The most American German

No worries, Bernd is the most American German, I’ve ever met.

So I was introduced at the plant in Enoree, near Greenville, South Carolina, when my predecessor announced the leadership change. I wasn’t there. An employee from this plant later told me this anecdote.

I was very excited when I became aware of my task. As global manufacturing leader for one business unit, I was responsible for eight plants worldwide. And two of them were in the US. A German supervising American employees in the USA in an American company. What a challenge!

I had internalized intercultural advice to German managers in dealing with American executives. Rule number 7 was immediately getting to my mind. “Treat your American boss like a 5-star general. Remember: the boss is the boss. If you are the boss, act like a (benign) 5-star general“.

For me important, though, to do it my own way: Stay authentic. Understanding how the relations at the site work. Listen.

Before I started, I had thought a lot about it and prepared a strategy for my appearance:

✅ Convey to the plant manager that, of course, he manages his plant himself within the framework of the specified guardrails (objectives, strategy, purpose). I’m there when he needs me. He is always my first point of contact for all matters concerning his site. And I align it with him if I want to dive deeper into the site organization myself.

✅ Searching, challenging and promoting talent. Preferably and very gladly in personal contact with the junior manager and accompanying him/her in his/her development path. Of course, always with the knowledge of and in alignment with the respective site leader.

✅ Plan and use small talk topics. Because: Small Talk is Big Talk. Sport as a topic almost always works. In Greenville there was a Red Sox farm team. My early expatriate experience from Boston was very helpful because I understood the rules of baseball well. Personal topics from family life are also confidence-building measures. Making connections is the be-all and end-all.

A few years later, my site visits had become a routine. I felt that I was welcome and that the site’s employees were looking forward to it. And it made me proud, that I was greeted at the entrance like a (benign) 5-star general: “Welcome, Dr. Bernd Scharbert, the Boss”.

➡ And what about you? How do you build personal bonds in intercultural contexts?


In Greenville, South Carolina

Related Topics