The Problem with the Wrong Side of The Road: Eight Lessons for Global Leaders

My trip to South-East Asia taught me a major life lesson – there is a significant difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘different’. In Indonesia, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of North America. While navigating  heavy traffic, I recall telling my wife that it was strange to drive “on the wrong side of the road”. Later that day I pondered my comment and questioned the assumptions that it carried. What makes the left side of the road ‘the wrong side’? Our cultures invisibly shape our perspective and beliefs. As we interact with people who see the world differently, we have a choice to see them as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’.

For the next two weeks I have the privilege of working with a client in Lithuania. As I prepared for my trip, I spent time reviewing the most extensive global leadership project to date, The GLOBE Leadership Study [1]. This extensive research project provides insights about how beliefs differ between 62 different countries around the world. The results summarize eight areas which are viewed very differently as we live, work and interact with different cultures.

1. Performance Orientation: This is the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, and performance improvement. Some regions have a high performance orientation (Switzerland ) while other countries do not place much emphasis on this (Greece).

2. Future Orientation: Some countries place high value on the collective encouragement and reward of future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification (Singapore) while others do not (Russia).

3, Gender Egalitarianism: This is the extent to which we seek to minimize or maximize the differences between men and women. A country such as Russia has a very high level of gender equality while South Korea has a low score in egalitarianism

4. Assertiveness: This refers to beliefs as to whether people should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive and tough, or nonassertive, nonaggressive, and tender in social relationships. The country of Nigeria has a high level of assertiveness while Switzerland has low assertiveness.

5. Individualism vs. Collectivism: Individualism pertains to ties between individuals which are loose while collectivism embraces the integration of strong, cohesive in-groups. Brazil is a highly individualistic nation while South Korea is a very collective culture.

6. Power Distance: This exemplifies the extent to which the community accepts and endorses authority, power differences and status privileges. Nigeria has a high power distance score while Denmark has a low score.

7. Humane Orientation: This category explains whether a society possesses the values of altruism, benevolence, kindness, love and generosity as motivating forces in a person’s behavior. The Philippines has a very high humane orientation while Germany scores low.

8. Uncertainty Avoidance: This is the extent to which ambiguous situations  are threatening to individuals, to which rules and orders are preferred and to which uncertainty is tolerated.  Switzerland has high uncertainty avoidance while Russia has low avoidance tendencies.

The ability to be a cultural catalyst is a skill which is increasing in demand in today’s global business world. The ability to understand and respond to major cultural differences such as the ones highlighted in the GLOBE study are essential skills for modern leaders!


[1] House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Effective Leaders Think Differently: 10 Quotes to Make You Think

I see and I forget

I hear and I remember

I do and I understand

Confucius

This week I have been poring through textbooks as I prepare to teach some on-line Master’s levels courses this fall. As I prep, I am reminded how much learning occurs through the ‘doing’ process. Learning is a journey that challenges our assumptions and helps us learn to think in new ways. The process of thinking differently must also occur outside of the classroom and is a critical ingredient in successful organizations.Warren Bennis, often considered the father of contemporary leadership, listed creativity and thinking outside-the-box as one of the most important leadership qualities.

Gareth Morgan, an organizational development expert provides a great reminder of the importance of this skill:

“Skilled leaders and managers develop the knack of reading situations with various scenarios in mind and of forging actions that seem appropriate to the understandings thus obtained. They have a capacity to remain open and flexible, suspending immediate judgement whenever possible until a  more comprehensive view of the situation emerges. They are aware that new insights often arise as one approaches situations from ‘new angles’ and that a wide and varied assessment can create a wide and varied range of action possibilities. Less effective managers and problem solvers, however, seem to interpret everything from a fixed standpoint. As a result, the frequently hit blocks they cannot get around; their actions and behaviors are often rigid and inflexible.”

Nurturing the ability to see things differently takes time and effort. As you consider the need to look at old challenges in new ways, here are a few of my favorite quotes to inspire you:

  1. I skate to where the puck is going to be. Wayne Gretzky
  2. The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. F.Scott Fitzgerald

  3.  A person who never made a mistake has never tried anything new.  Albert Einstein

  4. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Seneca
  5. People will not believe what does not fit in with their plans or suit their prearrangements. Barbara Tuchman

  6. What everybody knows is what has already happened or become obvious. What the aware individual knows is what has not yet taken shape, what has not occurred. Sun Tzu
  7. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

  8. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Russian General von Moltke
  9. Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is absurd. Voltaire

  10. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
What helps you break out of rut thinking?

The B-Word: What BUSY really means

I encourage you to evaluate how often you say the word ‘busy’ each day. Over the past year, I have been pondering the meanings of the word busy. It has crept into our vernacular and is so common that we likely do not realize how many times we say or hear the word each day. The problem with this simple word is that it is used as a euphemism. Underneath this four letter B-word, masquerades a definition.

Here are six things that I believe the B-word really means.

1. I cannot prioritize. Therefore, I feel compelled to do everything and that makes me feel busy.

2. I need to feel important. Our culture places a high value on busyness. Therefore, if I tell people that I am busy, it must mean that I am important. Can you feel good about yourself if you are not busy?

3. I cannot say “no”. Of the many demands on my life, I feel compelled to do them all, or at the least, as many as possible.

4. I’m too busy for you. By stating that I am busy, I am really saying that I don’t want to spend time with you.

5. I don’t know how to be still. Keeping busy can be a way of suppressing things that we do not want to deal with (if I’m busy, I don’t have time to think about it). Alternately, sometimes we haven’t learned how to embrace a non-busy environment (our media rich-culture makes it difficult to be undistributed).

The last reason is really a positive use of the B-word, but it still requires you to rethink how you use of it:

6. I really love my life…and my schedule is full of things I love to do. If this is the case, you are in a good place! However, you may want to consider the different ways people interpret your use of the word. Is there a more effective way to express a full life without it being misinterpreted (hint: the body language of a person that uses the phrase to mean they love their lives is very different than the previous reasons!).

As leaders, we need to assess how often we use the word busy. If we use it often, then we need to assess why we use it. When we have schedules full of things that we love to do, we’re not busy. Instead, I believe that we are fulfilled.

Warren Bennis: Remembering a Leadership Sage

Many of you are aware that Warren Bennis, a modern leader in the field of leadership studies passed away on July 31, 2014. Earlier today, my good friend Paul Sohn posted an excellent summary of some of his contributions. Rather than reiterate this good work, I share Paul’s content in a guest post.


If Peter Drucker was “the father of management,” Warren Bennis will be remembered as “the father of leadership.”

When I discovered Warren Bennis’ passing last Thursday, I remembered this man’s remarkable legacy. Bennis was truly a leader of leaders. It was Bennis who first said leadership is not a set of genetic characteristics, but rather the result of the lifelong process of self-discovery. That process enables people to become fully integrated human beings who know themselves and bring out the best in others.

The first book I read from Bennis was his classic “On Becoming a Leader” which catapulted by leadership journey. Here are my top ten quotes from Bennis which I hope will inspire you to become a leader of leaders. 

1. “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

2. “Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.”

3. “Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents. Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.”

4. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

5. “Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.”

6. “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.”

7. “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out.”

8. “The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”

9. “No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all your skills, gifts and energies – in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You, must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”

10. “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”

BONUS: Top 5 Leadership Books You Should Read by Warren Bennis:

1. On Becoming a Leader

2. Leading for a Lifetime

3. Still Surprised

4. Geeks and Geezers

5. Organizing Genius


Paul Sohn is an organizational chiropractor, purpose weaver, and kingdom-minded catalyst. Paul currently serves atPaul Sohn The Boeing Company as a LEAN practitioner, providing expertise in continuous improvement initiatives, building high-performing teams and processes to create effective organizations. Paul also serves as an organizational consultant and Board Director at the Portland Leadership Foundation. He is writing his forthcoming book on how to live intentionally as a twenty-something. Paul received a Bachelor of Commerce degree at University of British Columbia in 2010. Above all, Paul’s vision is to turn the world upside down by equipping, connecting, and transforming emerging Christian leaders and organizations.You can discover more about him on his website.