I’ve managed across cultures for much of my career. I’ve worked with individuals and teams from all around the globe. We’ve been successful.

I have people I’m honored to call friends on several continents.

For my work as an executive, I intuitively gravitated to building teams of people different from me.

I particularly appreciate people who think differently. (Yes, cognitive diversity is a thing.)

Again, we were successful.

It turns out; I knew nothing.

OK, nothing might be a bit of an exaggeration. As mentioned, we were successful.

However, in the rear-view mirror of time, I wonder how much motivation and performance I left on the table because I didn’t operate laser focused on the question “What’s it like to be you?”  

It’s an awkward question to ask, and in fact, I don’t recommend it. However, I do recommend pursuing it by pushing harder, stretching or flexing (Jane Hyun and Audrey Lee) to get to know how people see the world. We all see the world through different eyes. (See Jane’s excellent guest post on this site: The Art of Cultural Fluency.)

Meet them on their terms instead of requiring them to adapt to or adopt yours.

A good many leaders I encounter in workshops or as coaching clients think they are stretching or flexing.

They’re not.

Instead, they set expectations that people adapt to the prevailing culture and operating norms—a culture defined by those in positions of power.

Overheard: Around here, we value employees who speak their minds and aren’t afraid to mix it up.

Reality: The best ideas are likely lingering in the minds of people who are taught from the earliest age that to “mix it up” would be disrespectful.

Culture eats assimilation for lunch.

Overheard: I treat everyone the same. It’s called respect.

Reality: You’re making my mistake and failing to understand the worldview, values, and styles of the people under your charge.

Overheard: Everyone knows my door is always open.

Reality: An open door policy doesn’t cut it. See also that point on cultural upbringing and values where power distance is a sign of respect.

When values clash, we revert to what we know.

Overheard: We value diversity here.

Reality: I can see the diversity, but you cannot create inclusion without living and acting on the question: “What’s it like to be you?” And then doing something about it.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

How hard are you working at understanding the reality of the people around you? It’s time to redouble your efforts to meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.

What’s it like to be you?

text signature for Art