The great:  list up why they chose you for this gig.  You’re talented.  You know your company’s strategies and culture.  You understand how to develop ideas.  You have a proven track record.  Pull out your last few year end reviews.  What does your boss have to say about you?  Where are your biggest strengths?  What are you doing well today?  What have people noted about your performance?

What’s not working?  The team isn’t grabbing your ideas quickly.  Your solutions that worked perfectly well elsewhere aren’t taking hold here.  It takes longer to get people moving.  List up all the frustrations you are having.  Go deep and remember, if you think it has any possibility of being a problem, it probably should be listed.

Diagnosis: Put yourself in a few of your team members’ shoes. What are the reasons your ideas aren’t hitting, your solutions aren’t solving and your thoughts don’t connect?  Remember, you’re looking at it from your team’s POV.  What do they think you are doing well?  Not so good?  Wrong?

Reflection: Spend some time reflecting on your three lists.  Where are the gaps?  Where are the small successes hidden amongst the perceived failures?  What can you do better tomorrow?  What do you still not understand?

Feedback: In small group settings, ask a few members of your team if your diagnosis of the current situation is close to being the truth.  

2.  Show your adaptability, resilience and helpful nature

  1. Adaptability- Are your ways really the best?  Are there significant market differences that you are not accounting for?  Do you ask with curiosity about how they have done hit here in the past?  Adaptability shows your team that you don’t believe your way is the only way.  They will see that you are trying to identify ways to make the team dynamic better.  They will want to help you in this.  You will come across as self-aware, reflective and an all around good human.
  2. Resilience- Do you maintain a pleasant demeanor?  Do you reserve your energy?  Are you conscious of how you affect your team’s energy?  Being aware of your face/demeanor shows the team you are in it for the long haul.  You are trying to make it better by looking first at yourself.  They will see that you are willing to go the extra mile to work through the issues you may have with this new culture and working style.
  3. Helpfulness, time, and generosity– shows that you are a person who cares about the feelings and success of others.  It shows you want to spend the time on the “how” you do things and not just the “what” you achieve.  The team will see that you are honestly trying to make a better way.

3.  Get a new set of eyes on your situation 

   Rocky had Mickey.  Tiger has coaches.  Warren Buffet has confidantes.  Why are you too good to seek help?  

  • Surround yourself with people who are not directly connected with your work and who will give you honest opinions.  You want the (sometimes) brutal truth.
  • Have a personal board of directors that puts eyes on your work.  Connect with others in similar situations.  
  • Get a coach.  You are not alone.  Get a business/executive coach.  Only amateurs believe they know what they need to make it work.  Pros get help.  

Congratulations.  You have just added to your authentic self!  

Remember that the things that got you here are not the things that will keep you successful.  You will grow and change and learn a whole new bag of tricks.  Admit what we all already know about you, you don’t have all the answers.  However, everyone has faith that you can figure it out.  Find them, share your thoughts, grow that new part of your own story that makes the authentic you.  

Read more articles at cranberryleadership.com

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