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Herd Behavior, Useless Meetings, and Solomon Asch.

An interesting blog entry from a Blanchard consultant. On the “uselessness” of meetings, his conclusion states, “When describing the attributes of an outstanding team member, we frequently include the word loyalty. Some well meaning leaders see candor and honesty as potential indicators of disloyalty—but actually, it’s the other way around. Pioneers should be honored, but frequently they are punished. Leaders should be informed, but frequently they are shielded. High performing teams are willing to tell it the way it is. This may be uncomfortable initially, but the long term payoffs are priceless.”

My response follows:

The reasons for meetings are highly contextual: on intended purpose, style of meeting management, level of personnel involved and situational urgency, as well as on company and national culture. Meetings in some countries are simply public confirmations of decisions already taken beforehand, whereas in others they may be truly necessary to gain consensus, and in still others a generator of new ideas through brainstorming. Or all three. In Dr. Asch’s research example, were the others around the table of equal social stature, higher or lower? Were they subject matter specialists and you are the only generalist?

“Truth” and “right answers” are almost never as clear-cut as Dr. Asch’s example. Nor are “high-performing teams who are willing to tell it the way it is” always the way to achieve results, long-, medium- or short-term. One person’s “candor and honesty” is another’s social faux pas or lack of respect, causing more damage than good. Don’t forget that any one person’s opinion is highly influenced by their own individual perspective, one that you may not necessarily share.

The best leaders, in my opinion, are those who leave open the possibility that they may be wrong, and are willing to “sacrifice face” in order to get to the more essential, more elemental shared truths. In Dr. Asch’s experiment, the true leader wouldn’t have given an answer at all, but instead would have asked “Why?” Why have you given an answer that I see as different? Why have you all answered the same? Am I missing something? It takes courage to ask these questions, and true leaders are those who display this sort of courage, instead of contrariness through “candor.”

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The following is an introduction speech for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on the occasion of his visit to Europe during Diversity Tour 2010, organized and executed by GrapeVine Promotions International. The speech kicked off a press conference held at the Steinberger Kurhaus Hotel, the Hague (the Netherlands) on 4 February 2010. I’m reprinting it in honor of César Chávez Day, 31 March, 2012

I was born and raised in California, on the west coast of the US, in 1957. When I was coming of age in the 1960’s, the most prominent civil rights leader for us was César Chávez. As head and co-­‐founder of the United Farm Workers, señor Chávez was the embodiment of the migrant workers’ struggle for basic human rights in California and the Southwest. He was, for us, the most visible figure in the struggle for human rights in general.

During his “Fast for Life” on August 21, 1988, Chávez was visited by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. Of course, by 1988, I had heard of Rev. Jackson and knew who he was. But Rev. Jackson was “East Coast” (according to Californians, pretty much everything east of Las Vegas is “East Coast”). He was for the blacks; he was distant. Chávez was our man, la familia, the one fighting for la raza. Until that day in August, 1988.

There is an iconic photograph from that day that for many represents putting in perspective the local and regional struggle for migrant workers’ rights in the larger global struggle for human rights everywhere. It shows Chávez, weak and thin from 36 days into his hunger strike, sitting in a simple wooden chair in the dusty sunlight. Kneeling next to him in the dirt is Rev. Jackson. Chávez is passing a simple crucifix that represents his “Fast for Life” to Rev. Jackson. The two appear to be praying together. At this moment, not only is Rev. Jackson accepting the Imagesymbolism of shouldering Chávez’ struggle, he is also accepting the practice of the fast. From this moment, he himself begins a 3-­‐day fast, going from this time forward with only water to sustain him, before passing the cause on to others. This symbolic struggle was then assumed by leaders across the country, which gave enormous attention to the workers’ struggle that Chávez advocated. After this, the plight of migrant workers in California became a national issue, thanks to the intervention of Rev. Jackson. But even more, for we “nativos” it symbolized a joining of forces. Jackson literally and figuratively offering his hand to Chávez, and to us, with a simple, “Hermano, sí se puede.

And of course that gesture has now echoed across generations and across continents, to where, finally, a man also from a disadvantaged background and of color, ascended the steps to the White House using the same words, “Sí se puede,” – “Yes we can.”

And to me, and to millions of Latinos over the world, the circle was made complete when as one of his first significant and lasting decisions as Chief Executive, President Barack Obama nominated the first Hispanic to the US Supreme Court: Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor. The hand that Rev. Jackson reached out to César Chávez was then offered to Barack Obama, and then through him to maestra Sotomayor. The circle is complete, and we are all stronger for it.

It is with great honor and humility that I introduce to you the pre-­‐eminent civil rights leader of our time, the champion of the voiceless and disenfranchised everywhere: Reverend Dr. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr.

Leo Salazar
4 February 2010
The Hague, the Netherlands

On the face of it, the Netherlands has a lot going for it. While it’s not particularly known for its spectacular natural scenery, it has a history of wealth, stability and well-reasoned politics. Well, recently anyway.

Despite this stable and reasoned background, the Dutch government is debating, today, whether to ban the wearing of the burka. Following closely on the footsteps of France (as they also did with the rejection of the EU constitution — ‘nuf said), legislators in the Netherlands are debating whether the burka can be allowed as an expression of religious freedom or be banned as a security threat and symbol of oppression of women and further (!) converting of Europe to Islam. Given the insecure economic times and perception among the majority populace that many of society’s problems are being caused by outsiders, guess which way they’ll go?

Enter Jitske Kramer and this reasoned and balanced look at the issues (cut/paste to your http://www.translate.google.com browser if you’re having trouble with the Dutch). A part of my comment:

“I see the burka-ban in the Netherlands along the same lines as the Sharia law ban in the State of Oklahoma in the US: a thinly veiled (pardon the pun) attempt to attack Islam by rabidly exaggerating a non-existent threat under the guise of ‘security’ or ‘cultural assimilation’.”

[This was originally posted on an old blog of mine back in 2007. I’ve resurrected it for a recent discussion on “Chinglish”]

Do you think there might have been one person at the Volkskrant who thought this headline might be offensive?

Some background: the title reads, “Only in China do they not know Klouif.” The story is in connection wtih the Dutch football great Johann Cruiff’s 60th birthday celebration. By spelling it “Klouif”, the editors not only make fun of those who cannot speak the Dutch dipthong “ui” properly (sounds similar to the English “ow”), but especially the Chinese who cannot pronounce the letter “r”.

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.

RT @HarvardBiz: Leadership lessons from Indian companies: good preview of an very good article http://bit.ly/bpzusc

The question is: can the rest of us learn from their practices? As Peter Cappelli astutely observes, the lessons are not new, and even though many are based on circumstances found unique to the Indian business environment, there are nevertheless inherent lessons.

Especially: measuring and tracking training and development and creating a real sense of social mission, whereby employees can feel that their work has impact can have clear influence on the culture and success of any company.

An atypically shallow article in NYTimes re: intercultural communication http://ow.ly/1hNgB.

I was quite disappointed in the article. It touched very lightly on the general status quo without really defining either the problem or the underlying causes. Then leapt immediately to the solutions.

And closing with the most likely apocryphal “When the British company redid the proposal with a positive spin, they got the deal the next day” only reinforces the shallowness of the article’s tone. It implied easy, simple solutions while ignoring the complexities of intercultural decision processes.

An ING Bank commissioned report gives a good, solid overview of major differences, including standard measures such as power distance, individualism, masculine/feminine and uncertainty avoidance: http://ow.ly/1fszh

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