Multinational Leadership: How to Successfully Lead Offshore Projects

Updated: Oct 5, 2018



What are the most relevant challenges of leadership in multinational leadership?

Without forgetting the time difference, language barriers, different assumptions based on different cultures, I have experimented that using the right multinational leadership to manage resources is the most challenging one

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In the future, the offshore activities will also be challenged by other factors such as the research of innovation from outsourcing agreements, which require definition and motivation of overseas partners/contractors and then measuring the value created through innovation and delivery.


(Deloitte’s 2016 Global Outsourcing Survey)

Challenge your Multinational Leadership Style

When I joined my first international project, I had a chance to speak with some other professionals, showing off my self-confidence, enthusiasm and my ideas about how to manage it, and how I would have worked with offshore resources. The contrast between my ideas and their advice was a little bit disappointing.

The first lesson learned

Do not take for granted that you can take the challenge and start doing this without a preliminary activity which involves only you as a PM and not processes or methodologies.

The second lesson learned

Many of the best practices and leadership approaches and styles need to be reviewed beforehand. This involves your education, experience but, most of all, your mindset, and requires to adapt your skills to the different cultures.

We can start from the leadership styles from Susan Madsen, which I personally found to be fit-for-purpose.


Every PM always needs to adapt and possibly combine more leadership styles depending on the type, size, and context of every single project.

However, I have discovered that the challenge in managing multination resources is to adapt your styles to different cultures.

I started with giving a score of how much I have used each leadership style and added a priority in using them.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. That is why I started measuring.


Understanding Leadership Styles in Different Countries

The two experiences below can be considered as examples of adapting leadership styles around the world.

Case Study #1: Leadership Style in India

Context: Directly managing resources in software development and delivery

I have been lucky to meet one of the managers of the offshore facility, before starting to work with them.

  • He helped me in understanding some basic rules and how to adapt my skills to their

  • Take into consideration the central principle of a family as a unit= team as a family.

  • Establish benchmarks and encourage task achievement towards goals, to increase commitment.

  • Emphasise the roles identification and clarify boundaries between team members.

  • Encourage in the project a climate where people can thrive both personally and professionally. Remember to use the “what’s for me” concept when you discuss the assignments.

  • Do not demand more than what has already been set or outside the benchmarks. Otherwise, there is the risk members can sacrifice their family and personal interests to achieve goals and show commitments.

  • Sincerely ask about life and personal circumstances when appropriate as a standard communications style.

Well, I can understand how far I was before approaching these new amazing guys. I went through my previous self-evaluation and I can show you what the changes have been.

It’s quite a big change, isn’t it?


Case Study #2: Leadership Style in China

Context: Managing domestic vendor

In this situation, unfortunately, nobody could help me in understanding the basic rules before starting the project. I took the challenge to change my leadership styles in progress.

The only two strategies I have used
  1. Reading about the basic Business etiquette rules, and get the most of them

  2. Participating in a couple of meetings, with sales, technical and functional manager, assisted by a translator. What has been relevant to me was to observe the approach and the management style used to discuss and resolve issues and the feedback from the participants.

What a surprise when I have realized what the following managers’ characteristics were:

  • The Chinese believe that Great leaders must follow Chinese traditions. Translated to the IT environment or project one means their procedures and methodology may be better.

Tip: Do not force them to fully accept your project management methodology and techniques or whatever. Explain and speak about the benefits expected from using the processes and methods you have used in the past.

Ask for their opinion if they may have alternative options which can equally satisfy the triangle time-cost-quality. Play the card of knowledge transfer too, Chinese are eager to get something new.

If the proposals are not acceptable or you don’t receive counterproposals go back to your original requests (you are the customer, aren’t you?) and stick to them.

  • The role of a manager or team leader brings with it a status of honor, power, and respect. With a sphere of influence under their authority, they will do anything to keep the importance and the influence.

Tip: do not never undermine their authority. Try to sort issues out with them, ask for mutual respect.

When you need to take action, be a gentleman: inform them that you need to do something of unpleasant (for them) and ask, as a final warning, for a solution using their sphere of influence.

  • The known concept of “face” is one of the most important cultural elements which can influence the relationships with the team members. The “save the face” impact on the dignity, respect, and the company’s role. If a Chinese manager/team lead’s face is compromised, the personal and business relationship (which impact on the project) can be jeopardized.

Tip: if you need to discuss a problem/request with a lead or a manager, do not involve others in the first place, but first try to arrange a F2F meeting, chat, or send an email to the relevant person only.

You also need to consider repeating the process with other relevant persons if the issues involve other resources. Then facilitate the analysis of the problem affecting each single team member to get the explicit final joint solution to your request.

  • The Chinese don’t like to say no or it is not possible. Therefore, they can take longer to make decisions because the phase of generating a variety of possible solutions or responses needs to consider all the possible perspectives and the needs of all the parties. If the solution or proposal is not satisfactory, be expected that the process starts again.

Tip: firstly, always add contingency time in your plan. You should have two different deadlines: internal and that one which needs to be communicated to the vendor.( anticipation days).

Secondly, allow them to take reasonable additional time (your contingency one), but do not accept further delays (from your expected delivery date) and be ready to urge and solicit answers with strong determination.

The extreme solution is to warn them you will use the escalation process, or you will directly involve other people in the company to ask for additional support to sort the problem out. You will be surprised at the way these actions will speed up the resolution of the issue. (the threat is that they could lose face)

Now it’s quite easy to see how I had to completely change my leadership approaches:

It was a dramatic change in leadership style


Which process can I use to adapt my management style in different countries?

The first question

How do you see yourself as a leader?

Please give a score of how much you use each leadership style, give a priority in adopting each particular behavior, and your experience in using these leadership styles up to date. Relax: it’s a good moment to review and focus on your behavior: take advantage of it.

It is a self-assessment part


The second question

How do your team members/vendors/offshore resources see you?

Try to analyze the leadership models in the foreign culture, understand what is required and assign new priority and the required effort.

This is not the easiest tasks.

Read, ask for advice and information on Linkedin. And be expected to adjust yourself in the progress.

The expected output is to understand how you can adapt your skills and design the map of the new priorities to use them. Highlight the primary actions required to make the adaptation process successful. And stick to them. This is your personal development plan, isn’t it?


Here you need to do a research on each given country/culture.

The last question

What do you really look like?

Don’t wait until the end of the project. Periodically check the mapping out and review it. Evaluate where the gaps are, based on the impact of your leadership approaches vs project progresses. Take it easy and work at high-level.


Review your progress periodically.

#MultinationalLeadership #LeadershipStyles #India #China

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