A Creative Approach to Building Culturally Competent Leaders

Categories: Global Leadership, Global Mindset




Guest blog by, Mark Horoszowski, co-founder & CEO, Moving Worlds


Ricardo, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft is a high performer. With many years at Microsoft, he’s had a number of diverse roles, helping him gain valuable experience and be a more valuable team member.

But, like most employees, Ricardo also had an itch to make sure his work was contributing to the greater good. In fact, studies show that 74% of professionals want to have a purpose in their work and 53% want to make a positive impact. In a world where 70% are disengaged at work, yet only 42% of executives have a healthy leadership pipeline, these are vital indicators.

This is why Ricardo turned to Microsoft’s MySkills4Afrika program where he could travel to Africa to volunteer his real skills on a two-week assignment. While the roots of MySkills4Afrika are committed to first creating social good by transferring skills to changemakers working across the continent, MS4A also has a powerful leadership development outcome because it incorporates an experiential learning model: Goal setting, theory acquisition, experience, guided reflection.

Microsoft is not alone in offering skills-based volunteering programs (aka Experteering) to its employees as a way to engage employees while developing their leadership capabilities. And, for those that are using it as a way to develop culturally competent winners, tend to share some key lessons that companies can harness. And while Microsoft sends it employees overseas, and many individuals even pursue international projects on their own, you can find stretch growth experiences for your team that also contribute to the greater good at home, too. Here’s how:

Set clear goals

While volunteering is altruistic, it does have many benefits to the volunteer, too, so be sure to design experiences that align with your company’s, team’s, and the individual’s goals. Make sure that your employees set goals on what they hope to learn and how they hope to grow. Doing this with a manger-facilitated conversation is a great way to start.

Get a baseline

Whether employees are volunteering in a different part of the city, country, or overseas, they’ll be interacting with people that are culturally different on account of diverse personal and professional backgrounds. Cultural understanding is critical to building a healthy volunteering partnership, and so, before any work starts, taking the time to explore those differences will help build a more productive partnership. Before starting this experience, volunteers should take a cultural assessment (like Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart Profile to recognize their own strengths and tendencies.

Be intentional about finding a skills-based volunteering project that fosters growth

Not all volunteer projects will help the volunteer grow, nor make a positive impact. To make sure volunteers make a positive impact, and experience transformation in the process, an experience should be identified that allows the volunteer to make an impact and grow.

Locally: Volunteers can develop mentorship, strategy, and communication skills by volunteering their real skills in a Board Capacity, mentoring others for job readiness, or a skills-based volunteer project. Tools like LinkedIn4Good, Tapoot+, Skills For Change, and Catchafire can help find relevant projects.

Overseas: Volunteers can develop the fastest in their growth areas through a more immersive experience. Traveling across state lines or country borders is a great way to get a more immersive experience. As with before, identifying a project that aligns with existing skills but also stretches the volunteer will benefit both parties. This can include projects like leading a training in a domain area, conducting a consulting project, or even helping with execution. Along the way, the volunteer should work on transferring skills, too. Afterall, to teach is to learn twice. Platforms like MovingWorlds.org can help you find sustainable and ethical projects.

In general, specifically looking for projects in different geographies, in different industries, and in unique organizations will help stretch the volunteer to grow in their cultural awareness and effectiveness

Get feedback

At the end of the experience, re-assessing your cultural competencies with the same tool before (i.e. taking the GlobeSmart assessment again), asking your host for feedback, and discussing your transformation with a manager or mentor will help you realize what you did well and should continue to build on, and what else you might want to focus on going forward.

Guide reflection to instill learning

While the majority of learning happens through the actual experience, it’s the goal setting up front and the reflection at the end that turns a regular experience into transformational, purposeful practice that will truly create behavior change. As part of their experience, volunteers should journal their experience, and after, sit down with a manager and/or mentor to discuss ways they could have been more effective in their engagement, especially on cultural interactions, and what they can do in the future to model more desired behavior. Additional gains can be realized when volunteers present their work to their colleagues and foster discussion about how the lessons learned can benefit everyone.

To summarize:

✓ Set clear goals

✓ Get a baseline

✓ Be intentional about finding a skills-based volunteering project that fosters growth

✓ Get feedback

✓ Guide reflection and instill learning

The extra work might feel excessive to some, but it’s worth the investment. Finding stretch experiences in a business environment is rare, and there is no better place for your employees to find one than by volunteering their real skills in a way that will help make the world better in the process.

About the Author

Mark Horoszowski
co-founder & CEO, Moving Worlds

Mark is co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds, a global platform that helps people volunteer their expertise with social impact organizations around the world, on their own or through corporate-sponsored programs. The MovingWorlds approach has been adopted by Microsoft, Siemens, and Kering Foundation, and lessons have been featured in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Stanford Social Innovation Review. Mark is also an active contributor at Huffington Post Impact and serves as Adjunct Faculty in Corporate Responsibility at University of Washington Tacoma’s Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility.

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn