• Ralph Spangenberg

5 principles of successful intercultural executive coaching

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

Senior executives, C-suite leaders, and high potentials are typically well qualified and talented high performers. However, the challenges of global leadership and change can’t be solved by knowledge and hard skills only. What got you here to your current position, will most likely not be the same skill set that will get you to where you want to be in your career as a global leader. What worked at home may not work overseas. That’s why coaching can be a valuable tool.


An intercultural executive coaching program follows two main goals: to maximize potential and to minimize frustration. You have been introduced to different work and management cultures through expat training programs, by working in multinational teams, or by frequent business travel. Now you are ready to get to the next level of your cultural competence with a intercultural executive coaching program.


How many of you would agree that in today’s global business it has been best practice for years to provide executives on foreign assignment with intercultural training? Most organizations fully understand the value of preparing expatriates for the behavioral standards in foreign work environments. After all, successful overseas business often depends on how well team members are able to cross cultures.


Intercultural executive coaching is not a one-off initiative

While intercultural executive coaching can lay an amazing foundation for increased global leadership competence, it is also too often seen as a one-off initiative in many companies. The challenge with cultural work remains: how much information of a two-day intercultural training program will participants retain? And how much of it will they be able to apply independently weeks and months later?


This is why I recommend to most our clients a combination of training and coaching. So, here are the five basic principles for an efficient intercultural executive coaching:


1. Study the foreign: To build rapport with a coaching client a coach needs to diligently explore their culture of origin. This may sound like stating the obvious, however, the more a coach familiarizes himself/herself with the nuances of a client’s background the better. Of course, this includes studying about the various sub-cultures one may find in the country of origin.

2. Know thyself: Only if a coach is fully aware of his/her own culture will he/she be able to resonate with people from another.

3. Context trumps content. A coach needs to look at the context as the container of the client/coach relationship. Imagine a cup that represents the framework of the relationship. If this cup has a crack, any content poured into it will eventually seep out through the crack. Coaches shouldn’t use templates with their coachees. Every client is different. Defining what the relationship will be like is critical for success.

4. Some see this as optional, personally I make it mandatory: Once good rapport is established, there should be a written agreement which states how the coach will work with the client. Call it framework, contract, or Code of Honor: It helps to keep each other accountable.

5. Trust the process – That’s true for both, coachee and coach.


Intercultural executive coaching can definitely bring immense benefits to an organization. And it is critically important that companies select the right person for the job: a specialist coach who can help global leaders with their specific challenges on the job.


Intercultural executive coaching unlocks potential

So, an intercultural executive coaching program helps executives to look into themselves to understand where they can unlock potential, and also to see different perspectives and engage with themselves and their role as a global leader with greater clarity and understanding.

Cultural knowledge can be learned via training and increased cultural competence needs practice. A successful global leader should want a workout buddy to practice with. One who accompanies them on their journey to realizing their full potential in an increasingly diverse work environment. An Intercultural Executive Coach accomplishes this via a structured workout regimen which includes face-to-face meetings, regular coaching calls, video conferences, and email support.


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