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The qualities of a good leader include honesty, dependability, effective communication, humility, perseverance and strategic thinking. Whether you’re the CEO of a global tech company or a first-time small business founder, these traits are crucial to be a successful leader in business. As a Chinese American born to parents from Taiwan, I began to immerse myself in other countries at an early age. In addition to traveling to 100 countries, I have also lived in eight across four continents, enabling me to not only experience the daily ways of life in other cultures, but to learn the languages as well. Since moving to Germany five years ago, I have become proficient in German — my sixth language.
While understanding multiple languages comes in handy while traveling and conversing with people outside of one’s “bubble,” there are many more benefits to it. As a CEO, my knowledge of other languages has led to an increased level of success. Leading a company requires a certain level of understanding across many different aspects, and learning multiple languages can help improve your leadership skill set in three significant areas.
1. Effective communication and empathy
The tone in which someone speaks usually gives a general idea of their emotion towards the topic or person. An effective leader is someone who is open to the ways in which others communicate, whether it’s employees or clients, and knows how to match a response.
Great leaders are also able to manage across cultures. Having knowledge on the background of many cultures allows one to understand cultural context — being aware of a culture’s history and major events changes how things are discussed. The history and context matter and can provide a better understanding of cultural nuance.
Understanding a language also allows you to better understand the cultural quotient (CQ) of where those around you are coming from. If you’re able to understand someone beyond just their words, it allows you to empathize and communicate on a much deeper and more impactful level as a result.
2. Perseverance above all
Personal growth has been a large part of my life — I have learned to step out of my comfort zone, and I have my immigrant parents, who did not speak English when they arrived in America, to credit for that. They taught me humility, focus and determination, which are all things I have carried with me, whether it was learning six languages or training to compete in the International Natural Olympia as a bodybuilder at the age of 40.
Persevering through the hard times, no matter how difficult it gets, is something that leaders need to place a huge emphasis on. This sets an example that may encourage someone else to keep going and can ultimately lead to increased morale and better business outcomes.
3. Challenge yourself
Another aspect of being an effective leader is challenging yourself. Living in eight countries across four continents has allowed me to see an incredible number of interactions and positioned me to communicate with others through ways other than language. Having minimal knowledge of a country’s language prior to moving there has been a challenge I have enjoyed. I have pushed myself to step outside of my comfort zone and tap into other ways of communication, including dialing in on the emotion someone portrays when speaking. This has taught me numerous tactics when it comes to problem solving — whether it was using hand signals while asking for directions or using words I did know to attempt to convey a sentence — I had to do whatever it took to adapt to the situation.
This has also proven to be valuable in the workspace. If there is a crisis, I figure out the best way to deal with it. If a deadline isn’t going to be met, I look at other options. Being challenged and pushed outside of your comfort zone has so many more benefits than you could ever imagine, and they’re all things you can carry with you in different aspects of life.
Effective leaders come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life. Personal experience plays such a large role when it comes to the way leaders manage challenges and expectations. I’m very grateful to have met individuals, from all over the world, who have taught me such valuable lessons that I utilize as a leader in the workplace and beyond.