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Expat Career Management: The Explorer Adventurer Mindset

Being an expat has taught me to develop an explorer adventurer mindset, but you don’t have to be an expat to develop such a mindset, and use it to your advantage. An explorer adventurer mindset enables you to encounter strangeness, and embrace it. Your subordinate’s behavior can be reacted to at face value, or you can take the time to use this mindset to understand the root cause of their behavior, which may be cultural.

Expat Careers AbroadAs an executive focused on an expat career, explorers display more of an attitude than a specific skill. The explorer adventurer mindset views each different experience as an opportunity for learning and self enhancement, rather than an obstacle. Nothing should be taken as an insult to your own held beliefs; it is merely different than what has been encountered in the past. Experiencing these differences should be a basis for learning and expanding your people management skills

The more you embrace and engage with the unfamiliar, the broader your management skills will be—even if you have or end up having experiences like some of the below real-life examples.

I remember being driven into town, it was really cold, it was March, and it was minus something stupid degrees. I remember driving from the airport, thinking ‘this is it, I’m here’. I was staring at everything as we were driving down the road. I was staring at the people; I was staring at the cars, the buildings, just everything. I was thinking, wow, this is Mongolia.

Another expat told me:
In Armenia, the summers had temperatures that often exceeded 50 [degrees] Celsius and winters in which the temperature often fell below -40. The weather was the most extreme that I had ever experienced.”

This experience I must admit is the strangest and most dangerous I have hear about any expat encountering:
The Solomon Islands was probably the most extreme example of any place that I've ever lived. I remember in my early days, my wife and I woke up in the middle of the night with several locals standing at the foot of our bed with torches and knives. This was a very small country and one in which foreigners were not welcome.

Strangeness is everywhere, even within your normal business activities:
Saudi was newly emerging. It was very much a cash-driven society. Every day I had to get up at 5 a.m., go to our safe and take [out] a bucket full of money in sacks, and put them in the back of my car. I had so much that the trunk wouldn’t close.

I drove down to the central bank and asked them to take my money to credit our account. I could only get about half of the money I took with me to be credited to our account because there was so much; it was literally falling out of the trunk. It was fun, completely mad. You stopped at traffic lights looking over your shoulder to make sure that no one is running off with a million dollars in each sack.

As a manager, your most important challenge will always involves people. Can you work well with people who are different than you? This management mindset allows a manager to consistently explore root cause for human behavior, rather than reacting to behavior as it appears on the surface.

What’s important is not just your technical skills, but your willingness to work with others. Do your coworkers and subordinates think ‘the sooner he leaves, the better?’ Or rather are they pleased you have arrived. Through the explorer mindset you are able to manage your way through the strangeness in order to have a positive outcome no matter what you face abroad.

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About the author

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Alan RoyalAlan Royal has led large and complex IT and operations functions – as Chief Information Officer and, often in parallel, Chief Operations Officer – to deliver complex global projects across borders for companies like New York Life, AIG, and Manulife. He was the first foreigner ever appointed as an executive officer of a Vietnam State Owned Company, and in this role led the IT Transformation of the State Owned Financial Service Conglomerate Bao Viet Holdings. He collaborated with McQuarie University, Australia, to create an innovative set of management practices enabling better assimilation and performance of executives in trans-national companies sent to emerging markets. He is a regular contributor to BlueSteps’ Executive Career Insider, as well as Meettheboss.tv; and was featured in Harvard Business Review Online. Find out more: www.alanroyal.com.

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