Harvard Business Review on Global Leaders

I was recently forwarded this article written in the HBR and knew instantly you’d have something to say about it.  Up to now I’ve done most of the talking here, and I’m getting the feeling you might be tired of sitting in your chair hearing me drone on.  You’ve fidgeted, I’ve seen it, and your eyelids were droopy that one time at 4:00 a.m.. And I know, I know, I haven’t even let you go to the bathroom.  Since May.

Because when Melissa’s got the floor, folks, she’s really got the floor.

Since I’m aching for more dialogue here, please speak up.  Please read. Digest. Reflect. Discuss. And then respond. Frankly. Fearlessly. And remember we are all friends.

Respond to any of these questions or make up your own question and plug it in here. Because, again, we’re friends:

1) How have you experienced cultural empathy or the lack of it?

2) What do you think author Bronwyn Fryer means by “egolessness” with regards to cultural empathy? And do you have experiences that illustrate your position? (And if you have an ego, no problem, everyone does, so you’re in great company.)

3) What has learning another language done to your empathy, brain, spirit, world view?

4) Fryer points to a specific “huge hole” in the American educational system.  What do you make of her assertion?

5) How do you react to Fryer’s quote from USA Today, describing other countries’ view of Americans as “uncouth and obnoxious”? (Whuh?)

6) Tell us all what you’re doing to be culturally empathetic and, if you have children, to raise them so that they are.

Now. . .Please, relaaaax. This is NOT A TEST. But you will get a free neon yellow smiley Emoticon if you leave a comment 🙂

From Harvard Business Review:

. . .For C-Level leaders in global organizations, one single characteristic — “sensitivity to culture” (so-called “cultural empathy”) — ranks at the very top of the requirement list. This rare quality can’t be “taught,” or injected simply by working in an overseas office.

Cultural empathy requires a degree of egolessness, because you have to surrender the notion that your country, or language, or point of view is best. Cultural empathy means that you have to not just see through the eyes of someone who is different, but you have to think through that person’s brain. True cultural empathy springs from personality, early nurturing, curiosity, and appreciation of diversity.

But, very importantly, it also springs from deep exposure to more than one language. And this is where American executives fall short.
Americans are seriously lagging when it comes to learning foreign languages (http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2011/01/04/language/) . Only 19.7 percent of those surveyed speak a language other than English in their households. Contrast this with Europe, where 56 percent of Europeans speak a language other than their mother tongue (http://ec.europa.eu/languages/languages-of-europe/eurobarometer- survey_en.htm), and 28 percent speak two foreign languages.

As anyone who has ever learned to speak a foreign language fluently notices how each language shifts one’s consciousness. One day, you wake up and you realize you have been dreaming in the new language. Eventually you realize you are thinking in that language. And when you shift back and forth between, say, your native tongue and the acquired language, you feel like you are driving a car with a stick-shift; you are more involved and engaged in the experience. You take in more; you hear more. And you literally feel different; you are “more than yourself.”
This is because, on a physical level, your brain is processing things differently than it does when you are operating in only one language. Recent scientific research has shown that learning another language sharpens cognitive abilities and can even ward off some of the effects of dementia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3794479.stm) .

Babies who grow up in bilingual homes are more able to switch their attention and focus on the properties of both languages at the same time. And these babies grow into more focused adults: bilingual people are better at filtering out “background noise.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17892521)
These findings, combined with those of the experts in global leadership, point to a huge hole in the American educational system — one which has been growing since the 1980s, when educational values began shifting away from the arts and humanities and emphasizing the “hard”-skill stuff — math, science, and, yes, business. Increasingly, the subjects that give students a healthy appreciation for listening (music), global complexity (the humanities) and cultural empathy (languages) have been starved, if not cut off altogether in all but the wealthiest public schools.

Meanwhile, business majors — who now account more than 20 percent of undergraduate degrees (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/education/edlife/edl-17business-t.html?pagewanted=all) — don’t need to study the arts, the humanities or languages. To graduate, they have to pass basic, lower-division English composition and a social science course, but that’s more or less the extent of it. And since every business professional around the world has (happily for them) been taught to communicate well in English, American business students simply — and arrogantly — assume that they don’t need to bother with learning Spanish, or French, or German, or Mandarin, or what have you. (And in a pinch, they can always lazily rely on Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/) .)

Clearly, in an increasingly globalized world, all this is a huge mistake. No wonder that it’s hard to find talented global leaders, particularly in America, a country in which only 30 percent of the population holds a passport (http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-04/travel/americans.travel.domestically_1_western-hemisphere-travel-initiative- passports-tourism-industries?_s=PM:TRAVEL) . No wonder people in other countries perceive Americans to be “uncouth and obnoxious (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/travel/2007-08-23-faux-pas_N.htm) .”

No wonder that when list-makers name America’s best leaders, they consistently point to PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi (http://www.usnews.com/news/best-leaders/articles/2008/11/19/americas-best-leaders-indra-nooyi-pepsico-ceo), a multilingual Indian woman.

The U.S. has built its economic success on being a place where people around the world come to do business — just riding the New York City subway is evidence enough of that. But in a multipolar world, America can no longer count on everyone doing business its way. If Americans want to continue to lead global companies, they will have to become better global leaders.

Why America Lacks Global Leaders – Bronwyn Fryer – Our Editors – Harvard Business R…            Page 1 of 2

http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2012/08/why_america_lacks_global_leade.html            8/27/2012

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 thoughts on “Harvard Business Review on Global Leaders

  1. 1. In France, in Germany, in other countries I’ve visited. It’s important to be sensitive to how other’s think and adapt your style to theirs.
    2. I think egolessness was meant more as a lack of arrogance. I can’t assume that everyone understands what I mean when I use Seattle slang in Berlin. If I did, I would be arrogant. I have to let go of my ego and try to change my thinking to understand those around me and not assume they will do this for me.
    3. I understand language a lot better and can help others understand mine. I think it’s made me a better listener.
    4. The hole referred to is a lack of foreign language skills taught in American schools. I think that’s correct. American’s aren’t sufficiently encouraged to study foreign languages. They’re not required in most high schools. Many colleges don’t require them either. I think it would be a major step forward if they were universal requirements in the country.
    5. The quote is an international perspective that people outside the US see when they see our culture. It’s not a personal insult. It’s a cultural perception. It’s up to us to change their perception by being better people and trying to understand other cultures. It begins with you and me. If we do our part, the perception may begin to shift and become more positive.
    6. I live in Germany and intend to raise my children bi-lingual and bi-cultural. Enough said. 🙂

  2. Michelle, Bless your multicultural heart, girlfriend. Love that you’ve piped in here. I’ll just slip in that you are an American who speaks French from having served an LDS mission in Paris, and German from having studied German previous to that service, and from living and teaching language in Munich and you are now married to a German and are living in Germany. So you speak from a wealth of experience. I like your point about releasing one’s own thinking in an effort to adapt to others, to enter a culture with that posture, to remain very open and try to think as others do. And another excellent point is that going through the language acquisition process can make us highly sensitive to others’ language, can make us better listeners. (I also think it is extraordinarily valuable to be stripped of the power of words. One is reduced to one’s particulate self, humbled, made small, needy, vulnerable. SO important in that process of becoming more egoless.) All right then. . .another question: What does patriotism (a loaded term these days) have to do with egolessness and adapting to other cultures? Love to hear from everyone out there. . .

    • Ah, patriotism… It can be a difficult subject for me. I think, however, that the true patriot is secure enough in their appreciation of their own country to not be offended when someone has a different opinion. It’s also a sign of a true realist to watch for ways to improve their own country and by so doing, be on the lookout for other ways of doing things than what they’re used to, in the hope that they will find better ways to do it and possibly improve their own country. What do you think?

  3. Ok, let me weigh in here from those of us landlocked in the United States, or any other country. Many of us long for the chance to raise our family, even if only for a few years, across an ocean or across an intimidating border. But we have chosen careers that don’t bring us there. We know our family will be the better for having cultural compassion. Here are some options we have:

    We visit other countries. We learn about a place, history, people, culture, and we go there. We learn a little of the language. We are sociable on the trip, polite and respectful. And we eat a lot of delicious food from that place. This is rewarding and so worth sacrificing financially for this priority.

    But for many of us, the cost is prohibitive. ( We were only able to take our family of nine to
    Germany and Austria because we flew with the military. Our tickets there were a total of $143 and our trip home only cost us nine box lunches. Wahoo! On other trips we have taken one or two children.). So when it is too expensive to travel, there are other ways to meet the cultures of the earth. Fortunately, most of us live in places where there are people of different ethnic backgrounds. People usually love to be invited over, to cook with you, to eat with you, to share their story, to teach you about their countries. In this way we have close friends from the Philippines, Tonga, Haiti, Germany, France, Kurdistan, Argentina, Mexico, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Rwanda…. The list is a lot longer than this. Children follow their parents’ lead in wanting to open up their doors to more of the world.

    As for language learning, I don’t think we can pin this responsibility on our schools. What can the schools do if the desire to learn across borders doesn’t come from the family? What happens is that the schools will offer language courses, which sometimes are taught well, and then the kids are given the chance to go on a very expensive trip with their peers(!) on which they stay in American-like hotels and buy some souvenirs. Usually travel with the family is the best option, until teens’ older years.

    However, exchange programs are usually a great way to learn language in the culture, and service opportunities in other countries, which you can find for teens, are great, too. But affordable ones have to be searched out. It’s best to pray for opportunities like this and see what direction you and your children are lead to find.

    (Did the first part of my entry get sent before this part? Or did I accidentally erase it?)

    These are some of my thoughts on the topic, and we are still working On coming across the pond to live! Hopefully 2014.

  4. Lori, valuable comments, every last one. You’re right that being “landlocked” as you call it presents special problems when trying to develop cultural sensitivity, and no, not everyone has an international career and yes, few have the means these days to travel much with their family, particularly if travel requires transportation beyond the family car (and gas and car maintenance are expensive) and accommodations , which are expensive unless you have friends to stay with or a very large tent 🙂 So what did my parents do? I grew up landlocked, in a small, lovely but very insular valley in the Rocky Mountains. But my parents did what you have outlined so well here. A great deal of cultural curiosity depends on parental example. Example: a friend in the mountain west has had a string of foreign exchange students come live with her family, which,though still on home soil, also opens up the mind to other ways of being in the world. And no one can overlook the enormous cultural value (aside from all the others values!) of the extended service residency called the LDS mission.

    I do have to wonder, still, if there’s a systemic problem when the learning of foreign languages is not obligatory as, say, history, math, or computer literacy. Other landlocked countries (we can all think of plenty of central and eastern European and Asian countries that fit that bill) require as the most basic component of education at least a functional facility in one if not two languages other than the mother tongue. I’m going to dig my heels in here, but no amount of travel alone (even cruising 5-star travel) will replace actually dreaming in a new tongue. It’s not merely the question of inhabiting a culture for a while. Rather, it is a question of the culture inhabiting you.
    Thanks, Lori, for opening up a discussion!

  5. Sorry for the belated reply. I have been meaning to respond with observations from the life of our family.
    1. Until I was stationed in Germany for five years in the 1970’s, everyone and everywhere outside my little world in my part of the U.S.A. was just different and unknowable. Although I did study Spanish and Russian in high school and college, my exposure to the culture related to those languages was pitifully small. Even in Los Angeles during my teen years that had the beginnings of the Latino cultural exposure, they were just different. Not good, not bad, unless related to some other attribute like drugs or gangs. Finally in 1970 when I lived in Germany and did my best to know Germany from outside the perspective of my military community, which I tried to do as much as possible, I gained an introduction of European (not just German) life beyond my own stereotypes that came from being a kid that knew a lot about World War II and its actors. Much of what I learned in the 1970’s from Germany, France, Spain, the U.K., Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland was that they did things that I felt were better than the way we did them in the U.S.A. Sorry about the lack of an example here, not enough space. OK, just three. I like the driving style and the order of Germany better. I liked the dining experience better in Italy. I like the friendliness of the Greeks and Turks. But Europe is much closer to the U.S.A. than other spots. So it wasn’t until we began living in Asia (Taiwan and SIngapore) and working in Asia (Japan, Thailand, China) that I started really seeing and pondering cultures outside my own. So it has been a long slog for me. Now I view the U.S.A. much more through a different lens than before, and have a much better feel for people everywhere, principally from having worked side-by-side with them. But I don’t pretend to really understand.
    2. Egolessness. Hmmm. Maybe a willingness not to be so defensive (about my own culture). Or the Bednar talk “And Nothing Shall Offend Them”. I remember one time in Sevilla, Espana, I was eating with some of my military teammates and I had just finished explaining to one of my colleagues that it was OK, Gazpacho soup was supposed to be cold. Then in came a big group of American tourists, and the first thing out of one lady’s mouth was that the rolls were stale because they were hard. I was embarrassed to be an American, because by then I was “so enlightened”. But I guess I wasn’t yet really egoless was I?
    3. Spanish was the only language that I ever was proficient enough in to carry on a reasonable conversation. When I briefly crossed that threshold of being able to think in Spanish, albeit briefly, it opened up a new world. The only example I can bring to mind was reading something by Federico Garcia Lorca and feeling like I was really understanding what he really meant. But my minimal use of Spanish also unveiled my lingering stereotypes about languages. One time I was on a train from Venice to Pordenone and needed to get off at Pordenone (or end up in Trieste). So I tried to communicate with the conductor in Spanish. In my mind, an Italian conductor should be able to understand Spanish. After all, the countries are not very far apart and they are both Romance languages. Duh. We missed our stop and ended up waiting in a little shack in the Italian countryside for the westbound train to come. The best experience was in Pamplona in the town square one evening, just talking about the differences in poverty as experienced by those in Spain versus the U.S.A. Being able to do that in Spanish with a local was another stride in the right direction to cultural empathy.
    4. Languages were mandatory for college-bound students in my time. So I took Latin and Spanish in high school. Both were invaluable, but not for the reason you would expect. They helped me learn English grammar. I think it is very short-sighted and bordering on arrogance not to expose Americans to something other language. But frankly the way we usually do it is almost useless even when we do it.
    5. See “stale roll” comment in #2 above. Most of the time I want to stay as far away as possible from other Americans (or Brits) when I am in another country. But I have observed that Chinese tourists seem to be repeating our mistakes. Just my opinion.
    6. I consciously took work assignments overseas with the express purpose of exposing my children to life outside our Maryland suburb. And now we have a mainland Chinese daughter-in-law and wonderful in-laws in Anhui Province. It has enriched our lives.
    Sorry for such a long response.

    • Jack, it’s just about impossible to add to what you’ve written so well and so wisely. I LOVE your detailed response. (Will I ever cut off a commentor?!) It’s clear that you have life experience that gives ballast to your weighty comments. I especially liked #2, and the reference to Elder David Bednar’s talk about taking offense. It’s true that no one is as embarrassed (or offended by) their countrymen’s behavior on foreign soil than is the displaced countryman (or woman) him/herself. (I speak from experience, sorry to say 🙂 And I smiled at your Spanish spoken into the face of an Italian train conductor. Hahaha! I swear, train conductors must get some truly wacko passengers, since some of my best/worst linguistic moments have been nose-to-nose with train conductors. And yes, I’ve observed, too, that the Chinese pack of tourists seem to be repeating what American tourists used to always been criticized for. It’s worth considering whether that behavior (loud, entitled, consumer-bent) comes from a mindset brewed during the hey-days of a given country. . .?. . .Just a thought. And finally, that you have in-laws from mainland China and maintain a vital, loving relationship with your CHinese Daughter-in-law, tells us all something about true multiculturalism.
      Jack, you never need to apologize for such interesting and educational comments. We love them !

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