Language has been a barrier to communication, especially among people of different nationalities, races, or ethnicity. In this episode, Dominique Ben Dhaou shares her professional journey and experience managing human challenges in multiple industries to reinvent people’s careers to truly fit their knowledge, values, skills, and purpose. She uses phenomenal collaboration skills that are powerful assets to getting things done in complex and uncertain business environments. Now, she is helping people realize the potential of having a better business with the right leadership skills.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
The Power Of Leading Multicultural Teams In This International Business World With Dominique Ben Dhaou
In this episode, I am delighted to have the wonderful Dominique Ben Dhaou as my guest. She’s Swiss and she is a leadership expert with a major corporate career behind her. We are talking about how we can adapt our leadership styles, how we can remain authentic and how we can deal with global teams especially when different people think faster or slower than others. In her bio, she writes, “Life is an experience to enjoy fully, every day. This sentence has been my guiding light since I was a little girl. As I was born in Switzerland, very early on, I craved exploring the possibilities that life offered me beyond my small country. I’ve been fortunate to combine this passion with an intense corporate career, working abroad, flying around the world, leading remote teams and taking critical business decisions was my successful reality.”
Dominique goes on to say, “After 30 years in a C-level career in the human resources field, I realized that my career was no longer driving me but draining me. I remembered my little girl self and realized that my exciting career was preventing me from experiencing and enjoying life, frankly, I was burning out.” She then says, “At 53, I bravely embarked on entrepreneurship, founding my consulting firm Point North International. My team and I successfully helped professionals and executives reinvent a career that truly fits their experience, values, skills and purpose. The impact and influence I now enjoy are the results of my vast experience, awards, advanced training and certifications I have acquired.” Now, I’ll have to say that in meeting and knowing Dominique, she’s so interesting and she has many useful things to say. I know you’ll enjoy the conversation.
Dominique Ben Dhaou, I’m so happy to have you on the show.
Thank you, Elizabeth. This is a pleasure. I was looking forward to this.
I have so many questions I want to ask you. Before we start though, let me ask you, who would be your dream interview. If you could interview somebody from history, who would it be, what would you ask them and who should be listening?
If I could go back in time, I would love to interview Albert Einstein. The reason why is I don’t know whether you knew but he’s studied in Switzerland, my home country. That would be one of the reasons. One thing I would ask him is what he keeps out of his years in Switzerland. What did he take with him from my country, what he liked, what he didn’t like and so on? I would definitely ask him about Switzerland.
The reason why I’ve chosen Einstein is that on one side, he’s the Nobel Prize, the smart physician, technical guy and I’m not at all. I admire that part of him. The other reason and the one I like him is because he had that jokey character and I love his quotes. I don’t know whether he was but that’s the way I picture him, a little bit like a naughty boy. Beyond being the physician, that’s the image I keep of him.
I thought it would be interesting to meet Einstein as a young man because you only see pictures of him with the gray hair after he was already famous. It would be interesting to know him as a young man, maybe go to the coffee shops and sit and talk and see what he was like there. That would be probably pretty obsessive. What I love about him is saying, “It’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” to talking about how he failed a lot of times before he got something that worked. That’s a very important thing for us to remember that you can fail and then keep on going.
His level of resilience and persistence has been a very high inspiration to me for many years. I also remember about him that he turned something impossible into something possible. Turning a tough situation into a possibility is what I like and that’s what I use with the people that I coach and mentor at the moment. It’s turning things that we think are super difficult into something that is happening.Turn tough situations into possibilities. Click To Tweet
I wanted to ask you Dominique because we both work internationally and we both work with leadership and management training. I’m always curious to interview smart people so that I can learn from them. You have a very interesting take on how you can adapt your leadership style especially if you’ve just been promoted or if you inherited a new team. Speaking of succeeding and failing, you find that the old systems don’t work anymore. How can we adapt and show that we can handle a new situation and yet still remain authentic to ourselves?
That’s super important. What I noticed is that very often, when people are promoted, when they take on a bigger responsibility that takes them, for instance, from a country role to a regional role or from a regional role to a global role, it’s not because they’ve been promoted that they’ve arrived at a destination, as we say. Very often what I noticed is that they try to match something that they think is expected and I’m trying to focus them on who they are internally to influence and impact rather than being a person that they think is expected from others.
I’ve noticed that it makes a huge difference in the CEOs or CHR roles or CFOs that I’ve mentored or worked with it. The thing that made a difference is to know yourself well enough to project what you want to project and to play with the tools that you have. Whether it’s the voice, the presence, the character or the personality to make the impact that you need to do, to have or to make that protection or reputation that is so important for you.
What I’ve noticed is those who don’t get there or failed before they get there is because they’ve imagined that this is the right thing to do and they try to match it whether they are like that or they are not and that doesn’t play. People can immediately see when you’re not being yourself and by not being yourself, you have a 50% chance at the minimum to be wrong or to be not appropriate in the time.
That’s probably coming from my background in the hotel business where you have to deal with the housekeeper and the cleaner but at the same time with sometimes the famous person who comes to visit your place whether it’s a hotel or a restaurant. To be able to juggle those two different kinds of audience or client whether it’s an internal or external client, has triggered very early in my career that remaining authentic and yourself is the best way not to do a wrong thing versus the others. When you know yourself, it’s easier.
Also, I would say that you were promoted because you are you. You are promoted because they like who you are so don’t change to try to be somebody else, although we all do that so often. That often actually is a way. If you’re trying to get a promotion, you still do have to be yourself because you have to be yourself when you’re there. When you’re trying to be fake or if you’re trying to put up a shell, ultimately, it will fall apart.
If you think about the energy that you have to demonstrate to be somebody you’re not, that’s as much energy that you cannot use to be impactful, to influence, to get your message across or to have the brilliant idea that is needed because your energy is taken somewhere where it should not. I’m a very pragmatic person. I’m very much into why use the energy where you should not and why not use it for where it’s expected like in innovation, creativity, influence, impact, leadership, motivation and engaging your team. That’s even more true when you deal with international people because the cultures are so different.
Also, chances are you are speaking a language that is not your first language or it is not the first language of your listeners. That’s always something to keep in mind.
I don’t want to pick on any culture but I’ve dealt with Italians who are not good at all in English and were super impactful because they didn’t care that much about the words and others who wanted to be so perfect that all the buyers that come into your head, I say, “I shouldn’t say that,” or, “I should say that,” or, “That’s the wrong thing,” was not impactful at all. It’s very much an internal bias of what we think is appropriate or not. When it’s not on your own language, I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter because you know, better than I do that communication is not about the language. It’s about a myriad of things. It’s about the hands.
It is partly about the language but that’s a piece of it. Who you are is more important.
Communication and impact depend on so many ingredients. The way you behave, your look about what you say, when you say it and the way you listen as well is of massive importance. If it’s not your language and you’re speaking in English to somebody who is not native English either, probably it is going to be even better because the person will see that he or she’s not more at ease than you are. That creates a connection because you share the same thing, which is not your native language. It’s even more important.
In terms of trying to be your authentic self, when you are promoted, when you were dealing with a new situation, a new team or a new boss, how is that different for men and for women?
I don’t want to go into generalization but what I noticed is that sometimes the bar of our expectations is not the same. Because we’ve been trained and used to be as perfect as we could be, it also creates a level of stress or a level of tension that tends to become our focus. When I’m dealing with men as my clients, it’s more about what tangibly, what pragmatically can I do to do to do this or to be impactful and so on.
Whereas the women I work with will always question themselves before they questioned the situation or the person they’re talking to. Men don’t question themselves as much unless they’ve come into a difficult situation or a difficulty in their career that forces them to question but even more so, women are always more critical with themselves and we want to be the superstar and as perfect as we can be.Communication is not about the language. It's about a myriad of things. Click To Tweet
That’s something that we are socialized to do as children. A friend of mine talks about how boys are taught to be brave and try things. If you fall down, you just get up and fix it. Girls are taught to be careful. I certainly know I was taught that I had to be better than everybody else because any failure on my part was a failure for all women. That was in the days when I was one of the early female directors in the opera business in America. I was representing all women.
It’s the same for people of color and minorities. If you are one of the few ones then there’s this pressure of, you have to be better than everybody in order to get there. Do you have any techniques or strategies? How do you forgive yourself for not being perfect? How can you set up the expectation with your colleagues inside your organization that you’re going to be who you are and you’re human? You will make mistakes.
Once you fail once, twice, or more, everybody learns through experiences and possible failures and that happened to me quite a lot until the moment when I realized that the saying that says, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is partly right. When you step back and when you look backward, history or past failures or past experiences don’t have the same taste or flavor as they used to in the right moment, in the moments where you lived it. What I’ve done afterward is to step back, project myself and think, “Many years from now, will I look at now in the same way that he feels now?”
Very often, you look at things with different eyes. What I noticed as well which I have to admit I’ve played a little bit with time is that when you’re not perfect, people like you much better because you were like them. They say, “Wow,” then that’s possible. A few people told me a few times, “What I like about you is that you’re like me at the end of the day.” When I was traveling the world in my C-level position and I used to visit the affiliates and so on. The fact that I made mistake and I was not any better than any woman in my position created a lot of relationships and connections with the people.
If they like you, there are chances that they will listen more to you. If they listen more to you, they’re feeling more engaged and more motivated. They perform better and you get more done. People don’t connect with people that are very different from who they are. By sometimes making mistake, you say, “Oops, I made a mistake.” It’s fine. Once I was asked to do a speech for graduation in China from university. The colleague who invited me said, “Can you speak at the graduation because it happens that we have nobody this year. Can you come?” I flew all the way from Switzerland to the South of China. I arrived the evening before and at that time, I had a trainee in my team, a Chinese trainee.
Before I flew, I said, “These are the words that I want to say in English. Can you translate that into Chinese for me phonetically?” He taped himself, he recorded himself and I listened and practice on the plane as I was flying to China during the night. The next day when I had my speech, I started in English and then I switched to Chinese. You can imagine my Chinese had nothing to do with China.
Until this day and it’s been a few years now that I’ve done that, people remember that because they had such a great time seeing me on stage speaking a language that nobody understood despite they were Chinese but they had a laugh and they loved it. It was not the boring speech that they used to have at graduation but it was simple. The most important is that I made the effort to speak a language I had no idea about and for that, they liked it. Sometimes by wanting to do it perfectly and not reaching that standard, it reaches the objective, which was to create that connection and remain in the spirit or in the head of the people as such.
I grew up hearing about John F. Kennedy who stood in front of the Berlin Wall and he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” When I started learning German and I realized that what he’d said is, “I’m a donut.” He should have said, “Ich bin Berliner.” I learned that later and my German family always laughs about that. They are like, “You silly Americans,” but at least he tried. Let’s talk more about leading an international team, especially a remote team. Do you have any strategies for doing this? Is this something that happens more and more nowadays?
It does and when you are leading a team with, for instance, Taiwanese, Australians, Americans, British and so on, for me, it’s like leading a team but the exponential difficulty makes it the trick. It makes the difficulty of leading that many people. What I’ve done is to have each of them explain what works for them and what doesn’t work. For some people debating, being critical, exchanging ideas and being forceful about their opinion was super important.
I’m thinking about my Dutch friends or my Australian friends. They need to have things on the table to be able to exchange, be critical and have some tension. Now, the Taiwanese would be petrified by that because what they wanted is to have respect, time, space and to be listened to and to have time to go through their own speech.
I made sure that everyone could say, “This is working.” Now, if we go in that direction, that’s not going to work for me. To be the conductor of an orchestra and you’ll understand from your opera background when you’re leading an orchestra, you want to make sure that the trumpet doesn’t play at the same time with other instruments. The role of a leader is exactly that. It is to conduct each of those instruments to the best of their capacity and their knowledge but to make sure everyone has a space and a say at the right time. It’s like an extrovert and an introvert. It’s the same trick.In promotion, what really works is connections. Click To Tweet
It’s also like the masculine or feminine or the multi-focus versus single-focus. I do a lot of work helping women learn how to get men to listen to them. It’s a large part of what I do and also, teaching the men how to hear what the women are trying to say even if it’s not phrased in a way that they’re used to listening to. You have to assume that single-focus people are speaking French and multi-focus people are speaking German or maybe French and Spanish so that it sounds similar but it’s two different languages. In terms of engaging the team, the people who think very fast, the ones who want to debate and challenge, how can you help them be patient with the ones who need to go through the whole process?
The role of a leader is more about being focused on others rather than being focused on ourselves as a leader. The energy and the attention that you give to the people, those who think fast, those who need to speak as they think, those who see their thinking and can’t yet express themselves is to moderate that paying attention to the non-verbal signs at times. For instance, as an introvert, you could say, “Do you need more time,” or to force to impose or to insert some silence when need be so that those who need to catch up, catch up and distribute the speech to each of your members so that everyone has a chance to speak.
To focus on their look to say, “I see you’re puzzled,” or, “Do you have questions,” or “Do you still want to intervene on that point?” It is to ask as many open questions as you can and make sure that you focus on how they look and what they express. Also, to not jump to conclusions because they said something especially in a non-English native team where you might say something and want to express something else. It’s paying attention to what they say, how they say it when they say it and giving space to everybody so that they can express their views.
Another thing that I found is to sit down and talk about it. To help the ones who are the more deliberate thinkers to do their deliberate thinking away from the meeting so that they’re ready and to give them the time to do the thinking. To tell the fast thinkers how valuable it is to have the deliberate thinkers with you and to be patient because what happens often that you find with the fast thinkers is they decide something very fast and it’s great. It’s the slower and the multi-focus people, the more deliberate people who will notice the side issues that the fast people might miss.
Sometimes, they might come across as the grumpy critical people who always find the glass half empty but you need the fast thinker, the innovators and the vigilant people. You need all these kinds of people in a team. Something that’s at times we underestimate is the value to start a meeting by asking, “How do you feel now,” quickly and not saying, “Great or not great or tired and so on.” What is the spontaneous emotion that comes to your mind?
After the meeting is, “What worked well for you and what didn’t work well for you?” What comes up in terms of words so that next time you meet or when you interact together, it works even better? It’s a work in progress. You don’t have a team that instantly form and does great right away. It takes time and it’s the role of the leader to temper and to be patient with that as well.
I have two more important questions for you. The first one is, if there’s somebody on your team or a manager who is not being generous, maybe never takes responsibility for the mistakes they make but always blame it on other people and who is always cutting people off. To me, that sounds like someone who’s operating from fear. They are trying to be perfect and they’re afraid but how can you help someone like that recognize what they’re doing maybe even if they’re not ready to understand it and is it your job? If you’re a team member is it my job to be a better manager or not?
You have to think about, what is the impact of what he does or what she does? Is it bothering people? Is it frustrating? Is it slowing down a project? What is the impact? To what extent is it important and impactful? If it is, I would say, “Yes, it’s your job whether you’re the leader of the team or you’re not.” It’s your job when you see that and you think you can help to make sure that that person is getting the support and the help to overcome the fear or the doubts or any emotions that can come or any model that the person may have in mind because he saw a previous manager doing like that and said, “That’s a good idea. I’m going to model that,” without thinking that it’s not a good model. You can’t get away from it and think, “This is going to go away by itself and it’s not my job.” It’s the job of a leader to make sure that everybody in the team has a positive or has an influence that doesn’t frustrate or doesn’t piss off other people or it doesn’t slow down a project.
What if they are at a higher level in the organization? Let’s say it’s a new boss or a new manager and you’re supposed to be doing what they tell you.
That has happened so much to me. Do you have to find out what would make them willing to change? What is appealing to them? Is it reputation? Is it not losing face? Is it performance? Is it revenue? What is the objective that this person would buy into it and use that objective as an ingredient or as a motivator to say, “If you want this, you could do that,” or “Imagine if you wanted to be like that.”
Those who are competitive, for instance, if you use competition as a trigger for change, they’re going to go into that because they want to be the best. The person who wants to be popular, you’re going to use that as a motivator or as an attractive nugget to say, “I want this as well.” You have to find what could be appealing to that person. I wouldn’t say it’s easy but it’s not so hard and use that as the bonus, as the incentive to do that change because they can get even more of this. If you’re dealing with somebody who wants to be on the platform and be recognized as the leader of the year, you’re going to use reputation and you’re going to use image as a trigger for change. That could be helpful for the person as much as for the team as well.
I often think, if they are officially above you in the hierarchy then who do they listen to? Can you get somebody else from the outside to talk to them because clearly, people like that? With that, let’s say you are a leader. You want to get a promotion but you haven’t gotten that promotion yet. How can you get the visibility that you need to show that you are the person who should be promoted?Mentors are always useful because they have an objective look at you and your career. Click To Tweet
What I noticed is people often don’t either use networking as a useful tool or use it not in an appropriate way because they have an image of what networking means. For many people I know sometimes networking means playing politics or pretending to be somebody they’re not and so on. If they turn networking into building authentic or sincere connections with people and creating that network internally of people who could help them not get the promotion necessarily straight away but at least get the information of what is expected. What great looks like in that team, in that department and in that unit at that position by creating the right network?
I’ve worked in massive companies where processes were very well settled and functioning in terms of succession planning, promotion and so on. However, what works is connections and by creating those connections internally. Sometimes we forget that creating a network internally is as important as creating a network externally when you’re looking for a job, when you’re looking for a client or when you’re looking for partner investors and so on. Human connections make the magic wand to get that visibility because you can be the best-kept secret but you’re still a secret.
Another point to that is that I find that women tend to network sideways. They will network with their peers because that’s comfortable. Men are often networking up a couple of levels. Make sure you recruit your allies, your mentors and your sponsors who are farther up in the hierarchy or someone who has been there before, maybe outside the company, outside the organization, who can advise you to think about where do you want to be in three years? If you look a couple of levels up in a hierarchy, whose job would you like to have? Who needs to know about you so that you can get that job?
Mentors are so useful all the way. We all know famous people who still have mentors also, although from the outside, they seem to have had everything they need and to have reached the top of the top. Mentors are always useful because they have an objective look at you and your career. They’re not coaches, they’re mentors. They can share their experience, what has worked, what has not worked and why. As inspiration, they serve a great deal at all levels for a long time until you’ve reached the end of your career, I would say, and beyond.
There are mentors that I keep in touch with still. This has been some wonderful Dominique. I could talk to you for hours about all of this. We’ve only barely scratched the surface but I would love to find out, how can we find out more and learn more about working with you or learning from you to ask some further questions.
You can definitely go on my website at PointNorth.biz. It’s Point North because I help people find their true North and what does make sense for them. It is the best way to find me and book a free discussion with me. I would love to get to know more about what is driving people’s motivation, challenges and so on.
Dominique, thank you so very much for having been a guest. Let me remind you that if you’re curious about how your presentation skills are doing, you can take our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition you deserve. I’ll see you at the next one.
- Point North International
- Point North International – Facebook
- Point North International – Instagram
- Point North International – LinkedIn
- Point North International – Youtube
About Dominique Ben Dhaou
Life is an experience to enjoy fully, every day. This sentence has been Dominique’s guiding light since she was a little girl.
Born in Switzerland, very early on she craved exploring the possibilities life offered beyond Dominique’s small country. She has been fortunate to combine this passion with an intense corporate career. Working abroad, flying around the world, leading remote teams and, taking critical business decisions was Dominique’s successful reality.
After 30 years in a C-level career in the Human Resources field, Dominique realized that her career was no longer driving her but draining her. Dominique remembered her little girl self and realized that her exciting career was preventing her from experiencing and enjoying life. She was burning out.
At 53, Dominique bravely embarked on entrepreneurship founding her consulting firm, Point North International. Today, Dominique and her team successfully help professionals and executives reinvent a career that truly fits their experience, values, skills, and purpose. The impact and influence she now enjoy are the results of her vast experience, awards, advanced training, and certifications Dominique has acquired.
Dream Interview: Albert Einstein