Philippe Rosinski writes: For developing leaders: “……you will have to embark on your own journey. You need to find the courage and muster the will to achieve your own objectives, doing all you can to make your dreams come true. You will have to be true to yourself, unleash your potential, and bring your contribution to society. On this journey toward performance and fulfilment, the first dragons you will have to slay will be inside; you will need to confront the fears, beliefs and weaknesses that are holding you back. But you will also meet your heroes within, the talents and strengths that will be your resources to win those battles. You will learn to cherish the journey itself and not just the destination.” Page 194- 195 “Coaching Across Cultures”.
The leadership learning journey that Phillipe Rosinski describes includes all the key elements leaders need to acquire to lead effectively across cultures, however, their maybe some stumbling blocks we need to better understand.
Most Western cultures are educated to use binary thinking to negotiate their realities. The elements of binary thinking are outlined below:
- Aristotle and binary thinking
- Choose either or options
- Leads to choosing between “right and wrong”
- “Good versus Bad”
- The quest for the “one right answer”
- Examples of when this kind of thinking is appropriate would include parliamentary debate, applying ethical standards and law enforcement to name a few
- Binary thinking leads to a conversational style which is a debate
- Debate is characterised by win/lose
- The conundrum of binary thinking is as Kierkegaard said “Everything, fades, alternatives exclude”. In other words as soon as we choose the one right answer we exclude all other alternatives.
Rather than binary thinking leaders can consider dialectic thinking as summarised below:
- Plato and dialectic thinking
- Leads to and/ both thinking
- Considers contrasts
- Looks at paradox
- Looks at the possibility of opposite viewpoints both having value
- Considers compromise
- Leads to a conversational style which is dialogue where everyone is heard
- Dialectic thinking is used widely for solving complex global issues and was used in South Africa in the CODESA negotiations leading to the peaceful transformation to a constitutional democracy.
- “It happens that all take part in contrary ideas and that through this double participation they are similar and dissimilar all at once” Plato
Leaders need to be willing to engage dialectic thinking in order to learn intercultural competence.
Without dialectic thinking leaders and teams are missing out on multiple perspectives which can impoverish thinking by limiting alternatives for problem solving, exploring all opportunities or creativity.
Surely the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts? Surely the opportunity is to facilitate accessing the collective wisdom in the room?
We have an obligation as leaders:
- to seek out multiple perspectives,
- to invite in the unheard voices
- to invite in the minority voice
- to co-create lasting solutions
- Awareness of “difference including cultural difference” often leads to a sense of “dis-comfort” or “dis –ease”
- We have two possible choices to make:
- To move to our comfort zone to reduce the discomfort leading to
- Reinforcing our beliefs, assumptions, and opinions
- Limiting creativity, problem solving and decision making
- And sadly, leading to prejudice, stereotyping, racism and xenophobia when working across cultures
- To move towards curiosity
- Leading to the possibility of new insights
- Leading to the possibility of new experiences and new adventures
- The first journey using binary thinking leads us to a place of conflict characterised by debate and negotiation to a win/ lose or lose/ lose outcome
- The second journey to a place of discovery characterized by dialogue and a shift to synergy where the whole is valued for being more than the sum of it’s parts
- Characterised by the awareness that:
- whatever I bring to the dialogue.
- added to whatever you bring to the dialogue;
- together we create greater possibilities
- than either of us could create if we choose to continue to walk alone
“We can talk of living between the opposites. Living in the opposites does not mean identifying with one side and then belittling the other. To live “between” means that we do not only recognise opposites, but rejoice in that they exist
To live between, we stretch out our arms and push the opposites as far apart as we can, and then live in the resonating space between them”
- As we move from:
- Awareness of cultural difference
- To appreciation of cultural difference
- To valuing that we are culturally different
- To honoring our cultural difference
- The possibilities of what we can achieve increase
- Always remember – leadership is a lifelong journey and not a destination
“Perfection is elusive, let’s rather be remarkable”