The Treasure Map in Navigating Business Cultures


How many times have you wondered whether the person you were talking with really grasped the meaning of your message as well as its intent?  What was your response?  Did you summarize your point again with the hope that this time they would get your message? Do you look for validation that you have been heard correctly? What does it mean when people just politely listen, say nothing, and gently nod their heads while you speak?  The answer?  It depends on the environment in which the person was culturized.

In this globally-based workforce with intertwined business relationships, the most effective and successful leaders will be culturally savvy.  They will first understand their culture, the culture of those with whom they work, and adjust their style with specific strategies to bridge these cultural gaps.  Although technology will continue to be an important element shaping the business landscape, those who understand how to successfully influence people across cultures will be valued and highly sought after by companies.

Early in my career, I experienced firsthand being part of American business teams who left negotiations with Asian companies, either questioning how well the meeting went or being overly confident in the outcome based on their own cultural lenses.  Only when we returned home to the United States did we learn that we had not made as much progress as thought.  How can a team or even an experienced and talented business person successfully navigate these international waters?

culture-map-book-coverThe answer lies in reading the treasure map of cultural behaviors, which Erin Meyer spoke about at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit (GLS) at Willow Creek Church.  Meyer (2014) has studied business cultures and seen “the sad truth…that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work” (Meyer, 2014, p. 10).   Meyer (2014) concludes that without cultural literacy your default position will be to judge or misjudge others through your own cultural lens and assume that differences, controversy, and misunderstandings are rooted in individual personalities.   The truth?  Cultural patterns of belief and behavior frequently impact our perceptions, cognitions, and actions (Meyer, 2014).   In her book The Culture Map, Meyer defines the eight scales that map the world’s cultures and their location on the continuum.

  • Communicating: low-context vs. high-context
  • Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
  • Persuading: principles-first vs. application-first
  • Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
  • Deciding: consensual vs. top-down
  • Trusting: task-based vs. relationship-based
  • Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
  • Scheduling: linear-time vs. flexible time

Today we no longer fly to another country to experience different cultures, because diversity sits in the office right next door.   You may be an American supervisor of an ethnically diverse group whose style reflects the United States Culture Map.  Believing in treating everyone equally, you may be left confused when trying to coach each of your team members who come from China, Japan, Asia, and Eurograph-us-culture-mappe.   You may wonder whether your coaching is making any impact outside of your circle of American colleagues.  Your coaching style is likely straightforward with specific concrete examples (low-context) to back up your feedback couched with soft qualifiers (slightly indirect feedback).  You probably sandwich negative feedback between two positives.  Your Dutch subordinate expects direct feedback, so he may likely misinterpret the degree and importance of your message as he expects you to be straight forward with any negative criticism.   You may feel frustrated at his lack of effort and progress in affecting change.  Perhaps, you may even start to stereotype Dutch behaviors based on repeated experiences with that ethnic culture.   It is not uncommon for people to routinely experience a clash or misunderstanding of cultures.  If we learn about culture, suspend judgment, and build bridges between these cultures to facilitate trust, communication, and ideas, we would harness the potential of every team member.

Giving and receiving negative feedback is a necessary component of business but sometimes riddled with insecurity for both the giver and receiver.  How should constructive criticism be given and taken?  How should feedback be delivered to get the best result?  How much feedback is lost in translation?  How do the words absolutely, strongly, kind of, and sort of play out when delivering criticism?  The answer depends on the culturalization of the giver and receiver.   Certain phrases and qualifiers have different meanings.  Take for example a British colleague providing feedback to his Dutch counterpart.  He says, “Please think about that some more,” implying “That’s a bad idea.”  A Dutch or German colleague, who expects and is comfortable with direct negative feedback, would likely interpret that as “It’s a good idea.  Keep developing it.”

culture-map-tableIn business etiquette classes, we are instructed on the ceremonies which demonstrate respect.  In Japanese business culture, it is customary to exchange small gifts with visitors and present a business card with both hands towards the receiver who respectfully reads it upon presentation versus immediately putting it into his portfolio. Americans easily embrace these cultural mannerisms but fail to realize how communication and language may be used differently.

Frequently in my coaching practice, I reference scales ranging from 1 to 10.  Regardless of the attribute measured, I find when an issue between two people is greater than 2 units apart anywhere on a 1-10 scale, the two parties will need concentrated effort to resolve their differences.  Meyer (2014) confirms my informal conclusion when she states that “what matters is not the absolute position of either culture on the scale but rather the relative position of the two cultures” (p. 22).  Relative positioning determines how people will view each other.

Meyer’s (2014) first piece of advice when interacting with someone from another culture is to “listen before you speak and learn before you act” (p. 27).   Understand how culture will impact the conversation.  For example, the United States is the lowest context culture with Japan having the highest context in its communication.  In simplest terms, the people culturized in America tend to communicate literally and explicitly.  They value clarity and place accountability of the intended message on the communicator to accurately convey the meaning of the message (Meyer, 2014).   On the other extreme, Asian cultures often convey messages implicitly which requires the listener to read between the lines.  Good communication is layered and subtle, and the responsibility of its accurate transmission is shared between the sender and receiver.  The Japanese have been culturalized over many generations to become skilled at “reading the atmosphere.”

I find it humorous that education can further exacerbate the cultural divide, by moving people more towards the extreme version of their dominant culture.  Highly educated Americans are taught and encouraged to communicate more effectively in writing and orally and to take more responsibility for the messages they send.   American leaders are typically rewarded for having and implementing the answers within their organizations. On the other hand, Japanese leaders are listening more to what is meant as opposed to what is said.  In my informal survey of American and Japanese business people attending a meeting, I find that at least 75% of the words spoken are by the Americans and 25% by the Japanese.   The Japanese typically spend more time reflecting and reading body language and other non-verbal clues.  When they do speak it typically includes more clarifying questions.  Many times, my American colleagues have misinterpreted the meaning of a nod, assuming their Japanese counterparts are in agreement.  In truth, head nodding is more confirmation of being heard.

In decades past, businesses have been helped by having teams take the Myers Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) (www.myersbriggs.org) and participate in team-building exercises to understand how team members prefer to communicate, process ideas, handle data, and make decisions.  These business teams were more homogenized in culture, but today’s global business environment demands everyone to be equipped with a new set of skills that embrace diversity in the workplace.  Meyer (2014) delves deeper into communication and evaluating than what I can do justice and also takes the reader through a journey to explore other important cultural attributes.  Understanding, respecting, and working with the deep roots of various cultures will forge and strengthen relationships and performance.   Culturally diverse teams will continue to populate the business landscape and every leader would benefit from learning more about cultural diversity and its impact on business success.

Reference

Meyer, E. (2014). The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business.   New York, NY: Published Affairs. ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business and life coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership.  She partners with clients to help them develop and grow successful businesses.  She also works with individuals to create their life plans and build better relationships by identifying and living out their personal values, enhancing their skills and competencies, and holding them accountable to execute their defined goals.   Sandra welcomes comments, questions, and feedback at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com.

World Changers on Mission


Excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s El Salvador mission journal (October 22, 2016)


I am writing my last entry before our team departs for El Salvador.  God has been stirring up a lot of imagery and concepts with me these past couple of weeks.  In early October while enjoying a few margaritas and Mexican flavors with Matt and Holly Smith, I shared our calling to launch a group of people who would meet on a regular basis with the sole purpose of supporting each other as each moves out into his/her mission field.  Six months ago, Darin and I left our life group, because we wanted to use the time for service as well as to shinecrossings_textbasedlogoexplore a concept that God was placing on our hearts.  We desired to launch a group (unknown what it would be called then) whose sole purpose would be for missional living and outreach.  As Darin and I continued to focus on developing short-term mission trips to Kenya and El Salvador and serving in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and marriage/premarital ministry, this concept took a back burner.  However, on October 7th, Matt and Holly challenged us to launch it, and excitedly said they wanted in.  That night, as Darin and I laid in bed, I told him I thought God was telling us it was time!  God’s message was coming through the spoken words of Matt and Holly.  At that moment I committed to develop the program before we left for El Salvador to take the team to drill a well and do pump repair.  Because God placed this initiative on our hearts, the details flowed as I put thought to paper.  Shine Crossings will be launching World Changers on Mission (WCoM) whose inspirational Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV).

The World Changers Vision

Build a transforming Christian army to love the world as Christ loves all

The World Changers Mission Statement

  • Coach leaders to crush their limiting beliefs, love who they are, and discover their identity in Christ
  • This mission will be accomplished through the following goals:
    • Self-exploring to identify lies that are holding back personal identity and service and replace with the truth
    • Driving on world service in ways that show Jesus’s love to others and which honor personal spiritual gifts and talents
    • Meeting people where they are in their personal spiritual journey and providing information and encouragement to pursue Christ as their personal savior
    • Developing and encouraging future world changers to organize and move out in service

For those who want to learn more about this initiative, I have developed a simple PowerPoint that provides more explanation and detail.  Email me if you are interested in receiving more information.   Because I know how God works, I cannot help but wonder how this mission trip will impact or further develop the concept of World Changers on Mission.

I am reminded of TD Jakes’ message from the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in which he said that if you can accomplish your dream on your own, you are not dreaming big enough.  World Changers on Mission (WCoM) may have been birthed by Darin and me through God’s planting of a mustard seed in fertile soil, but WCoM is about empowering everyone to move in their purpose.  TD Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, has some incredibly powerful quotes which I share for thought-provoking action:

  • “Don’t stop at where you are as if it were the destination, when in fact, in reality, it may be the transportation that brings you into that thing you were created to do.”
  • “Everything you’ve gone through is preparation for what’s about to happen in your life. The Lord has already given you a word, move!”
  • “We need to be who we were called to be instead of contorting ourselves into what other people want us to be!”
  • “It is time for us to find the thing we were created to do, the people we were meant to affect, and the power that comes from alignment with purpose.”
  • “Here is the problem with how many people approach the question of purpose: many are looking outside of themselves for their purpose, destiny, or meaning in life. The very key to knowing your purpose is discovering and celebrating your personal identity.”
  • “God is about to plant you in a big thing. Your eyes have not seen, your ears have not heard, neither has entered into your heart what God has in store for you!”
  • “If we are called to be the salt of the earth, we have to get out of the saltshaker. Get out of your comfort zone, enlarge your territory.”
  • “Your Passion is your conviction about it, your Purpose is why you do it, your Destiny is where.”
  • “At any age you can still ignite your passion through finding your purpose.”
  • “When you know your purpose, you know what isn’t your purpose, so you can stop being distracted trying to do something that is not in the wheelhouse of what you were designed to do!”

All of TD Jakes’ (www.tdjakes.com) key messages are foundational to what WCoM embodies.  So, what field is God calling you into?

Leaders are Servants, Part 1


The Essence of Global Leadership

How do you summarize the information and inspiration that is captured and released upon those who come to Willow Creek Church (WCC) in Barrington, Illinois, for the annual Global Leadership Summit (GLS, www.willowcreekglobalsummit.com) or to those who choose to spend two days in a church, prison or other venue across the United States and Canada to soak in the wisdom and blessings via satellite streaming?  I struggle with how to convey the power of GLS to transform your thoughts, thinking and behaviors towards becoming a better leader.  As Bill Hybels, Founder and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek, passionately loves to say, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.”  My response is, “Amen! I want to hear more.”

In 2015 Greg Lernihan, friend and church member of Willow Creek, suggested my husband and I attend GLS through a satellite location in Houston, Texas.  Fortunately, our home church, Northside Christian, decided to host this event for the first time, where we were blessed to fellowship in the leadership messages with our pastors, members, and visitors. We were so moved by the power of the experience we immediately signed up to attend GLS in the main auditorium at Willow Creek for 2016.  For the record WCC seats about 7,000 people, and the GLS 2016 tickets sold out in about 30 minutes. When 2017 tickets went on sale on August 11, 2016, auditorium tickets sold out within 15 minutes.  When you get a taste of GLS, you understand its power and typically want to make a commitment to return every year.

So what is GLS all about for those who may never have heard of this two-day personal investment event?  In a nutshell, GLS brings together real leaders who are moving forward, learIMG_0340ning, struggling and succeeding in their fields of leadership, who have a servant heart, and who desire to share with the world their knowledge, so everyone can become better at leading themselves, their families, co-workers, and their communities.  As such the speakers come from diverse backgrounds and cover leadership in faith-based organizations, politics, businesses, and other non-profit government organizations (NGO). There is something for everyone to say the least.  The messages transcend religion, culture, and lifestyles.

Past leaders whose names you probably recognize include Jack Welch, Jim Collins, Ed Catmull, Brene Brown, Tyler Perry, Carly Fiorina, Louie Giglio, General Colin Powell, Mark Burnett, and Condoleezza Rice. Many other speakers, who may not be as well-known as CEOs and celebrities, were just as impactful in their research findings and areas of expertise.  GLS 2016 did not disappoint and included some new and returning favorite speakers advancing new topics.  This year’s lineup included Bill Hybels, Alan Mulally, Melinda Gates, Jossy Chacko, Travis Bradberry, Patrick Lencioni, Chris McChesney, Erin Meyer, John Maxwell, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Danielle Strickland, Horst Schulze, and Wilfredo De Jesus.

So you are thinking, enough of the background, I get it!  I’m sold on GLS, so what did you learn? Below is just one key message (Part 1) shared by what I thought was one of the most powerful speakers, Bill Hybels, along with my entwined commentary.

Bill Hybels: The Lenses of Leadership

Bill discussed four types of eyewear that every leader should try on and decide how well the lenses are working to correct his/her leadership vision.  The first pair are the red hot passion lenses which beg the question, “Are you presiding over people or energizing people to get from HERE to THERE?” Studies show that a leader gets a Bill Hybels40% performance differential from motivated versus unmotivated people.  So, how does a leader get more passion? Passion is typically inspired by a dream, outrage, or extreme frustration which forces one to become an unstoppable force to create change. When you put on your ruby red eyeglasses, how filled is your passion bucket?  Are you satisfied with the passion you have in life and how you are leading in your workplace and family?  If you’re not satisfied, what are you going to do about it?  After all, it’s the leader’s job to fill his own passion bucket and no one else’s.  If you don’t know where to start, pick up a book of interest, go to places that stir your soul, or hang out with passionate people.  Passion can be contagious!   Help just one person, and you’ll be surprised how your passion bucket begins to fill.

The second pair of eyeglasses to try on are the shattered lenses.  How many leaders are operating in or perpetuating a fear-based organization versus honoring people and building well-functioning cultures that are performance oriented!  Organizations will only be as healthy as the leader’s desire and intent.   Sometimes the shattered lenses are so close to the leader’s eyes that he/she cannot see clearly what the culture has become.  If the leader’s true heartfelt desire is to lead and love well, how does s/he get a true perspective?  If you are a work organization, you can hire an independent firm to survey the culture.  If you are leading your family, you can ask trusted family and friends for feedback without rebuttal or justification.  What many leaders forget as they strive for results is that God only values one thing—people.  God has entrusted leaders with his treasures—his people.  Sometimes leaders lose sight of the journey and its people while trying to reach a goal.

How can a leader coach and support people to be all that God intended them to be?  The first step is to increase self-awareness and expose their talents.  Some people have never self-reflected or taken inventory of their talents and don’t know where to start.  If you don’t know what you’re really good at, ask those who are closest to you.  Most of your friends, family, and coworkers have already done an informal assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. After all, they typically discuss this in small groups around the water cooler or coffee bar.  What can organizations do with this knowledge?  How about matching people’s strengths with roles that would take advantage of those strengths and minimize the impact of weaknesses.

The third pair of specialized eyewear are the performance self-adjusting lenses.  All organizations typically come together for a purpose which usually includes setting and achieving goals whether formal or implied.  Companies have goals for revenue, profit, safety, and customer satisfaction.  Even families have goals such as raising healthy and independent adult children.  Churches have goals such as the number of people served or number of members who have joined.  In general, the speed of the leader equals the speed of the team in achieving their goals.   So this correlation begs the question of how can goals impact the speed of the team and what adjustments do leaders need to make?  Bill professed that WCC was once a goalaholic church with too many goals and not enough people to carry out all the good ideas and initiatives.  You can imagine the results from goal overload, because many of you probably work in that environment today.  Burnout? Feeling a lack of appreciation?  Life becomes more about the goals and processes versus the people and the relationships?  So how can a leader adjust, get his/her team to perform at higher levels, and boost the morale of the team all at the same time?  These are not opposing forces; leaders just need to readjust.

First, let’s break a myth held by some leaders which is people are uncomfortable with performance feedback.  Truth, people want to know that their senior leaders are proud of their progress.  Truth, people want to know how they are doing and where they stand.  Truth, people want clarity and can accept negative feedback if the truth is said with the spirit of love.  Not giving goals and feedback is essentially cruel.  Second, if you can embrace these truths, the next step is for the leader to set the vision/mission for the organization and then ask the team what the goals should be.  Each department should be empowered to develop strategies, decide and own measurable goals, and celebrate the successes.  If you have too many or two few goals you will not have clarity, but entrust your team to find the perfect balance to prioritize and focus on the win.

What is in your leadership rearview mirror?  The fourth pair of eyeglasses that Bill perched atop his nose were the legacy lenses.  Have you peeked lately into your rearview mirror to see what you’ve left behind as you moved people from HERE to THERE?  At least on an annual basis, leaders should reflect on their legacy, self-evaluate, and learn how to do better.  Leadership is about energy, and Bill suggested drawing an energy pie to determine where you are putting your energy: work, family, church, community, others, etc.

God designed us to flourish holistically, and in many cases we are putting all our energy into our work.  How do you need to redistribute your energy across the pie slivers?  What areas should remain untouched, which need a do-over, or perhaps one or more just need a make-over.  It is never too late to change the course if you act now.  Legacies can change in an instant, and the proof was in the simple yet powerful story of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who said, “Jesus remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And he [Jesus] said to him, “Truly I say to you, today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43).  As Bill reminded us of that short scripture, he also mentioned that 43 prisons were watching this leadership summit live.

Bill’s last statement ignited a passion!  My husband and I are executive volunteers for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP, www.pep.org) in Cleveland, Texas.  PEP are leaders in their quest to transform men, their families, and the community by empowering ex-felons with character-building and business skills so they can integrate into society as healthy and contributing citizens.  PEP’s success is measured by its recidivism rate of 7% for those graduating from the program versus the prison population at large of > 50%.  We need to add the Cleveland Correctional Facility to the list of GLS satellites, so that at least 44 prisons will be streaming GLS live in 2017.  Who wants to be part of the team?  I’m willing to lead!