Effective Business Leadership in Turkey
“Kelly, I’m having a crisis with my manager. Do you have time to talk?” As an expat CEO in Turkey, Tamara already ran a successful business that hired other expats, but this second start-up relied on local Turkish talent—and so far it wasn’t going well. She and her manager were pulling long hours to get this venture off the ground, and what at first seemed like small misunderstandings between them eventually escalated into a yelling match.
It ended when the Turkish manager threw the company keys at Tamara and walked out.
The sad thing is, it could have been avoided.
Leadership is often taught as if it is universal, but culture is at the crux of what people want and expect from leaders. When managing Turkish employees there are some key differences between US or European and Turkish preferences when it comes to leadership.
To build trust, collaboration, and effective communication on multicultural teams in Turkey, we need to integrate international management best practices with specific insights about Turkish culture.
Of course every individual is unique, but in general, based on my extensive personal experience and research, here are three insights that will help you effectively manage your multicultural team in Turkey.
Clarify Leadership Structure
The US and Europe promote a leadership style that engages with subordinates as equals, and encourages staff to take initiative within the company. However many Turks prefer a clearer employer/employee distance and a more directive approach to management.
- For effective communication, clarify your leadership structure to bring definition around how decisions are made and who is responsible for which decisions.
- Make sure you are talking to the right person about the right topic for their role. Managers should not be asked to do menial tasks, and subordinates should not be asked to take over tasks that would usually be above them. Anything seen as below them may be taken as an insult.
Build Relational Capital
When Turks ask questions about your private life, they aren’t being nosy—they are trying to build trust. In Europe and the US relationships tend to be utilitarian, Turks prefer to do business with people they know and trust on a relational level. This is part of why the personal and professional tends to overlap—deals are often negotiated over a meal, and business owners are usually viewed as a parental figure and expected to care employees and their families.
- Spend time getting to know your employees, both in the office and in social settings.
- Share about your own interests and family so they can get to know you. If you come across as impersonal or guarded, Turks will feel they cannot trust you.
From a western perspective, it may seem like Turks get offended easily, but this is a lot easier to work with when you understand the underlying cultural value: respect. We all want to be respectful, and here are three ways to show it in Turkish business culture:
- In a professional setting express politeness by addressing people with titles like “Bey” (Mr.), “Hanım,” or according to their expertise, like “doctor,” “teacher,” or “professor.”
- Before getting down to business, take a minute to ask Turkish employees how they are and how their family is doing to show that you care about them as a person, not just about getting work done.
- Embarrassment is felt acutely in Turkish culture, so when communicating a criticism or correction, approach the subject gently and avoid doing it in front of others.
After Tamara finalized the manager’s termination papers she joined one of our workshops to develop her Cultural Intelligence (CQ®). Using our research-based assessment and trainings, she gained insight into the underlying cultural differences that contributed to the conflicts, and learned how she could have managed these effectively for better outcomes. Since she developed these practical skills, Tamara says she uses CQ every single day to run her now profitable and expanding business in Turkey.
Culture Savvy: International quality, local insights.
Kelly Pınar Goodwin is an intercultural expert who has lived and worked around the world and now lives in Turkey while operating her business globally. At Culture Savvy, she pairs her local knowledge with research-based solutions proven to increase productivity and effectiveness in cross-cultural businesses. These solutions are used by companies around the world, such as Shell, Starbucks, Unilever, and Harvard Business School. Her clients experience outcomes like improved multicultural team collaboration and attitude, resolved workplace conflicts, increased customer satisfaction, and profitable entry into new international markets as a direct result of her work with them.
Linked In: Kelly Pınar Goodwin