As I witnessed the rain dancing against the window panes of the Mega mall in Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I started reflecting on how to lead a culturally diverse business team.
Thousands of Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans passed me in the hallways of this gargantuan construction and the Dalai Lamas’ wise words reminded me that at the core of it all, irrespective of what your nationality is or what your belief system is, in general:
“We all want to experience joy and avoid suffering”
A key question that every team leader should carefully consider is how do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?
How can we as a diverse team be united in the joys of experiencing an expanding and successful business with a wonderful and constructive culture and avoid the suffering of a failing business and the negative experience of a toxic culture? These are of course ‘loaded’ questions because inherent within these questions are the birthing of other key challenges –
How can we as Leaders create a relatively stable and inspirational environment from within which it is easier for each individual to unlock their vast potential when vast differences in upbringing, schooling, world views, and religious beliefs exists within one team. Especially when considering the ever changing and evolving business environment within which we operate?
Fulfilling the role of a Business Leadership coach, trainer, or life coach as the situation demanded over several years I have coached, Lead, or trained Pilipino, Chinese, Malay, African, and European people. A very key learning from my experiences is that a “cross cultural and shared understanding” can be created that transcends any spoken language or any national culture.
This common language and culture has many elements but for the purpose of this article I will focus on the three key aspects:
Have a united and focused purpose
When a united and focussed purpose exists for the business team that they collectively place higher than themselves the barriers of differences in upbringing, schooling, and world views can dissolve within their shared purpose. As business leaders we cannot refer to purpose too much, even more importantly that that, we must be living, walking and talking examples of the businesses’ purpose.
To simplify the concept of purpose it can be said that purpose is the highest intent for, or the very good reason why we do what we do. That reason is or should be even more important than ourselves. When we really love what we do and sincerely so our performance is likely to be very good, on the other hand if we totally dislike the line of business that we are in or totally despise our role within an entrepreneurial venture we are likely not going to unleash our unlimited potential.
It could be argued that the sole purpose for having a business is to make a profit. Through this article I argue that that is not a strong enough reason to sustain you and make you thrive even through difficult times. The strange thing is that when you truly live your purpose with all your might and tirelessly inspire your team to do the same the money comes anyway…
Servant heart and attitude
Rabindranath Tagore famously said:
“I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.”
A servant heart is universal and transcends cultural difference, a sincere and giving smile is a beautiful language of its own that needs no translation. If that ‘servant heart and smile’ is underpinned by well-developed people and technical skills it multiplies into a potent combination of character, experience, and wisdom that has great influential power within any culture.
Whether it is through the use of interpreters, and even if it takes great patience, even when a lot of mistakes are made, persevere until everyone in the team understands that servant leadership is the key to winning the minds and hearts of others.
When all in the team becomes aware that we were only ever meant to master ourselves and thereby become better servants to all, this heightened awareness can unlock the unlimited potential within individuals in the team.
Respect for people and their worldviews
My favourite poet Rumi said:
‘The wound is where the light seeps in’
Respect all as we could not understand each individuals’ pain and hardships unless we went through it ourselves. Have compassion for all as we, in general expect compassion when we go through hardships. We can only imagine what sets of beliefs we would entertain where we to grow up in a completely different culture.
My endless curiosity and determination to learn has served me well as a coach for when your interest in others is sincere they tend to ‘open up’ to you and share and thereby you fasttrack your own learning and gain insights into your co-team members worldviews which in turn greatly enhances the team dynamics.
Be authentic and acknowledge your vulnerabilities, ‘wounds’ and shortcomings and be proud of your strengths for then your team members will help you to overcome your weaknesses and learn from your strengths.