From New York to Mexico: Alice gets an MBTI® assessment, culture training, and follow-up expat coaching

Business woman with suitcaseWe all know at least one person who is so comfortable with herself and confident in her abilities, she has a hard time seeing someone else's point of view, right? Let's call her Alice: Alice works in a health care company in New York State. Let's say they make blood pressure measuring machines that use the latest wireless technologies, so demand is growing rapidly. In her office, the idea of

"it's not personal, it's business"

prevails, and achieving sales goals is more important than being on good terms with other sales people. Her friends affirm to her on a daily basis that it's inspiring to see her excel at her work, kicking ass and taking names. They also admire the apartment and wardrobe she is able to afford. Her managers reward her by explaining that her integrity and focus show what leaders are made of; ready to make the tough call, and then reap the benefits of defending her position. She continually receives positive performance evaluations.

When Alice gets sent abroad to lead a project in Mexico, she knows she is the most qualified to see it through. The move was short-notice and the shareholders were putting pressure on everyone, so she didn't have time to take the culture training she was offered. After all, she has worked with some of the Mexican colleagues before, they know her, and she has only moved a few hundred miles South.

She sets up shop, gets to work as she is used to, and soon hits a wall. She chalks is up to getting used to the food and climate, maybe even blames her new colleagues a little for not keeping up with her pace, and decides to bring her best A-game yet. She begins setting stricter goals, speaking even more directly in meetings, and gripping on to her leadership get-it-done beliefs, which have now become convictions.

This has always worked in the past, and gosh darn it, she is here to do her job.

What she doesn't realize is that in Mexico, an orientation to team work, the community, nurturing relationships, and an indirect style of communication are the norm. Alice's insisting on doing what worked "at home" is stressful not just for herself, but also for her team. The Mexican colleagues continue to be friendly and agree with her in meetings, but they no longer meet their goals. Alice doesn't understand what's going on, and can only tell her superiors that people are agreeing with her but then turning around and doing something completely different. She doesn't know what else to do.

Coaching to the rescue

Her US American boss usually coaches her himself, but in this situation he thinks someone with first-hand experience might have a wider angle. He agrees with Alice to add coaching to her performance goals, and encourages her to choose someone specializing in expat leadership issues from

Alice speaks to two other coaches before choosing to work with me. After our introductory call, we agree we're a good fit, clarify what her goals for the coaching process are, and get to work.

The Process

The first thing I do is send her login details to take the MBTI(r) Step II questionnaire. She did it before but couldn't remember her letters, so she goes online to fill it in again, and once the results are in, we schedule a debrief to confirm them.

Sample MBTI Step II result screenshot

I'm in Texas and we could do this through Skype, but for our first meeting I'd like to see where she's at, so I fly to meet her in Mexico. We spend maybe two hours going over the MBTI(r) Step II results.

Looking at Temperament

Once we know her personality type preferences, we have a better understanding of what motivates her. For example, people with an NF in their code are so-called Catalysts™ who thrive on meaning and identity. Catalysts are great people-people who enjoy watching others grow and fulfilling their potential.

People with an SP in their code are called Improvisers™ and thrive on freedom and the ability to make an impact. They're the firefighters and troubleshooters who love being in the action.

If Alice has an SJ in her code, she's a Stabilizer™ and is probably driven by a sense of duty, responsibility, and belonging. Stabilizers appreciate hierarchies and defined roles, bringing structure and security to their communities and companies.

If Alice has an NT in her code, she's a Theorist™, driven by competence and self-control. Theorists value systems, strategies, and analysis, and are often the engineers or inventors of society.

We can also start looking at what possibly motivates her team and build bridges of understanding.

Underlying cultural values and how they affect behavior

Whatever the underlying motivation, it is clear that her current working practices are not achieving the results she's expecting. There's more to the puzzle. We would therefore spend another two or three hours looking at the differences between how leadership and business etiquette works in the USA, and how it works in Mexico. We might even throw in some socio-cultural questions, because I know she's wondering why everybody keeps inviting her to their homes, and how she can keep the black widow spiders out of her bathroom.

Pulling it together

Now Alice has a basic idea of a) how the general cultural values influence behaviors of everyone in both countries, and b) how individual differences show up in people's personality types. Her homework is to read the materials I've provided, and start paying attention to her interactions at work.

For about 3 weeks, she will jot down key items and interactions, send me a bunch of emails, and we'll look to decipher those interactions in our follow-up coaching sessions. The first one or two sessions will be reactive and learning from hindsight, but soon enough she will have practiced flexing her behaviors into what is customary among Mexicans. This will enable her to anticipate and better prepare for important vendor negotiations and client meetings.

After a total of maybe five or six sessions, we have reached our coaching goals and she is happy to let me go and continue by herself. Her confidence in herself and her abilities restored, she will likely enjoy her time in-country, build a valuable network of like-minded professionals, and deliver her project on time and within budget. She's happy to be back in the saddle, her team is happy to do their work, and her boss in New York is happy he didn't have to pull Alice out, move her back, find someone else to mend the fences in Mexico, and that the project is safe.

Happy people all-round for an investment of about $3,000 over a six-month period.

Does this story sound familiar?

Maybe you've been an expat or managed one and think "yeah right, in an ideal world. I've had training and it was hard anyway."

Becoming more aware of yourself with the help of the MBTI® or other self-assessment tools is a great start. But knowing a four-letter Type without decent follow-up means you'll soon forget the richness and potential.

Learning about your own cultural preferences and the values of your new colleagues and host country is essential on an assignment, or even a quick business trip. But having a framework without decent follow-up means you'll soon forget the richness and application.

That's why coaching is necessary to reinforce the learning, practice the new concepts until they become habits, and have the support of someone who's been there. To quote Aristotle,

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.