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
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