Expatriate Managers: Powerful Or Powerless?

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Roger C. Russell
Catherine Aquino-Russell

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Abstract

This presentation will focus on expatriate managers for whom successful cross-cultural adjustment is imperative in overall effectiveness during overseas postings. Unfortunately, employers often blame the individual when assignments fail rather than taking responsibility themselves (Deresky 2002; Hodgetts & Luthans 2006; Swaak 1995; Tung 1987). A study of Canadians employed in international non-government organizations in Indonesia will be presented. This research focussed on describing the lived experience of these managers using their own words. Written descriptions were analyzed/synthesized using Giorgi’s descriptive phenomenological method (Giorgi 1975; 1985; Giorgi & Giorgi 2003). One of the research findings was the paradoxical feelings of powerfulness/powerlessness as experienced by the participants. Intriguingly, the expatriate manager’s position as foreigner (readily identified through ‘observable differences’), brings power and status, but also feelings of being powerless in certain situations. At the same time, awareness of one’s ‘minority status’ in combination with the large cultural differences between Canadians and Indonesians provides a potent and challenging lived experience for the expatriates (Mendenhall & Wiley 1994). The new knowledge uncovered may result in alterations of present international human resource management practices and strategies in relation to expatriation, thereby improving the performance of expatriates and organizations.

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