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?

Why I Blog

I worked in the education industry for many years before I discovered that my passion was not higher education. Don’t get me wrong, I highly value education and have spent over 21 years of my life as a full-time student. I have loved my jobs and the institutions that I worked for. However, it wasn’t the halls of higher education that got me out of bed in the morning. At my core, my passion was about learning, growing, developing people and acting strategically. As I have shifted into consulting, these same passions – being strategic and investing in people – bring immense satisfaction to my work life.

That’s why I consult.

If you are familiar with the Strengthsfinder © tool, my top three strengths are strategy, input and ideation. This explains why I am at a loss when working in a room without a whiteboard.  I need to jot notes, diagram process and summarize ideas on a space where everyone can see them.

That’s why I blog.

My blog is my public whiteboard. I hope my ideas will stimulate your personal thinking and growth. More importantly, I trust that they will facilitate conversation amongst minds who seek to learn, grow and influence others. King Solomon once noted, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This is my ideal.

Welcome to my whiteboard!