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Earlier this year I had the honor and pleasure of hosting Aebi Schmidt at De Baak Seaside during their annual 2-day strategy meeting. Aebi Schmidt Holding (AHS) is based in Zurich, Switzerland, and 50 top managers from the global company came to the Netherlands for two days to take a look at the year past, reinforce their company values, and look at the way forward for 2012.

Aebi Schmidt is the leading system provider of innovative technical solutions for the cleaning and clearing of traffic areas as well as the mowing of green spaces on difficult terrains

Regular readers of this blog perhaps notice that I often take the intercultural view of doing business. I’m always looking for ways to help leaders to recognize differences and to leverage those differences for mutual benefit. And in preparing for Aebi Schmidt, my colleague at De Baak, Raymond Eilander, and I sought ways to highlight cultural value differences while helping the participants align to company values.

To my pleasant surprise, there was remarkable homogeneity amongst the values of the managers. Not cultural homogeneity — far from it. Amongst the Swiss, German, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Dutch and Spanish participants there was a great deal of difference. The homogeneity was among the company values. Regularly, consistently and pervasively, I heard the following values expressed:

  • The importance of innovation (how to find it, encourage it and enable it)
  • Building trust
  • Shaping change
  • Working positively towards solutions
  • Respect for others’ position and perspective

How was this possible? How were the cultural differences of seven different nationalities trumped by a strong company culture? Of course there are many reasons and causes to defining a culture, many if not most of them invisible and difficult to define. But in the case of Aebi Schmidt for me there was a very strong defining element to the company: the CEO Walter Vogel.

Mr. Vogel at first blush appeared to me, when I first met him in Zurich during the planning stages of the meeting, to be the epitome of the Swiss executive: impeccably dressed, formal, stiff and encouraging to deference. Even though I was on the mark regarding his sartorial taste, I was way off base about the rest. Walter (please don’t call him “Mr. Vogel”) put me immediately at ease and we had a very pleasant 2-hour conversation about what we should plan for his company.

Later, during the 2-day event, Walter clearly showed outstanding characteristics of an excellent leader. He was engaging, participative, continuously present but low-key, encouraging and supportive. During the entire 2-day event, he excused himself exactly one time to “tend to an emergency.” Within 15 minutes he was back and again in the flow of the program.

We’ve worked with many companies at De Baak. Some with success and some less so. Seeing the positive, supportive leadership style of CEO Walter Vogel was truly an inspiration and, in my mind, the well-spring of a strong, positive company culture. I find it significant that Walter’s #2 man, CFO Stephan Naef, has won Switzerland’s CFO of the year award. I can imagine the the supportive, encouraging leadership style of his boss had a great deal to do with it.

 

A relevant and well-timed email from Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, in honor of Martin Luther King, jr., the original “99%’er”:

Dear friend,
“There is something wrong with the policies, the priorities, and the purposes of our nation now. And we’ve got to say it in no uncertain terms.”

 

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said these words to a crowd of 1199 NY (now 1199 SEIU) healthcare workers in New York.

At the time, Dr. King spoke, depicting the existence of two Americas, one “flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality” and the other defined by inferior schools and people working full time jobs for part-time wages. “Most of the poor people in our country are working every day.”

Today, the gap between the rich and poor is the worst it’s ever been. The fight still goes on, and it falls to us to realize Dr. King’s vision.

What is the single most important thing all of us can do this year to further Dr. King’s vision?


Today, just like in 1968, the fights for racial equality and economic justice are inextricably linked.  Compared to 10 years ago, the average family in the U.S. makes 7% less. This trend is even worse within some of the ethnic-subgroups. In fact, the average Black household is making 14.6% less, and the average Hispanic household is making 10.1% less.

In a time when the excesses of Wall Street executives have been brought into stark relief, it behooves us to pause and reflect not just on the reasons for our outrage, but on the ways we can bring the vision of Dr. King into the world of the 99%.

I say to you that the work is not done. It will take all of us thinking, and all of us working hard to bring about Dr. King’s dream of racial and economic equality.

Tell us what you think we, as a people, can do to most effectively make that dream a reality.

For decades, working people in this country have quietly embodied King’s legacy by taking collective action in the name of justice and equality. But today, corporate greed and extreme politicians have aligned to launch an unbridled assault on this legacy, attempting to withhold opportunity from those who work hard.

The vigilance of the 99 percent movement is a contemporary tribute to King’s brilliance, and among the best ways to ensure that our leaders stop ignoring the “other” America. But it cannot end there.

Realizing King’s vision for America is about recognizing the value of the collective good, reinvigorating the belief that opportunity is a defining factor of this country and not simply a privilege for the elite. Through collective action, economic justice and racial equality are both achievable.

Thank you for all the hard work you do, and the work we will do together to make Dr. King’s vision a reality.

Mary Kay Henry
President, SEIU

 

During De Baak’s “Who Are We: Reflections on Dutch Leadership and Society,” we reflected on what leadership in the Netherlands was and what, if possible, other cultures could learn from the Dutch.

On 15 March I attended a MoveOn rally in Riverside, California (US) to express solidarity for the public service workers unions in Wisconsin who were being stripped of their collective bargaining rights. Again I stressed the benefits of working together, espousing the “Dutch model” as an ideal way to achieve sustainable solutions.

You can find my contribution at 04:35 🙂

Roland Berger says, “NO!”

Diversity & Inclusion is a strategic issue that belongs on the CEO’s agenda. Diverse and inclusive companies clearly outperform their competitors on the hard financials.

As CEO, surely you could be forgiven for seeing Diversity & Inclusion as a bit of a soft issue, more political correctness than business concern, and, if anything, a topic for HR.

Well, no. In fact, you would be neglecting a topic that drives tangible financial results and is a strong indicator of management and leadership performance.

More from an outstanding report from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

I had a meeting with the Imam yesterday in our city. Another  major step in getting local support for my Interfaith Dialogue initiative. Even though he is clearly a busy man in an important position, he was very generous with his time. For more than an hour we sat, drank tea and had a conversation about my idea for establishing an interfaith dialogue in Almelo. He was enthusiastic about the idea because it enhances his own mission. He said that even though his primary duty is to his followers, reaching out to the non-Muslim community is also an essential part of his responsibilities. Coincidentally (or not ;-)), I arrived at the same time he was giving a presentation about Islam and the mosque to a group of about 30 bureaucrats from City Hall. He regularly does the same with schools, civic organizations, other churches and the like. He said, “Even though we don’t proselytize, we do find it important to instruct others in our faith. After all, Mohammed (PBUH) was also surrounded by non-Muslims: Jews and Christians. It was also His responsibility to tell others about His faith.”

What I found most remarkable about our conversation was how learned the Imam was about Christian beliefs. And clearly how much respect he has for other faiths. In his presentation to the city employees, I found him somewhat defensive, without prompting explaining how the Islam is a peace-loving religion and the acts of violence committed in the name of Islam were perverting the teachings. Even though it’s understandable that he would do this, considering the amount of demonizing around the faith, I found it unfortunate. During our one-on-one, however, he was nothing but gracious, generous and supportive. I’ve clearly got the Imam in my corner.

It was interesting, even though the meeting went as expected, there were some interesting surprises. The first is how young the Imam is. A young guy, maybe in his early 30’s. When he was saying prayers and later in front of the group of city hall employees he was dressed in his ceremonial robe and headwear he projected an air of religious authority. But when he met with me he was wearing a simple business suit with tie, giving him the air of a junior associate with an accounting firm. I guess the thin, scraggly mustache didn’t help (no beard, as is the custom of most Turkish men). The second surprise, though it shouldn’t have been surprising, was that he spoke little Dutch. He is relatively new in his position, having been sent by Istanbul to Almelo for this assignment relatively recently. We had an interpreter, a young guy in his early 20’s. We got by, even though we weren’t able to converse on the level I was hoping to. Whenever the sentences or ideas became complex, the kid was a bit lost. He performed admirably, nonetheless. It was interesting to hear that every time he would translate for the Imam, he would, without fail, preface his text with “The Imam says . . . “.

In another outstanding editorial column in the NY Times, on “Özil the German,” Roger Cohen uses the metaphor of the absence of “the Big Man” in the 2010 World Cup in promoting not only teamwork, but intercultural teamwork.

Mesut Özil - Germany National team WC2010

First, the intercultural part: “My technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game. The discipline, attitude and always-give-your-all is the German part,” Özil is quoted as saying. And isn’t this what it’s all about? Searching for the added value in the marrying of different cultures. Of course it can be different – it often is different. But by looking for positive examples and potential role models such as Mesut Özil, especially for the youth, we open the possibility for more to follow in his path.

Secondly, on the second theme of Cohen’s article: how the Germany of Özil and Aogo is such a victory over the Big Man who destroyed Europe, and how we hope that the rest of Africa, not just South Africa, as well can see this as a model. I find the reader’s comments instructive, and there is one in particular that is very appropriate:

“I would disagree that South Africa doesn’t have a ‘Big Man’ His name is Nelson Mandela.”

Is it too much to hope that this year’s World Cup can provide an impetus for global change and universal acceptance?

This http://nyti.ms/9a8r1I is an article that looks at the new “hybrid leader.” Aspects of leaders that combine old and new, hard and soft, formal and informal, etc. Leaders such as Barack Obama, Carlos Ghosn (Nissan-Renault) and Indra Nooyi (CEO PepsiCo) are embodiments of this new “emergent” style of leader. The qualities named of these new leaders are:

  • Listen zealously
  • Seek the universal
  • Vary your cadences
  • Be radically pragmatic
  • Know your truths
  • Think both/and

All good advice, and also good qualities of anyone operating in intercultural environments.

What bothers me about this article is focusing solely on “bi-cultural” people, to use a phrase popularized for a time at De Baak, as foremost examples of this new leader. There doesn’t seem to be much room for someone to become this type of leader – you’re either born into it or you’re not.

I hope that young, aspiring leaders see this article, and the many others like it that are out there, as a model to strive for, despite its implications. That they realize that one can also develop oneself to change and adapt, whether or not one has the natural-born ethnic cred or not.

Certainly this is the only way to develop society, to hope that we can enlighten each other and change towards an ideal.

With thanks to @sifowler (http://bit.ly/bJ5dBD) for the reference:

Transcript can be read here

This video, originally a TED talk by Derek Sivers, talks about the value of “first followers.” These are the ones that transform leaders from “lone nuts” into people with a following.

My question is: what cultural aspects are at play here? This was filmed at the Sasquatch Music Festival (the original video can be viewed here) in Washington State in the US, roughly 250 km east of Seattle. The audience, as you can see in the video, is predominantly white, young, and have a reasonable amount of disposable income, considering the remote location and the fact that tickets a 3-day pass for this event start at €120.

Sivers uses the film as a classic example of how first followers define what leadership is, but how would this scene develop in other cultures? Would it develop in other cultures? In a society with a very strong group culture, what would the reaction be to one person dancing alone, if it would happen at all? In a culture with a strong hierarchical structure, would a single, shirtless guy be followed, without any symbols or other signals that would denote his hierarchical status?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A video compilation of the event held on 9.09.2009 at Amsterdam Bright City, in Amsterdam the Netherlands. Sponsored by De Baak, it was a look at Dutch leadership and society from various perspectives, Dutch and non-Dutch, about what we could learn from each other.

RT @TrainingJournal: Diversity should be threaded through ALL talent management activities http://bit.ly/aOAFRm

Includes an excellent quote from Claire McCartney, CIPD resourcing adviser and co-author of the report, “It’s important that organisations see talent management and diversity as more, not less important, in periods of economic uncertainty to outwit and outperform competitors through their people,” she said.

“By opening up talent opportunities organisations will benefit from a stream of differing views and practical answers to problems, helping them to reflect increasingly diverse customer needs and remain ahead of the competition.

My experience is that in times of economic difficulty, leadership in organizations unfortunately take exactly the opposite course of action: sticking with what’s familiar and comfortable, drawing back, playing it safe. Understandable in times of uncertainty, but a lost opportunity.

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Leo Salazar

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