In this month’s blog post, I thought I would expand on one of the leadership strategies I introduced last month that could help to improve intercultural relationships, namely: avoid underestimating and discounting talent because of cultural differences. In so doing, I am also going to share a rather in-depth description and example of the kind of positive outcomes a leader could enjoy if she or he developed a few helpful habits. These habits include:
- keeping an open mind or giving the other person the benefit of the doubt
- being curious and wanting to learn
I would also like to credit the suggestion of sharing a positive example and story about bridging cultural differences to one of my readers. Thank you, Susan P!
Well, here we go …
Some years ago, I served on the board of directors of a small non-profit organization. We decided to organize a fundraising event to supplement the organization’s core funding. The purpose of the fundraiser was also to increase visibility and raise awareness and support for the valuable work the organization did to help marginalized members of the community. We struck a committee to organize a formal dinner and show and I was imbued with a strong sense of commitment to making the event a success. As the co-chair, I had the heavy responsibility of arranging the entertainment. One of my tasks was to assign jobs to the small pool of volunteers we had recruited.
There was a volunteer, a university student, who had worked on some projects for the organization previously. On the surface, it appeared that she came from a very different cultural background from me and we seemed to have little in common, for example, there were differences in age, country of origin, ethnic heritage, and religion, etc. I also heard …
about her from the other board directors regarding her workplace attitude and behaviour, and so, initially, I was a bit nervous about assigning her any job, and skeptical that she would do it effectively. It also did not help that after a few brief introductory exchanges between us, I did not find her to be personable. I, myself, however, did not actually have any prior experience working with her and so, I decided to …
get to know her better and build some rapport with her.
I wanted to find out how she could contribute meaningfully to the event’s success. That was my goal.
It so happened that the venue for the fundraiser dinner and show was an old building that had a long and meandering tunnel in the basement. The tunnel connected the dressing rooms, set aside for the entertainers, with the stage on the building’s main floor. Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the tunnel, an oversight I learned about after the venue had been booked. Moreover, I noticed that the tunnel was disorientating, and I was really concerned about how the entertainers would find their way to the stage, on cue, for their performances. As I was …
discussing this problem
with the volunteer, I discovered, to my immense relief, that she had performed on the stage at this venue many times and was very confident about finding her way around. I …
for her knowledge and asked her if she would be interested in managing and guiding the entertainers. Fortunately, she was enthusiastic about helping in this way and agreed to do so. I also asked her how she would direct the entertainers and her ideas seemed very sensible.
Due to her dedication and efficiency, I was able to focus on other important organizational tasks on the big night, and the whole show went off without a hitch. The audience was left with an exceptional experience and the feedback we received was overwhelming. People told us it was one of the best fundraiser events they had attended and were emphatic that they would support the next fundraiser we organized.
At the board meeting and debrief after the event, I made it a point to …
share my positive experience
with this individual with the other directors and they were pleasantly surprised. I …
gave her credit
for the smooth and timely flow of the event’s entertainment, because I wanted to …
the other board directors’ negative perceptions and underestimation of her.
In retrospect, I was very pleased that I had found a way to bridge the cultural gap between the volunteer and myself, because I
had taken the time to get to know her,
discover her strengths,
ask her for help,
and place my trust in her.
This gave her the opportunity to demonstrate and optimize her talent, shine, and contribute to the event’s, the organization’s, and to her own success. I don’t know what became of her after her involvement in the fundraiser, but I hope her success with that …
inspired and helped to open other doors for her later that promoted her career.
If you have any questions or comments about this article or you would like assistance with developing your capability with cultural differences, please contact me at: [email protected] for a free consultation. I look forward to hearing from you!