We all know that immigration is a hot button issue talked about by politicians, covered extensively in the media, and discussed on social media. So why am I bringing it up? Because in the polarized debate on the topic is often missing a key fact worth considering: immigrants make great business leaders.
I am not saying that they merely make good employees, neighbors, citizens or friends. Immigrants, by virtue of their backgrounds alone, often possess valuable qualities that make them ideal for leadership roles.
How do we know this? Consider a recent Harvard Business Review study on managerial diversity. Researchers surveyed over 1,700 businesses worldwide varied by industry and size and found that more diverse companies were also more innovative and profitable. Moreover, two of the three aspects that most significantly correlated with making organizations more innovative were the “nation of origin” and “gender” of the leadership.
I also happen to have a first-hand perspective on this topic: I am an immigrant to the United States who today is CEO of a thriving company that was made in America and is creating jobs here as well.
After moving from Spain in pursuit of the American Dream, I founded a number of successful online ventures before creating Oliver Gal, an art and home décor company. At the same time, I am growing that company I am continuously refining and expanding my skills as a leader by pursuing an executive management degree at Harvard University.
Oliver Gal, headquartered in South Florida but serving customers all across the country and around the world, has assembled an American-based workforce that represents 17 different nationalities.
That is to say, I know firsthand the direct correlation between innovation and a team of diverse collaborators.
Here are the three distinct qualities unique to immigrant leaders:
1. Immigrants Make Worldly and Supportive Teammates: Unlocking Growth and Boosting Morale
When you love the people you work with, you want to give them props as often as possible. So what better place to start than here? Immigrant leaders not only bring a lot to the table, but they’ll also often help you build the table first!
Immigrants often possess intimate knowledge of cultures that fall within a company’s demographic but may be outside the realm of an American management team’s expertise. This means that a diverse team can help tap into unexplored markets and unlock growth. In fact, the more diverse the backgrounds, the higher the likelihood of expanding into exciting new territories.
Further, a richly diverse workforce is typically multilingual. Even if you identify potential clients, you cannot sell them your product or services without effectively communicating with them. In the United States today, even a bilingual team of English and Spanish speakers have no way to reach the markets which can be engaged by organizations that draw upon multiple languages.
Every immigrant knows what it feels like to be an outsider. I know this firsthand. The challenge is for employers to create environments where new Americans feel welcomed, appreciated and comfortable speaking up and sharing their unique viewpoints. That’s where fellow immigrants can come into play – for natives and other immigrants alike. Not only does relatability create empathy, but they know what worked best for them when they first entered the company and can shorten and streamline the onboarding process.
Collaboration ignites when people share cultures and customs. The bigger the combination of viewpoints toward achieving a shared goal, the more likely that the company will arrive at a better, faster, more profitable avenue forward.
2. Immigrants are Adaptive Problem Solvers
An immigrant qualified for a leadership position has already proven himself or herself adaptive. That’s why it’s so important for American hiring managers to take a step back when considering ideal candidates.
Self-reliance is a key aspect of leadership – and immigration. Both require figuring things out as you go along, weighing pros and cons in real-time, and navigating an enormous variety of people. An immigrant begins honing his or her ability to adapt the moment they leave their home country. By the time they work their way into a leadership position, they have likely demonstrated an uncanny ability to adapt to the company culture and adopt it as their own. The same skill that makes someone a good citizen also makes them a great team member.
The mindset of a new American is also a differentiator. Often, those born in the United States take opportunities for upward mobility for granted. But immigrants typically look with greater enthusiasm upon opportunities for advancement. This makes them willing to do the hard work to help the company succeed.
3. Immigrants are Often Hard-Working Risk Takers
Consider the boldness required to venture into the unknown in search of the best opportunities possible. You could say it’s the ultimate form of entrepreneurial spirit. It’s one thing to start a new career, it’s another to do so in a different part of the world while adapting new cultures and new languages. To prevail despite facing so many levels of uncertainty is admirable and can be the foundation for strong leadership.
Don’t think this only applies to startup companies… but it is a unique quality ideal for startups looking to hire long-term collaborators. But in terms of taking the lead—whether it be a project, department, or the entire company—an immigrant’s almost innate willingness to take chances is extremely valuable. No progress ever comes without a degree of risk, and all companies, even the largest, must constantly stay competitive. Immigrants in leadership roles are a great way to help ensure that happens.
Furthermore, the current economy is innovation-driven and disruption oriented. Now imagine what the economy of the future will look like. Hiring more immigrants could help put you ahead tomorrow, and ensure that you are never left behind.
No matter how seriously companies take the need to diversify their leadership positions, America will continue to be home to hard-working, resilient, innovative, risk-taking contributors. And many will be immigrants. The best recipe for American economic progress is to attract and welcome skilled and motivated talent from abroad that can help strengthen the companies right here at home.