What I Learnt Before Even Starting My Assignment

As the time of departure is approaching I get a bit antsy. It’s a bit like before jumping off a cliff (with a parachute, I hope). And I noticed that I’ve been handling some things differently lately.


Take the recent reorganization, where members of my boss’ team were divided and ended up in three other teams. Where my
workload had been just about right before, it became insane to learn the new job A and take over part of job B from a colleague who moved on all while continuing old job C.

I could have imagined all kinds of reactions by my former self to this change. Arguing about the workload with my boss, yearning for a different job, complaining to everyone, pass on some work packages to other equally busy people, trying to ignore some tasks.

Instead I visualized myself in the near future: new boss, new workplace, new tasks, new continent, new climate, etc. When I thought of what I will go through again in a few weeks, I just accepted what was thrown my way here and now. It’s actually a good training to learn this thing called “change”. I realized then that the mental journey to my assignment had started way earlier than the physical one. And that I had actually learned some other things as well.


Next thing that surprised myself was what I’d call the “ownership mindset”. It started with a colleague from a charitable NGO mentioning how donation requests from her own company were mailed to all employees. Within seconds I went from “this is annoying” to “this makes kind of sense, being loyal to your company doesn’t stop at 6 pm”. When I shared my opinion with friends some days later I got the reaction: “50 years ago there was such loyalty. Nowadays we are doing a job we’re paid for according to work contract which does not entail being best friends with colleagues, being proud of our company or feeling an obligation to use their services.”

This made me think how far the alignment between ourselves and our company should go. Do we buy into the values, the strategy, the products, the success, the team, the boss, the top management, the brand, the salary, the work location, the work content, the rank or something else? We don’t really expect everything to be aligned, do we? But it certainly is good to have the most important features aligned.

Bridging the gap

I’m anticipating cultural differences to require increased communication effort, at least early in my assignment. We come from different social strata and economic backgrounds, might have different religions, race, education, gender, language, age, family situation, etc. By patiently listening to each other and confirming what we understand we can bridge this gap.

What is a no-brainer in international work relationships is actually not much different from what happens on the home turf (i.e. at work) whenever we meet new people. We might not understand them well (even when they speak the same language) and might not be able to follow their logic as we might have never experienced one of their kind before. But as we continue to meet and exchange information, we can gradually increase the mutual understanding and acceptance. It all came to me when a colleague mentioned why she can’t work together with a certain person. They are different in the following dimensions: gender, language, nationality, personality type, body language, rank. I wonder if there is too much to bridge or if there is too little willingness.

What I have not yet learnt are patience (can hardly wait to begin my assignment), tolerance (bad wine and service make me change the venue) and temperance (there’s a reason why I need to loose some weight). Well, we’ll see how that’s playing out.

Bottom line is: You don’t need an assignment in a far-away country to realize certain things. Reflect what you do and why you do it and already important learnings crop up.

Weisheiten_aus_der_HerdeTalking about all the lessons learnt: A friend of mine (Marina Parris) has just published a small book “Wisdom from the Herd” – leadership lessons delivered by horses. It is stunning and revealing to see one’s action mirrored by a horse, I can tell you! She is passionate about helping people succeed. Check out her German book, there will be an English version soon: www.blackdiamondpublishing.ch

(photo by Santi Molina on flickr)


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