ideas & insights

 

Making your case overseas

 

Collating feedback after an international conference in Jakarta, it amazes me as always the continuing polarity in presentation styles and how these impact across the cultural spectrum. From speakers singing and dancing among the participants to others standing rigidly behind rostrums, we had it all. Indeed, it became quite a topic in its own right around the sides of the event as speakers compared notes with each other. And the verdict? Cold, hard facts are still king in Southeast Asia.

At one extreme, the high energy, questioning, and very mobile US speakers – who also used lots of humour and self-deprecation, as well as potentially risqué subject matter – sometimes left our hosts less than impressed. The general drift seemed to be: “Why are they getting …

Who’s the fairest of them all?

 

A good friend writes to lament that changing the culture of an organisation is like changing the course of a supertanker at full speed. Less than six months into a C-suite role with a respected hospital he is leaving to go and do something better with his time.

When things are not going quite right, we often see new senior level executives brought in as fresh blood with the mandate to implement culture change. If they are lucky, an external consultant or an executive coach will have defined where the concerns are, and even if not, the first round of impressions and one-on-ones will likely highlight the issues.

And so the enthusiastic executive goes to work on the organisational culture with all the passion …

Feedback – the missing link

 

Know the quickest way to get friends to shut up? Ask them for feedback. I did a piece of leftfield writing a while ago, which I knew was weak, but wanted to hear from people I trusted where they felt it needed improving. Deafening silence. We love giving positive feedback. Nothing is more cheering and encouraging than praise – for the giver and the receiver. But when the news is bad… Same in the office. Feedback is an essential development tool, a gift (yes, it’s a gift!) we build on to grow as people and leaders as well as to judge how we are doing. Much has been written about how leaders should give this feedback, but one of the true qualities of a leader is how much …

What does your language say?

 

I love learning languages to see how they reflect and infuse the respective culture. There’s the superficial indirectness of my mother tongue British English – which often elicits the pained Dutch reply, ‘Why don’t you just say what you want?’ There are the numerous hierarchical levels of formality in Japanese, and the range of terms for older and younger relatives. There’s the seismic relationship shift in German from Sie to Du when the outsider is allowed in. There’s the external environment focus of the religious Arabic invocations inshallah and alhamdulillah and the similarly external Malaysian loan expression watudo? And then there’s the internal control orientation of Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.

On an organisational level, the language of an engineer is vastly different from that of a …

Cultural Intelligence in Malaysia – The Future?

 

I’ve been a matsaleh (a white foreigner) in Malaysia for all of two months now. Way too early to pretend to be an expert on the matter, but I can’t help but be staggered at what I have observed so far in terms of cultural awareness here.

Malaysia is a mix of Malays (50%), Chinese (30%), Tamil Indians (14%), and almost all else. It is a living, breathing lesson in cultural diversity. There’s a place and time (and holiday) for everything and everyone. True, the debate over the education system and, for example, the favouring of bumiputeras (ethnic Malays) in the civil service is political and strident, but in the day to day there is a remarkable level of cultural intelligence. As in Singapore at the …