Multi-Cultural Leadership- Part 1

3D Office-smallOne day a manager walking down the hallway glanced into the office of one of his direct reports and saw him playing a video game on his computer.

The boss asked, “Why aren’t you working?”

The reply was, “I didn’t see you coming.”

Wow!  A little too honest.

But what is “honest” when you work on a team that is multi-cultural and one member’s idea of “honest” is different than another’s “honest”?

In Arab culture, the standard greeting is, “How are you doing?” to which the only acceptable answer is, “Good, praise God.” There really is nothing you can say if you are not doing well.

My “home culture” (American) is not too different. People greet each other with, “How are you doing?”  The normal answer is, “Good!” If you answer, “I have a slight headache today because I didn’t sleep too well last night and I’m worried about how I’m going to pay my mortgage this month. My daughter needs braces and my wife and I are having a hard time trying to decide when to do that and which doctor to use,” your friend will say, “Okay,” as he runs the other way.

The idea of “truth” and “politeness” from one culture to another is just one example of why it is so tough to lead in multi-cultural situations. It is difficult. But in this day and age, it’s hard to find anyone who has colleagues, customers, team members, or suppliers who are not from other countries and cultures.

This is a major test of leadership in the age in which we live and one that we have to deal with well.

Over the next few posts I’m going to share a little about how multi-culturalism affects our leadership and how to be a better leader in diverse cultural settings.

In future posts we will talk about how multi-culturalism affects:

Communication– how we exchange ideas and disclose information;

Trust– the basis of every human relationship;

Human resource policies– how we attract, train, and reward co-workers from various cultures;

Motivation– how we get peak performance from each co-worker when different people from different cultures are motivated in different ways; and

Performance reviews– how to assess a worker’s contribution when all assessment has, by definition, a cultural base.

So put away the video games (at least while the boss is looking) and think about how to be a better multi-cultural leader.

Question: How does multi-culturalism affect your work situation? What do you do to make the situation better? Please post some examples.

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