Faced with these challenges, I made a real effort to understand the history and culture of Russia by taking the time to have deeper conversations with people about their country and local history, their family life, as well as sharing personal interests and experiences.
I actively participated in cultural celebrations and made the effort to speak the language and showed that I genuinely cared. More than ever it was not about leading with the head but with the heart to build trust.
It was through listening and showing my respect with people and their traditions that I was able to build good relationships and connect with people in a very different way than I was used to in the Western world.
For me, it was fascinating to learn about Russia's strong tradition in the arts (literature, philosophy, classical music, ballet, architecture, painting, cinema and animation) and how political and socio-economic changes after Perestroika (a political movement for reformation within the Soviet Union) three decades ago influenced the country's population and their approach across generations.
During this period art and culture were promoted and it was a way to socially connect. Literature, poetry, songs were part of Russia's daily life. Materialism was not part of their world. They did not think about the future and were quite fatalistic about what would come their way.
Times however have changed. In the new world Russians now have access to luxury, they can make long term goals, and they have choices.
Today's environment is very different, yet it is interesting how a number of old behaviours were still engrained in people's thinking while they are slowly adapting themselves to a changing environment with different rules.
Leading people across various cultures requires a different form of investment. By understanding the local culture and history of Russia I was able to work out why people behaved in a certain way, whom they trusted, how they viewed the world and what they valued most. It was through this I was able to connect and create a common sense of belonging.
They do say Russians are like coconuts – and yes it takes a while to get through. But once you do, you get access to it all. The relationships and friendships I built in Russia I believe will be forever.
Anouk De Blieck is ANZ's General Manager Human Resources - International and Institutional Banking.