Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Average Joe or VIP?

Amazing how people get excited about a leader or public figure of another nation, doing something so radical as….carrying their own bag and ordering their own coffee?!?! 

Yes, check the story on US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, here and here   

Leadership in China is most of the time 2nd cousin to “pomp and circumstance” and good friend of “dog and pony”.

Within a company structure, during instruction sessions or training, there is the underlying, prevailing attitude…

(credit GR Sipe)
“Well that’s easy for you to say, you’re THE BOSS.”

“Of course you can do it, you’re THE BOSS.”

It’s not considered that many people in positions of leadership started out in positions just like them and through hard work and effort, moved up the ranks.  This concept is…well…foreign.

If you’re a bus boy, well, that’s your lot in life.  If you’re a leader, you’re simply one of the lucky.    

Here, leadership is fruit of a divine mandate you were born with.  It’s not only your position and title, but also it’s who you are and that also means, all you say and do are perfect. 

That’s why when they see an average-Joe, like Locke who worked hard to earn his position, now a public figure and ambassador to the Mother Land – when they see him with a backpack and ordering a cup of freshly brewed coffee, it makes them do a quadruple take. 

Coming to China as a foreigner or dealing with Chinese internationally, you’ll find that you’ve probably done more service-style, hands-dirty, blue-collar labor than the majority of folks you’ll come across.  If you are importing from China, this will be true for types of suppliers you deal with on a daily basis in your China manufacturing (the English speaking kids in the sales offices, handling your inquiries). 

As an outsider you may be tempted to manage in a style you’ve grown up with, seen from home and known your whole life.  My advice…don’t do it!  Use your advantages and skills to conform to their thinking and perceptions, while over time, sprinkling in who you are and step by step, bringing your values and expectations to the surface.        

When you’re working directly with China a few leadership points to remember:

Most managing or direct working with the staff is considered micro-managing:  The leader seldom directly addresses individuals in training or correcting format.  Straddle the fine line in coaching, motivating and commanding.  They are accustomed to orders barked and their job is to fulfill.  Normally how goals are reached is not a question, only that goals are reached. 

Mistakes & possible loss, lead to eventual growth:  Since micromanaging (and they view everything as micromanaging) causes the teammate to freeze up and digress, then just let them handle it.  You can teach and instruct all day long, but they are so inundated with noise, messages and ancient pontification that whatever it you are saying is just thrown on to the pile if noise.  Let the team roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.  They'll probably get it wrong a few (possibly costly) times, but they'll learn by doing, not instructing.  If you believe in "getting things right the first time", you're a long way from Kansas.  

Direct is not always a good thing: always being direct can lead to immediate mess.  Don’t always directly relay your messages.  It will cause some folks to short-circuit, go in to “Do-Whatever-You-Say-Mode” and check their brain at the door.  Build a hierarchy of staff and train others to train others.  Once folks start growing in their position, being to include them in the inner-circle of training and guidance.  

But don’t only rely on one manager; train a key cabinet, then have them train.

Too much direct training can cause your message to be considered too lofty with unobtainable goals.  But the same message, relayed through others is one in which they can grasp. 

Laugh at yourself and be down-to-earth at key times, but not all the time: Rigid leadership is expected here.  Whatever your emotional level was before you dealt with China, lower it about 50% (good or bad emotions).  They like their leaders stern and serious.  Find the key times to let your human side show.  Unlike the West, pats on the back and “thank you’s” are not always appreciated here.  Too many foreigners come here and are considered the big foreign teddy bear, but then difficult for them to implement real policy.

Like Locke, carry your own backpack, but I imagine, once Locke arrives to the Mother Land, he’s no longer ordering his own coffee…or tea.    

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