Monthly Archives: March 2017

How do Cultural Imprints Affect Learning and Leadership Styles?

Businessmen recognizing one another

We all have cultural imprints (often unconscious) which influence our values, beliefs and perceptions of what is appropriate and inappropriate. These can vary greatly across cultures, and can also influence our learning and leadership styles. For example, what may be seen as strong and appropriate leadership in some cultures is seen as authoritarian/bullying in others.

I recently delivered a two-day Organisational Communication program to 55 MBA students at an Indian university. These were graduates seeking to become future leaders, and most of them had gone straight from completing their degree to the MBA. When I sought participant input, they were quite reluctant, except for a few more confident students, probably because they had several years’ work experience. Interestingly, the feedback I received from the participants at the end of the program was very positive, with the main suggestion for improvement being to make the program more interactive!

A friend told me that when he went to Korea to do some training a few months ago, he had taken a whole bunch of caramello bears with him, and when he gave a caramello bear to those participants who contributed, there was no problem getting interaction!

So much for learning. What about leadership in various cultural settings? It is becoming more common to have a culturally diverse team – good leaders recognise and embrace the cultural differences in their team, while approaching each team member as an individual. Some leadership styles are more prevalent in certain countries and cultures than others. For instance, some studies demonstrated a positive relationship between paternalistic leadership and positive work attitudes in the Middle East, Latin America, and Pacific Asia, but not in the USA. Paternalistic leadership combines strong discipline and authority with fatherly benevolence and moral integrity couched in a personalised atmosphere.

I was recently asked to intervene with a team involving significant conflict between the leader and particular team members. This leader had previously worked in leadership roles in South-East Asia, and had what I would call a paternalistic leadership style. While this might have been appropriate in previous work settings, it was not seen as acceptable in his current workplace. This leader’s cultural imprint was very different from those of most team members, and this appeared to be the main reason for the conflict.

One trait attributed to effective multicultural leadership is known as multicultural perspective taking. It is the ability to take the perspective of others within their cultural context and to adapt quickly when encountering individuals or groups from unfamiliar cultures. In our global economy, and within Australia with its great cultural diversity, it is becoming increasingly important for all leaders to understand and embrace cultural diversity and recognise the cultural imprints underlying this diversity.

How aware of you of your cultural imprints? How might this affect your leadership and/or learning styles?

Narayan van de Graaff

The Old Grey Mayor Ain’t What He Used to Be!

I’m old enough to remember a song of my childhood, with a slightly different title to that written above: The Old Gray Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be. Some authors maintain that this song referred to the performance of a horse, Lady Suffolk, the first horse recorded as trotting a mile in less than two and a half minutes – in 1843!

I’m obviously referring to mayors, many of whom are male with grey hair, and ‘old’ by some standards. I tried to access demographics on Australian mayors, but didn’t succeed, so my writings are based on anecdotal evidence, rather than solid statistics. A few weeks ago, I facilitated a one-day workshop for 17 councillors, three of whom were current mayors, and two being past mayors. Two of those five were women, and one mayor was probably in his early forties – definitely not old and grey. I also very recently ran a half-day workshop for a group of mayors as part of a Mayors’ Weekend program. Again, they were a diverse mixture, with some being women, some in their 30s and 40s, and some probably in their 50s and 60s. ‘Old’ has recently been redefined as 75 or older, so the above mayors were not old by that definition.

Many people may not be aware of the key roles that mayors and councillors play in our society. All NSW councils have between 5 and 15 councillors, who in effect, are the board of directors of their particular council. Their role is to govern the council – this involves overseeing the direction of the council, developing/signing off on the strategic plans, monitoring progress, providing effective civic leadership, appointing the General Manager and monitoring their performance, and so on.

The mayor has sometimes been described as the first among equals because of their key role. They chair council meetings, are the principal spokesperson for the council, and also lead councillors in exercising their responsibilities and ensuring good governance. They have a key role in promoting community engagement and cohesion, and representing Council in various forums and ceremonial functions.

In contrast to the governing role of mayor and councillors, the general manager is responsible for implementing their decisions, producing the strategic plans in consultation with the governing body, and providing advice as needed to the Mayor and governing body. The relationship between the mayor and general manager is a critical one, and some councils in NSW were dismissed a decade or so ago because that relationship had become toxic. Most of the councils I have worked with in the last 18 years enjoy a healthy constructive working relationship between these two key players.

I have the highest of respect for mayors. I believe that the allowance they receive (In NSW at least) is not commensurate with their critical role and the demands it places on them. It is a highly demanding job, and not one for the faint-hearted. Whether they’re ‘old, grey males’, females or relatively young, they certainly deserve our respect and support.

Narayan van de Graaff

How do You Score on The Original Australian IQ Test?

Years ago, as a recruitment consultant, I administered a battery of tests, including intelligence tests, which comprised abstract reasoning and other areas. I never then considered the extent to which they were culturally biased. I now know that it is very difficult to develop tests that measure intelligence without cultural bias. Some such attempts have been to eliminate language by designing tests with demonstrations and pictures, or by designing culture-fair (rather than culture-free) tests.

By completing an intelligence test from a very different culture to ours, we can experience some of the difficulties involved with culturally biased methods of testing intelligence. Try to complete the following intelligence test, before you read the answers. PS – I failed miserably!

The Original Australian Test of Intelligence (source unknown)

These items relate to the culture of the Edward River Community in Far North Queensland

1. What number comes next in the sequence, one, two, three, __________?

2. How many lunar months are in a year?

3. As wallaby is to animal so cigarette is to __________

4. Three of the following items may be classified with salt-water crocodile. Which are they?

marine turtle brolga frilled lizard black snake (circle your answers)

5. Which items may be classified with sugar?

honey witchetty grub flour water-lillies (circle your answers)

6. We eat food and we __________ water.

7. Sam, Ben and Harry are sitting together. Sam faces Ben and Ben gives him a cigarette. Harry sits quietly with his back to both Ben and Sam and contributes nothing to the animated conversation going on between Sam and Ben. One of the men is Ben’s brother, the other is Ben’s sister’s child. Who is the nephew?

a. Sam b. Harry c. Ben (circle your answer)

8. Suppose your brother in his mid-forties dies unexpectedly. Would you attribute his death to (circle your answer):

a. God b. Fate c. Germs D. No-one e. Someone f. Your brother himself

9. You are out in the bush with your wife and young children and you are all hungry. You have a rifle and bullets. You see three animals all within range – a young emu, a large kangaroo and a small female wallaby. Which should you shoot for food? a. Young emu b. Large kangaroo c. Small female wallaby (circle your answer)

10. Why should you be careful of your cousins?

Scoring Sheet: Original Australian Test of Intelligence

1. One, two, three, many….the kuuk thaayorre system of counting only goes to three…thana, kuthir, pinalam, mong, mong, mong, etc. The word mong is best translated as “many” since it can mean any number between 4 and 9 or 10 after which yuur mong (many figures) would be more appropriate.

2. While thirteen is right in European terms, it is irrelevant in Edward River terms. Their people recognise the lunar month as the time between one phase of the moon and the next appearance of that phase. The annual cycle is described in terms of environmental rhythms rather than fixed divisions of time. The “year” then is the time between the onset of one wet season and the onset of the next wet season – since wet seasons may be early or late, who can be precise?

3. The right answer is “tree”. This stems from the kuuk thaayorre speakers early experience with tobacco which was “stick” tobacco, hence it is classified with tree.

4. Crocodiles, turtles, birds and frill necked lizards are all classified as minh (which broadly might be translated as animals). Snakes along with eels are classified as yak, which may be broadly translated as snake-like creatures.

5. All the items are classified with sugar as belong to the class of objects known as may. Broadly translated, this means vegetable food. Even witchetty grubs found in the roots of trees fall into this category – so does honey which is also associated with trees and hence fruit.

6. “Eat” is the right word – well sort of, anyway. Kuuk thaayorre does not distinguish between eating and drinking, and they use the same verb to describe both functions.

7. The clues are easy for kuuk thaayorre. An avoidance taboo operates between mother’s brother and sister’s son. Politeness requires that sister’s son should never directly face mother’s brother nor talk to him directly in company. Sam and Ben are obviously brothers because of their unrestrained interaction while Harry, with his back turned to both his uncles is obviously the respectful nephew.

8. God has been equated with a mythological character and he is definitely non-malevolent. Both fate and germs are concepts foreign to the kuuk thaayorre belief system. No-one dies without reason and suicide is unknown to them, so the right answer is SOMEONE – which is the case in this sorcery riddled society.

9. The small female wallaby is the right answer. Emu is a food that may be consumed only by very old people. Kangaroos (especially large ones) may not be eaten by parents or their children. The children will get sick otherwise. Everyone knows that….don’t they?

10 Because some of them have to be avoided like the plague. For example, a male must avoid his father’s sister’s daughter, or anyone classified with her. Such relations are called poison cousins in Aboriginal English.

Narayan van de Graaff

Happiness at Work: You’ve Got to be Joking! (or not?)

Four smiling employees standing around their manager

I ran a workshop recently on Pricing for Fees and Charges, for a group of managers. An icebreaking exercise I do is for participants to introduce themselves, indicate their workshop objective, and share one interesting thing about themselves. One manager shared that she really loves her work. The others seemed incredulous that someone would actually love their work. I then asked everyone how many loved their work, and no hands went up! I can honestly say that with all the challenges and stresses inherent in my job, I do love my work – I was surprised at that outcome.

Why does happiness at work appear to be elusive, and what factors create (un)happiness for workers? Some recent research has shown that people typically leave their organisations primarily because of poor relationships – in particular with their immediate manager, but also with their colleagues and with the organisational culture.  The old saying, “People leave their managers, not their company” has some real truth in it, and contains an important message for all those in leadership roles.  While remuneration is important, it is usually not the key reason for staff turnover.

Happiness at work has been linked  to the degree of autonomy and freedom (e.g. to progress, gain knowledge and have some control over working hours and conditions).  The existence of mobiles, email and internet can be both a blessing and a curse. It is hard to imagine life without them. Yet they can add to stress levels, because they blur the line between work and non-work hours and can dramatically impact on work-life balance.

So much for external work factors, and their influence on our happiness. What about internal factors – our attitudes, willingness to take responsibility for our situations, and recognising that we have choices? According to Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work, the biggest obstacle to happiness is simply the belief that we are the prisoner of circumstances, powerless before the things that happen to us. We create our own experience, he adds.

The Mayo Clinic states that only 10 % of variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances. Most of what determines happiness is our personality and our thoughts and behaviours. It also states that how to be happy is the sum of our life choices. People who are happy seem to intuitively know this, and their lives are built on five key areas:

  • Devoting time to family and friends
  • Appreciating what they have
  • Maintaining an optimistic outlook
  • Feeling a sense of purpose
  • Living in the moment

The above findings are echoed by the Dalai Lama’s comments: “Happiness is determined more by the state of one’s mind than by one’s external conditions. Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook. The key to happiness is in our own hands!”

How do you rate on the happiness scale?  If low, do you see this as being caused more by external events or your own attitude?  What do you need to do to become happier at work?

Narayan van de Graaff