Feeding Tuna to a Vegetarian

An expatriate famhttp://www.dreamstime.com/-image26282564ily in our area is going home soon–long before they intended to. The local daycare that was taking their 6-month-old was feeding the baby tuna without their knowledge. They only wanted the child to have formula, so this was upsetting for them. Even more: they are vegetarians and plan to raise their child as one also.

Ooops! Different values, different expectations, different worldviews on a collision course.

To some degree, this is what happens every time people from different cultures work together. This is the minefield that we have to manage as multi-cultural leaders. People rely on their own culture for meaning and security. They rely on their own culture in order to understand this complex world.

In future posts I’ll discuss many topics that a multi-cultural leader must navigate well, but today I just want to mention two: motivation and feeling of well-being. Because of space, today I’ll just share some ideas on why these are difficult areas to get you thinking a bit, but in future posts I’ll  discuss some solutions.

Motivation. What motivates you may not motivate me. Why? Two strong factors of motivation are personality and culture. For example, sometimes an American (individualistic culture) will move many miles from his or her family for a new job with a 20% pay raise, while an African (collectivistic culture) sometimes will not be willing to move to another town even if the pay is much higher. Some cultures are motivated more than others by higher salaries.

Question: How can you motivate your team/employees when they are motivated by different values?

Feeling of well-being. Every person longs for a feeling of well-being, but may have different sources of receiving that satisfaction. Research has shown that are high individualists who live in an individualistic culture and high collectivists who live in a collectivists culture generally have a higher sense of well-being. Many teams, work groups, and employment arrangements have people from both individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

Question: How can a leader provide an atmosphere for team members and employees that will lead to greater well-being when they derive that feeling from different sources?

We’ll talk more about these things in later posts. Please feel free to share some ideas that you have.

3 thoughts on “Feeding Tuna to a Vegetarian

  1. Zach

    Serving in leadership in a multicultural setting has shown me how different motivation and a sense of well-being can be viewed based on culture. In your experience, what have been good ways to motivate people in a middle-eastern culture? How can you promote a sense of well-being within the same cultural context?

    1. Mike Williams Post author

      Good question, Zach. There are probably several answers, but two important ones are the need for affiliation (family, tribe, and group/team) and power (salary and position). In a work setting, getting Middle-Easterners to feel a part of the group focused on a task and giving them a title or position should be very motivating. A simplistic answer, but it should point us in the right direction.

  2. Scott M

    The other day my wife encountered this difference well being with our neighbor. My wife went over to our neighbors house for a visit. When she arrived, she was welcomed by a house full of sick people. In Western culture we stay away from people when we are sick because we are tired and uncomfortable. So my wife, having this thought, apologized for intruding on the family when they were so sick. She told them she would leave so they could be alone to rest. There response was, “Why would you want to be alone when your sick, stay so we can visit.” We feel more taken care of when we can rest, they feel care for when we visit. This question you have asked is a difficult one to answer for a corporate setting.


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