Global Mindset Part II

An example:  you are an expatriate manager of a multinational company in a Middle Eastern country  and you have just found out that no women are allowed to even apply for certain jobs in your department.  You say to yourself, “I just don’t get it.”  Another example:  an executive who works with Korean nationals once expressed his frustration to me that Koreans will never tell you what they really think.  “Why can’t they just be candid like Americans?”

I could give many more examples to illustrate reactions to differences in cross-cultural management practices that suggest a gap in global mindset, especially in one aspect:  that of developing empathy, which suggests an ability (and willingness) to understand another person’s or group’s perspective.  Actually, lots of research suggests that this skill differentiates effective negotiators from average ones.  For managers working cross-culturally, I believe that this “perspective-taking” skill is critical.  As two researchers from the University of Chicago (Epley and Caruso, 2008) have stated, “… the ability to accurately adopt someone’s perspective is better than chance but less than perfect.”  They point to three barriers, which I will paraphrase here. 


The first barrier is “activating” or switching on in our minds a willingness to do this.  As managers and leaders of global teams, this is sometimes difficult to do when there are so many mental balls that we are juggling.  And if we have not even made the effort to learn about other cultures, or to recognize that our way is not the only way, switching mentally to consider practices from another person’s perspective will be tough.  Our default mode is our own perspective, our own way of viewing things.    

The second barrier is our natural tendency is to react to things from our own perspective.  In one experiment which they cite, participants were asked to send either sincere or sarcastic messages to another participant, either over the telephone or via e-mail.  They were asked to predict, for each of 10 sincere and 10 sarcastic messages, whether the recipient would interpret the message correctly or incorrectly.  Recipients were not significantly better than chance at distinguishing between sarcasm and sincerity over e-mail, but not surprisingly, were significantly more accurate over the telephone.  But the senders did not think there would be any difference in the recipients’ accuracy when communicating over e-mail or the telephone.  “The senders’ intentions to communicate sarcasm or sincerity were so clear that it rendered them unable to appreciate … that the perception of the person on the other end of the computer monitor would be very different from the person on the other end of the telephone.” 

From my experience, I can recall many times when executives say they don’t understand why their messages are not being understood, or are being misinterpreted by employees.  If the executive working with Korean nationals has asked them for their opinions and they don’t give him any, it must be because they prefer not being candid!  The perspective that in some cultures, authority is so respected that voicing an opinion is tantamount to challenging the boss, is not something that would occur right away to this executive.           

Third, if we do recognize that we need to understand another person’s perspective, our ability to do this may depend on whether we believe that person is similar to us or not.  In either case, this may lead to problems.  Let’s say that you are a manager for a global company working with a group of Japanese employees in the Tokyo subsidiary.  You could make the assumption that because these employees belong to the same company as you they should react similarly to you.  Or you could make the assumption that because these employees are Japanese, they will react based on your “stored knowledge” of what Japanese are like – which may or may not be accurate.  Each of these assumptions will not necessarily reflect the Japanese employees’ perspectives.

I was recently in Singapore to teach a class in Global Leadership to a group of intelligent and experienced Asian executives, most of whom have regional roles working in global companies.  One of their challenges is in managing within a matrix environment and convincing senior management that certain global policies and strategies might have to be adapted for different markets.  In discussing their situation, we had a productive dialogue in looking at the situation from the senior managers’ perspective – what could be going on in their minds, what might be driving their behavior?              

Although empathy and perspective-taking are sometimes difficult, developing this skill can be learned through practice and mindfulness.  I have three simple suggestions.  One, get to know the other person or group better, as well as their cultures.  By doing this, you will minimize your tendency to stereotype.  Second, learn to describe first before judging.  We have a quick tendency to evaluate based on first impressions.  But in cross-cultural situations, what you see is often not what you get, because our observations are filtered through our own cultural frame of reference.  And third, try to reflect on what is going on and what might be causing the behavior.    

So for the expatriate manager and the executive working with Korean nationals, learning about the local cultures might give them insight into why these practices exist.  It does not mean accepting these practices, but it may mean developing alternative approaches.  The executive working with Korean nationals, recognizing that he is an authority figure, might put more effort in asking specific questions rather than asking them generally for their opinion.  Ultimately the benefit of developing empathy and of having a global mindset will help you become a more effective global leader.      


Epley, N. and Caruso, E.  (2008).  Perspective taking:  misstepping into others’ shoes.  In K. D. Markman et al. (Eds.), Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation.  New York:  Psychology Press.

The Influential Global Business Leader

During a workshop that I conducted recently with a corporate client, I met Tom Walker, who had joined the company several months ago after a 20-year career with an agency of the federal government, where he was in charge of a department of 50 people.  In his new company, he also has a big staff, about 30, but with one difference:  his staff does not report directly to him.  Tom is responsible for one of the company’s most important corporate initiatives, and he has been given resources and a sizable budget to move this initiative forward.  However, he (like several of his peers who are also global leaders with their own initiatives to drive) has to manage a team that is spread out globally.

Although Tom is excited about the challenge and the opportunity to make a difference, he is also quite frustrated.  “When I headed my former department, I had 50 people under me who would do whatever I said.  I was their boss.  Here, I am not their boss.  While I am the global leader for this initiative, and these guys have been assigned to my team, they still have a day job and I am not their direct boss.  It’s hard to get things done this way.”

It is obvious that Tom is still adjusting to his transition, and I hope that he will succeed in learning how to lead in this new way.  Tom’s role is not unusual these days, as many organizations are driving new initiatives and innovations with parallel teams while maintaining their core business.  In some cases, they create what Harvard professor John Kotter calls dual operating systems – preserving the traditional hierarchy while building networks and teams.  In other cases, organizations are building matrix-type structures.

What is clear is that more leaders today need to learn how to “influence without authority.”  Authors Cohen and Bradford wrote about this many years ago, and their book is still very helpful.  As I have observed, experienced, and thought about this, here is my advice on what characteristics people like Tom need to build on to improve their influencing skills, especially in the context of a global workplace.  For each of these, I am just scratching the surface on the subject, so consider this as just a starting point.

  1. Yes, we no longer should rely only on our title or our place in the organization’s pecking order.  However, people in organizations still want to know the legitimate basis for your authority.  Is the team that you are leading supported by a powerful sponsor?  Is the team’s mission an important one for the organization?  Especially in cultures that respect hierarchy, your influence will be greater if employees see you as having the title and the authority.  You just need to be very careful not to over-rely on formal authority as your basis for influence.
  2. People in organizations have more respect for those who others perceive as a winner.  Have you been involved in other initiatives or work that has had a positive impact on your department or with other departments?  If you are new in the organization, how many people know about your past experience?  Building your internal reputation will help you to become a more influential leader.   In some organizations, it might be the experience you have had working in the industry, or your academic degrees.  In other organizations, it might be your accomplishments for having worked on some successful projects.  Or your reputation might come indirectly, that is, through your association with a prestigious department or initiative, or with a manager you worked for who himself had a good reputation.
  3. This is related to reputation, but is basically about whether people see that your deeds match your words.  Do you follow through on what you say you will do?  Do you honor your commitments?  It’s not surprising that the more credible a leader is, the more influence he or she is likely to have.
  4. There has been a lot of research lately on the importance of being likable.  Or recent Harvard Business Review article emphasized the importance of connecting first, and then leading.  In my discussions with executives, many of them are not convinced that being liked is as important as some other characteristics, and perhaps they are right.  Leadership is not a popularity contest, although it helps if people have a positive emotional connection to you.  Think about executives in your organization who are very competent, but disliked.  Your competence will only take you so far.  Here’s the thing about likability.  It’s not about going to charm school, or being slick.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  You make yourself more likable if you think more of the other person than yourself, if you show a genuine interest in others and listen well to them.  It is really not about you, but about them.
  5. Not just what you communicate, but how well you communicate is important to influencing effectively.  You don’t have to be a charismatic speaker, nor have a dynamic-sounding voice.  You do need to be sure that your content is substantial, and that you master some communication basics.  For example, when speaking to an audience, maintain eye contact, stand erect, and show confidence.  When sending an e-mail, make the subject line interesting and impactful, and keep the e-mail short.  It also helps to know your audience so you can tailor your communication accordingly.  When I used to make presentations to research scientists in a pharmaceutical company, I made sure that my presentations contained lots of data and references. When working with colleagues and customers in different cultures, learning to adjust how you communicate is critically important to business success.
  6. So this is where you have to figure out how meeting the team’s goals will also help meet the individual’s goals.  This means you have to take the time to know each of your team members better, to find out what they are interested in, and to find ways to align their goals with your team goals.  If you are a leader of a global virtual team, it is especially important to understand team members’ goals and how you can help build alignment.  Chances are, your virtual team member has an office close to her local boss; perhaps, she was even hired by her boss and they have maintained close working relationships over the years.  You will clearly not have a strong initial influence on this virtual team member unless you build trust and alignment.  One of the ways to do this could be through connecting with your virtual team member’s boss.

You don’t need all of these to be an influential leader; however, but their impact tends to be cumulative.  For Tom, some of these are easily achieved than others.  He certainly has legitimacy, for he was brought in by senior management and placed in charge of one of the company’s most important initiatives.  His reputation and credibility are still untested.  Tom comes across as a bit gruff and brusque, giving the impression that he does not care for your opinion, and so his likability quotient may need to improve.  His communication skills are adequate, but a little passion in his style might help.  And Tom needs to spend more time with each of his team members (yes, all 30 of them!), and even with their day-to-day bosses, to be able to help align everyone’s goals with the team goals.

Whether your team reports directly to you in the organization, or they are matrixed to you, I am convinced that building these foundational elements will help you become a more influential global business leader.

Cohen, A. and Bradford, D.  (1989).  Influence Without Authority.  New York:  Wiley.

Cuddy, A. et al.  (July-August, 2013).  Connect, Then Lead.  Harvard Business Review.

Kotter, J.  (2014).  Accelerate.  Boston:  Harvard Business Review Press.

Are Narcissists Better Leaders?

We all know who they are – those narcissists who seem to rise quickly in organizations only to crash and burn eventually. We can point to failed corporate leaders such as Bob Nardelli of Home Depot, Tony Hayward of BP and Ken Lay of Enron as prime examples of such leaders. However, others point to leaders like Steve Jobs and Jack Welch, who are seen by some as narcissistic and yet have led their companies to great success. So how do we sort out the relationship between narcissistic leaders and team/organizational success or failure?

Some researchers say that not only do we like narcissists, but they tend to make for better leaders. Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer (2015) has argued that narcissism “helps people attain leadership positions in the first place and then, once in them, positively affects their ability to hold on to those positions, extract more resources (salary), and even helps in some, although not all, aspects of their performance on the job.” (pp. 71-72). In summarizing a meta-analysis of individual differences related to effective leadership, he points to four traits that he says narcissists have more of: energy, dominance, self-confidence, and charisma. He also explains that one of the reasons why women and Asian Americans are less frequently chosen for leadership roles is because they are on average more modest and self-effacing, and therefore less narcissistic than men. Finally, he claims that companies prefer “immodest, grandiose, and narcissistic leaders” (p. 83) and they continue to select and promote those who exhibit these qualities.

It’s important to gain some clarity on this concept of narcissism since there is much confusion about what it is in the first place. For example, Kets de Vries (1994) has pointed out that narcissism is not necessarily dysfunctional; there is a difference between healthy or constructive narcissism and unhealthy or destructive narcissism. He suggests that there are three different types of narcissists: the reactive one who is cold, ruthless and exhibitionistic, and has a sense of entitlement; the self-deceptive one who is Machiavellian and who lacks empathy; and the constructive one, who is ambitious and self-confident. In their view, the constructive narcissist can become a good leader; in fact, “a certain dose of narcissism is necessary to function effectively” … and … “we all show signs of narcissistic behavior.” (p. 588). Similarly, Maccoby (1990) refers to “productive narcissists” who may be good for an organization, although even they should not be left unchecked. However, in my experience, it is not always easy to distinguish between these different types of narcissists. Not all those who are energetic, dominant, self-confident and charismatic are pathological narcissists.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and lists criteria such as the following: grandiose sense of self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success or power, and a belief in one’s special or unique status. “Subclinical” or non-pathological narcissism is different; whereas pathological narcissism is associated with arrogance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, subclinical narcissism is defined as having an inflated sense of self-importance and extremely high levels of self-esteem. A widely-used measure of subclinical narcissism is The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) scale, which scores people on narcissism based on their responses to statements such as: People always seem to recognize my authority, I really like to be the center of attention, I am apt to show off if I get the chance, and I always know what I am doing.

An important contribution to this topic is a recent study by Grijalva et al. (2015), who did an extensive meta-analysis of the literature. They start out by stating that there is no consensus on the relationship between narcissism and leadership. Their meta-analysis focuses on studies of subclinical narcissism, and what they found was very interesting. First, narcissism is related to leadership emergence, although that relationship decreased over time; that is, the longer the leader spent time with followers, the weaker the relationship. We are attracted to individuals with “leader-like” qualities such as those that Professor Pfeffer has mentioned (e.g., dominance, self-confidence). However, according to these authors, to know them is not to like them too much. Second, they found that when the effects of extroversion were sorted out, that relationship weakened considerably. In other words, much of the reason for why narcissists are selected as leaders is because they are also extroverted.

Third, Grijalva and her colleagues also found a wide range of relationships between narcissism and leadership effectiveness. On average, narcissists were no more or less likely to become effective leaders. The authors in fact found an inverted U-shaped relationship; leaders who are weak as well as those who are very strong narcissists don’t tend to become effective leaders.

My own experience supports the research evidence that self-confident, sociable and likeable people are more likely to be selected and promoted into leadership positions. A recruiter I know once explained to me that his corporate client wanted him to find an executive with “gravitas” or “executive presence.” A self-confident and charming manager who is technically competent and gets results will in many Western organizations get promoted before the equally competent, results-oriented manager who is perhaps too self-effacing and introverted.

I also believe that productive narcissists can contribute to team and organizational success – to a point. Perhaps, as Grijalva et al. suggest, there is a level in which too much narcissism becomes dysfunctional. I would argue however that there are two elements of narcissism that if left unchecked, can be fatal in the workplace: an overriding interest in fulfilling one’s own needs versus the organization’s needs, and a lack of empathy or humility. I would not disagree with those who would argue for example that both Steve Jobs and Jack Welch were narcissistic; yet it was clear that both also subordinated their personal needs for the good of their organizations. This passion they had for putting their organization’s needs ahead of themselves (for the most part anyway) was important to their respective companies’ success.

How do narcissists fare in other cultural settings? There is evidence that displays of extreme self-confidence are not always welcome in non-Western contexts. In an interesting study, Zhang et al. (2015) suggest that paradoxical leadership behaviors are actually aligned with the Eastern yin-yang philosophy, where two opposing forces can be integrated. Among the paradoxical behaviors they identified are those associated with combining self-centeredness (certainly a component of narcissism) with other-centeredness. Others include the following:
·      Shows a desire to lead, but allows others to share this leadership role
·      Likes to be the center of attention, but allows others to share the spotlight as well
·      Insists on getting respect, but also shows respect toward others
·      Has a high self-opinion, but shows awareness of personal imperfection and the value of other people
·      Is confident regarding personal ideas and beliefs but acknowledges that he or she can learn from others.

They found that among their samples of Chinese students, a combination of narcissism and humility was related to leadership effectiveness. While these authors suggest that humility may counterbalance narcissism, will different cultures accept lesser or higher levels of narcissism and humility depending on where their cultural values are in terms of power distance, individualism, and uncertainty avoidance? And what about context? When individuals perceive threats to their environment, do those who show narcissistic characteristics tend to be perceived as better leaders?

In the meantime, here are a couple of take-aways from all this research. First, individuals who wish to aspire to leadership roles would do well to adapt some leader-like skills such as energy and self-confidence. However, the extent to which these are displayed may depend on culture and context. For example, Cain (2012) has suggested that introverts and Asian-Americans can become successful leaders by using more of their soft power, such as having strong convictions and persistence. Note, however, that using soft power does not mean reducing one’s energy or self-confidence. Second, organizations should be careful in being seduced by those who may have the sizzle but not the steak (an expression I once heard from an executive when describing the dangers of picking style over substance). Learning to distinguish between constructive and pathological narcissists may be difficult, but it is important for organizations to avoid hiring and promoting the latter.

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books.

Grijalva, E., Harms, P., Newman, D., Gaddis, B., and Fraley, R.C. (2015). Narcissism and Leadership: A Meta-Analytic View of Linear and Nonlinear Relationships. Personnel Psychology, 68: 1-47.

Kets de Vries, M. (1994). The Leadership Mystique. The Academy of Management Executive, 8 (3): 73-92.

Maccoby, M. (2000). Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons. Harvard Business Review, January-February.

Pfeffer, J. (2015). Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time. New York: HarperCollins.

Zhang, Y., Waldman, D., Han, Y., and Li, X. (2015). Paradoxical Leader Behaviors in People Management: Antecedents and Consequences. Academy of Management Journal, 56 (2): 538-566.

Principles of Persuasion for Global Managers

Professor Robert Cialdini’s groundbreaking research and his six principles of persuasion have been very influential with social scientists, marketers, and policy-makers, and have been applied in different contexts, from fund-raising to consumer and marketing research. Many of you are no doubt familiar with these principles of persuasion, which I summarize here:

  1. Liking: people like those who like them, so find out what things you might have in common with others and give them positive recognition or praise.
  2. Reciprocity: people “give and take” and they tend to respond in kind. If you behave in a collaborative way, they will tend to do the same.
  3. Social proof: people tend to rely on cues for how others think, feel and act, especially with people who are like them. Therefore, they can be more easily persuaded if they are made aware of others’ opinions or behavior, especially if these are people they like and/or respect.
  4. Consistency: people want to be consistent, so have them make public commitments about what they will do, and they will want to align their behaviors with these statements.
  5. Authority: people tend to defer to experts or those in positions of authority.
  6. Scarcity: people tend to value things more if they are rare or not easily available. Therefore, creating situations where people feel they will miss out if they do not act can be effective in influencing them.

The research and the applications of these six principles have been impressive, and the evidence for their effectiveness has been strong. However, I have not seen many applications of his work in the organizational setting, although recently, Cialdini (2013) did publish an article with examples of how managers can use these principles. Furthermore, some have questioned whether these principles apply cross-culturally. Recent research has not been definitive on this. For example, Schouten (2008) showed that the authority principle (or source expertise, as she calls this) seems to be an effective compliance strategy across the Dutch, Turkish, and Moroccan groups she studied. On the other hand, a study by Cialdini and his colleagues (Petrova et al, 2007) showed that consistency-based compliance tactics were more effective with U.S. students than Asian students (including Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese). The authors hypothesized that this technique would work better with people from individualistic cultures like the U.S. than with collectivistic cultures. Other research has shown mixed results. Cialdini has argued that these principles do apply across cultures, although their weights can vary.

In addition, since these principles were first proposed over 15 years ago, are these principles as relevant today? For example, there has been an erosion in the respect that people sometimes confer on authority; with information being so readily available, people do not seem to hold as much faith in expertise as they used to. Witness the rise of so-called fake news, where people are more willing to believe information that conforms with their views, regardless of the source. In the organizational setting, workers expect to have a greater voice in decision-making than in the past. We have also seen the emergence of more complex organizational forms such as matrix organizations, where people might have two or more bosses, and/or where lines of authority have become more ambiguous and more complex.

In my experience, I believe these six principles are still worth considering for managers in the workplace today, with some adjustments; here are four suggestions for how they can best be applied. First, even before considering applying these principles, make sure that you build trust with those you wish to influence. Developing trust is very important in business and personal relationships, and perhaps even more so when building relationships across cultures. Once you have established trust with your global colleagues, you will be able to build a more fruitful working relationship and influence them more effectively. However, the way you build trust may vary by culture. The evidence suggests that in individualistic cultures, trust is built primarily on competence, while in collectivistic cultures, trust is built through relationships. In fact, in many parts of the world, building relationships takes precedence over immediately working on the task requirements.

Like empathy, researchers have identified two types of trust: affective- and cognitive-based trust. The former is about building the emotional bond between persons, while the latter is more concerned with gains and losses, and where competence and reliability are important qualifications for trust to occur. In some cultures, cognitive-based trust is necessary before affective-based trust develops, while in other cultures, affective-based trust may have to be established before cognitive-based trust is built. For example, Kwan and Hong (2014) state: “In Chinese organizations, it is possible that affective-based trust serves as the foundation for cognitive-based trust development; that is, trusting someone’s abilities follows when guanxi (affective-based trust) has been developed.” (p. 102) Western leaders who are working with colleagues and business partners from collectivistic cultures would do well to spend time building and nurturing relationships, and/or establishing connections with their colleagues’ in-group. As a general rule, I advise my clients to remember the three Cs of trust-building: find commonality or connections, show competence, and establish credibility.

Second, and this is related to the first, ask yourself whether your goal is compliance or commitment. Cialdini’s six principles were formulated to get people to comply, with the assumption that the relationship would be a one-off or short-term. However, managers in organizations want more than mere compliance, and want to make sure that those they are influencing are committed and engaged. If so, then building trust becomes even more important since such trust is more likely to lead to commitment. Consider the recommendations for building trust that Zak proposes in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review (Zak, 2017). He claims that “… employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies.” Among his recommendations are the following: recognize excellence, induce challenge stress, share information broadly, intentionally build relationships. Note that these align very well with Cialdini’s principles of liking, consistency, and scarcity, suggesting that these three principles should be applied first when building trust.

Third, you may need to reframe some of these principles when applying them in the workplace. Here are three examples. One, the take-away for applying the principle of liking is to build empathy. That is, apply this principle by showing empathy to your employees, especially in trying to understand their point of view (what is called cognitive empathy or perspective-taking). Two, the take-away for managers applying the principle of reciprocity is to be a role model for employees, to do as you say you will do (rather than simply to engage in give-and-take). That is, rather than thinking of this principle in terms of a transactional quid pro quo, apply it by making sure that you are modeling the right behaviors for your employees; this can have a powerful influence on their own behavior. Three, the take-away for applying the principle of scarcity is to build a sense of urgency. Explain to your team why it is important to act now, and what the costs might be for not acting.

Fourth, Cialdini has noted that these principles are most effectively applied in combination. I agree. In addition, I would argue that they should also be prioritized depending on the situation. This requires that those of us working across borders get a good understanding of the cultural values and preferences of different cultures, as well as build our own skill set so we can apply these principles appropriately depending on the situation and the culture. For example, the principle of authority will work more effectively in cultures that are higher in “power distance” than those that are lower in power distance. Having a Master’s or a Ph.D. or having an important title carries more weight in some cultures more so than in others – and even in some organizations more so than in others.

Cialdini, R. (2013). The Uses (and Abuses) of Influence. Harvard Business Review, 132, 76-81.

Petrova, P., Cialdini, R. and Sills, S. (2006). Consistency-based Compliance Across Cultures. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 104-111.

Schouten, B. (2008). Compliance Behavior and the Role of Ethnic Background, Source Expertise, Self-Construals and Values. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 32, 55-523.

Zak, P. (2017). The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review. January-February 84-90.

The Five Most Important Questions According to Peter Drucker

My favorite business writer, the late Peter Drucker, once wrote a slim but important book called The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization. The questions are clear and simple and seem intended for executives (especially those in non-profits) wishing to conduct a self-assessment about their organization. According to Drucker, this “self-assessment process is a method for assessing what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you must do to improve an organization’s performance.” The five questions are the following: What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does the customer value? What are our results? What is our plan? Within each of these questions, Drucker offered more detail and more specific probes.

Although these questions were intended to apply to organizations, I believe it has value in applying them at the individual or personal level. This idea is not entirely original; Marshall Goldsmith, another great management guru, wrote that he once asked Peter Drucker about applying his five questions at a personal level. So let’s give it a try in the context of someone thinking about going into business for himself/herself or doing a start-up with some kind of promising product or service that he/she has come up.

  1. What is your mission? Here’s what Drucker wrote about effective mission statements. First, they reflect an “exacting match” of the organization’s opportunities, competence, and commitment. At an individual level, to me this sounds like you find the sweet spot where there is a convergence between what the environment or customers need, your capabilities, and what you value. This is similar to Goldsmith’s point that what you value means two things: what makes you happy and what you consider to be meaningful (Goldsmith, 2015). Second, effective mission statements say why an organization does what it does (not how to do it). Ray Dalio, the successful founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, wrote something similar in his treatise (Dalio, 2011) when he made a distinction about the difference between values and principles:

“Your values are what you consider important, literally what you ‘value.’ Principles are what allow you to live a life consistent with those values. Principles connect your values to your actions; they are beacons to rule your actions, and help you successfully deal with the laws of reality. It is to your principles that you turn when you face hard choices.” (p. 7)

And third, effective mission statements are short and sharply focused; they should fit on a T-shirt. When thinking about your business at the individual level, ask yourself: do you or does your potential business have a mission statement? What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your business to be remembered for?

  1. Who is your customer? In other words, who must be satisfied for the business or organization to achieve its results? Drucker asks organizations to think about who their primary and secondary customers are. Management theory suggests that the organization has different stakeholders; the distinction that Drucker makes between primary and secondary customers is simpler. So who are your primary customers – those individuals or groups who will use and benefit from your business’s products and services? In other words, who is your product or service intended for? And who are your supporting customers – the other stakeholders, such as employees, funders or investors – that you need to identify and be aware of? Recently, I was having a discussion with an acquaintance who had patented a medical device that he hoped to commercialize and was asking my advice on potential investors. Although his device would eventually be used by individual customers, it was not clear to me that he had thought through carefully who his primary and secondary customers were, and how they might impact the success of his venture. By applying this framework, he was able to target a specific customer segment and identify potential investors to pursue.
  1. What does the customer value? Drucker points out that organizations need to understand what their primary and supporting customers value. This does not necessarily mean doing intensive market research; Steve Jobs was well-known for pointing out that he never did any market research. Yet he was very much in tune with what he believed customers wanted, and Apple continues to be successful. I think the important lesson here for individuals is to listen, listen, listen. Customers may not exactly know what they want, but when we try to truly understand our customers, which involves deep listening, among other things, then we will be able to provide them with what they value – whether they knew it at the time or not. Drucker also states that organizations need to accept what customers value as “objective fact.” At an individual level, many organizations use 360-degree feedback tools to help managers identify their strengths and development needs. As an executive coach, I often supplement this tool with interviews of my clients’ key “customers” – their boss, co-workers, direct reports, and perhaps their customers, such as suppliers and sometimes even friends and family members. These data provide great insights to a person on what their customers (such as their manager and even their peers) value, and can be of tremendous value to those who listen and accept them. Are you clear on what your potential customers will value about your product or service? How will you find out?
  1. What are your results? The key insight for me here is Drucker’s discussion of assessing, based on results, what must be strengthened and what must be abandoned. Determining whether an organization is assessing the right results is an important issue. When I was an intern at General Motors a few decades ago, I remember being in meetings with senior management in which they regularly discussed their objective of reaching a market share of 50%. At that time, GM was the most successful of the Big Three (Ford and Chrysler being the other two major U.S. car companies at that time), and it has been argued that this obsession with market share caused GM to lose sight of focusing on profitability and the creeping Japanese challenge. This question also reminds us that effort, while laudable, is not enough at an organizational or personal level, unless you are clear on what the right results should be and what the right measures of success are.

It is a little bit disappointing that Drucker does not raise the issue of the importance of “how” results are achieved. Since his time, there have been numerous discussions of this issue; Seidman’s book How goes into detail on the importance of this. As he has written, “… leaders now recognize that sustainable behavior is an offensive strategy that you need to deploy over an entire field … (and) behavior has become a powerful source of excellence and competitive advantage.” Many large companies, such as GE, Ford and Siemens, have competency models in which employees are evaluated not just on their results but also on their behaviors, or how they achieved those results. As individuals, we need to pay attention not only to whether we have achieved our goals, but also to whether we have done so with integrity, consistent with our values and principles.

  1. What is our plan? For Drucker, “planning defines the particular place you want to be and how you intend to get there.” Planning consists of having goals, no more than five for an institution, in Drucker’s opinion. I agree; in the research on successful strategy execution, one common theme that emerges is that companies that have been successful in executing their strategies successfully have focused on a few selected priorities rather than a laundry list of initiatives they try to tackle. The CEO (and his or her team) is responsible for the development of objectives, action steps, and the appropriate allocation of resources. The five elements of an effective plan are: abandonment (if it’s not working, are you prepared to change or even abandon it?), concentration (are you putting your best efforts into what’s working well and in fact raising the bar?), innovation (what’s around the bend – is this what our customers might value and where we can add value?), risk taking (will you take the risk, while balancing the short term with the long term), and analysis (do your due diligence). For Drucker, creating action steps – the execution of the plan – is very much a part of this aspect of planning.

In summary, here’s how these questions can apply to someone at an individual level. By stating a mission, you are in essence trying to answer the question of what you want to be remembered for. By defining the customer and what they value, you will be answering the question of what problem it is your product or service will be solving and for whom. By specifying your results, you will be able to clarify what success will look like for you (e.g., is it an IPO, is it building a brand?). And by creating your plan, you will be able to define your short- and long-term goals and be able to monitor your results (e.g., how will you scale, have you identified the elements in your value chain?).


Dalio, R. (2011). Principles. Unpublished manuscript.


Drucker, P. (2015). The Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Goldsmith, M. (2015). Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be. New York: Crown Business.


Seidman, D. (2007) How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything. New York: Wiley.


The Impact of Culture on Hard-Wired Behaviors

Anthropologists tell us that our species of humans called Homo Sapiens first surfaced about 200,000 years ago.  And our ancestors survived through certain behaviors that became pretty much hard-wired into their brain circuitry.   When agriculture was invented about 10,000 years ago, our ancestors no longer had to move around, live in small groups, and live a hand-to-mouth existence. 


However, according to Nigel Nicholson (1998), all the environmental changes we have experienced since that time have not stimulated further human evolution.  Evolutionary psychologists believe that 10,000 years is simply not enough time for significant genetic modifications to take place across populations.


“ … there is a limit to how much the human mind can be remolded.  Proponents of evolutional psychology assert that, because of natural selection, human beings living and working in today’s modern civilization retain the hardwired mentality – that is, the needs, drives, and biases – of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.”


So what are some of the behaviors which Nicholson believes are hard-wired?  They include the following:

1.     Relying on emotion or instinct as the first screen for all information received.  Stone Age people tended to rely on instinct so they could react quickly to predators or strangers outside their circle.

2.     Feeling more self-confident than reality justifies.  Those who survived the brutal conditions of the Stone Age had to project confidence so they could attract friends and mates. 

3.     Quickly classifying people, situations and experiences into categories (e.g., good or bad, in our out) rather than engaging in time-consuming and nuanced analysis.  Without relying on “big data” or complex analyses, our ancestors had to make decisions quickly, whether they were about people to befriend or about the types of food that would not be poisonous.

4.     Participating in public competitions for status and chest thumping about their successes.  Winning in contests and battles, as well as showing off through elaborate rituals and artistic displays, were important to impress others and to boost their status – making them more attractive to potential mates.

5.     Empathy and mind reading.  Our ancestors were not all about crushing their foes.  To survive, they also needed to anticipate shifts in status and build alliances.  They needed to share food, barter and trade, and those who learned how to be friendly and guess what others were thinking tended to be more successful. 


Sound familiar?  We haven’t changed that much, it seems.  I generally agree with Nicholson, and certainly the evidence he and others provide is quite strong.  However, here is what is interesting:  different cultures seem to encourage or discourage these behaviors based on their cultural values.  So while there may be some universal truths to these behaviors, we are malleable enough that culture may trump some of these so-called hard-wired behaviors.


Let’s examine how each of these hard-wired behaviors can be seen through the filters of some cultural values, focusing especially on workplace behaviors.  In my experience, organizations across the world vary in the importance and emphasis they place on different organizational and management practices, in part as a function of their cultural values.   And some preferred practices (and their underlying values) may clash with some of these hard-wired behaviors.


Relying on emotion.  Many organizations like to pride themselves as being data-driven, and push for decisions that are based primarily on facts and air-tight logical reasoning.   On the surface, this might seem to contradict those hard-wired behaviors that rely on instinct.   Yet we know that, like our ancestors, emotion plays a large part in our decision-making.  So organizations with practices that place a high premium on rationality and logic (e.g., through the use of quantitative tools and a preponderance of data to drive decisions) may sometimes find them difficult to implement. Not only are we hard-wired to use emotion, but there are cultures where freedom of expression and spontaneity are encouraged (what Hofstede calls “high indulgence”).  On the other hand, even societies where emotional expressions are not encouraged will have citizens who will from time to time find ways to express their emotions.  Several years ago, the organization I was working for decided to assign a very competent and passionate leader from a Latin American country to become the general manager of its failing German subsidiary.  He was just what the German employees needed; he energized the organization, excited the employees in that subsidiary; in two years he had turned the subsidiary around to profitability.


Feeling self-confident.  I am sure that we are all familiar with cultures where this kind of behavior is encouraged.  In fact, in countries like the U.S. and Great Britain, pointing out your accomplishments, doing a bit of self-promoting, and making sure that colleagues and bosses know about what you have done are in general acceptable behaviors (as long as they are not done excessively).  In other cultures, individuals may let their accomplishments speak for themselves because of the cultural norms around humility.  Ken Watanabe, a very well-respected Japanese manager in a Tokyo-based financial services organization, is looked up to by all his colleagues.  He has a quiet and calm style, is always prepared, and has developed a reputation for his research reports on the industry he is focusing on.  Yet he is very self-effacing, and to a Western manager, may seem to constantly be diminishing his accomplishments constantly.  In some ways, this behavior reminds me of the profile of what Daniel Zweig (Harvard Business Review, May 2014) calls the “invisibles” in an organization, those who do not toot their own horn but are at the top of their game and are very valuable to an organization.


Classifying people into categories rapidly.  We will tend to do this, don’t we?  What I have observed is that different cultures make judgments about people based upon a narrow or wide scope.  In some cultures, we look at someone’s face, perhaps their attire and their bearing and the way they speak, and quickly classify them accordingly.  People from other cultures may cast a wider net in classifying people.   They may also consider a person’s family background, social status, and the way they follow the unwritten rules and the cultural code.   For example, George Freidrich, an Austrian manager just recently back from Buenos Aries on a two-year assignment, made sure that while in that country, he was careful about his attire, his body language, the way he addressed people at different levels in the organization, and his deference to women.  He knew that the Argentinians would be looking at all these cues in reaching conclusions about him.


Engaging in competitive behavior.  Our capitalistic culture is based on the value and benefits of competition, and most organizations encourage some form of competitive behavior – whether it is through beating the competition, or competing for scarce resources within the organization.  Yet in some cultures, such competitive behavior is downplayed; Hofstede refers to these cultures as more feminine, in that they place less emphasis on power, wealth, assertiveness and “living to work.”  It’s not that these cultures (which include Denmark and Norway) are not competitive; the competitive drive may still be there, but it is within the larger context of a culture that values family time, relationships, and “work to live.”


Empathy and mind reading.  While Daniel Goleman popularized the term emotional intelligence, it seems that even with our ancestors, having this characteristic enhanced one’s chances of survival and success.  I definitely think that cultures that are more high context (Edward Hall’s term) develop people who are good at “reading between the lines,” and who can communicate in different ways without offending others.  These cultures have code words that people in that culture understand.  For example, in Japan, a statement like “that might be difficult” really means “I don’t agree with you.”  Similarly, in China, a statement like “it’s not convenient” really means, “I don’t want to do it.” 


As a leader managing individuals and teams across cultures, there are two implications for you.  First, be aware that these hard-wired behaviors are part of what makes us “human” and it will be impossible to completely eliminate these behaviors in the work place. Through organization design and the reinforcement of specific management practices, we might be able to curb some of these behaviors but they will always be present.  For example, many organizations have implemented hiring and promotional practices that emphasize merit and results rather than relying on the initial impressions or judgments that people might have. 


Second, recognize that a society may differ in how the workers in that society express behaviors associated with these hard-wired behaviors.  Understanding the cultural code and the hidden cues will help you better manage and motivate individuals in different cultures. 


Goleman, D.  (2005).  Emotional Intelligence.  New York:  Bantam Books.


Hall, E.  (2013, reissued).  The Silent Language.  New York:  Anchor Books.


Hofstede, G.  (2001).  Culture’s Consequences.  New York:  Sage Publications.


Nicholson, N.   (July-August, 1998).  How Hard-Wired Is Human Behavior?  Harvard Business Review.


Zweig, D.  (May, 2014).  Managing the Invisibles.  Harvard Business Review.

Generational Differences: Myth or Reality?

Traditionalists (otherwise known as Matures or the Silent Generation), those born before 1946, are hard-working and detail-oriented. They are disciplined and like consistency and uniformity. They are stable and loyal, and, at work, they are concerned about healthcare and retirement benefits and possibly being discriminated against because of their age. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were indulged as children and are generally optimistic; they work hard and believe in self-improvement. They are driven but uncomfortable with conflict. At work, they put in long hours and are concerned with competition from the coming generation. Gen Xers, those born between 1965 and 1979, were alienated as children and do not respond well to authority and are willing to challenge it; they tend to be skeptical. However, they are practical in their approach to work and are technologically savvy. Millennials (or Generation Y), those born between 1981 and 1995, were protected as children and their parents are often their BFFs. They are digital natives and like to collaborate but are also achievement-oriented. They like to multi-task and are self-assured. They like to be autonomous, but also feel they deserve to be recognized and rewarded. They are used to working in teams and have a can-do attitude at work.

You have no doubt read many generalizations like the above that have been made about these four generations, and the challenges organizations have because these four generations are working side-by-side in the workplace today (see for example, Hawley, 2009; Taylor, 2014; and Twenge, 2006). In addition to these four generations, organizations are already starting to hire members of Generation Z, those born after 1995. Despite the many descriptions of these generations and their differences that are found in the popular press, the reactions from researchers and the scientific community have been quite mixed. In fact, it is one of the few topics in social science research today for which there is no end of controversy and debate. The more tempered of the researchers would say that we should exercise caution in making these generalizations because the evidence is not yet in. On the other hand, there is another group of researchers who have concluded that the evidence just does not exist, and that generational differences are for the most part artificial. They explain that it is difficult to separate the effects of age and life stage with shared experiences (or cohort effects). Others go further and argue that it is dangerous to even consider generational differences because it stereotypes people of different generations. Furthermore, such differential treatments might lead to age discrimination lawsuits, at least in the United States.

In the media and among many managers I have spoken to, however, these differences seem real. A few of these managers express genuine frustration with the attitudes of some Millennials, and there have been many articles written about them, from how they should be treated, the kinds of work environments they prefer, their work-life balance, and their desire for continuous feedback. Price Waterhouse Coopers has made it a point in its recruiting to target Millennials, and to develop human resources practices to engage and motivate them. Other managers I have interviewed shared their concerns about Millennials managing older workers. In Silicon Valley, there are many start-ups where Millennials are finding it challenging to manage other Millennials.

Why the continued appeal of contrasting workers’ attitudes and preferences from a generational perspective? There are several explanations, and I offer the following, some of which are based on the hypotheses that Steel and Kammeyer-Mueller (2016) have suggested. First, we have a tendency to stereotype and make generalizations about groups of people. It simplifies our thought process and provides us with mental short-cuts. Generational grouping is one among many dimensions where it seems almost second-nature for us to believe that the differences among them are indeed real. Second, we know from evolutionary psychology that as a species, we humans make spontaneous ingroup-outgroup categorizations; even when the criteria for categorizing are sometimes trivial (like preferences for certain paintings or even certain colors) we affiliate ourselves with those who we feel we have something in common (Tafjel and Turner, 1986; van Vugt and Park, 2009). Forming these generational categorizations is not at all surprising, given that different generations have a presumed number of experiences in common.

Third, following attribution theory, our stereotypes are reinforced when we attribute the causes of behavior to a generational characteristic. For example, a manager attributes the difficulties a Baby Boomer employee may be having with a new technology being introduced in his company because he is of that generation that does not like technology. Fourth, our stereotypes are further reinforced because of cognitive biases – specifically availability and representative biases. As an example of availability bias, note that lottery organizers like to publicize their winners so when people are thinking about buying that lottery ticket, they will remember examples of these winners. Similarly, when we think about Millennials, examples that come to mind are from the media or from our recent encounters with millennial employees. With representative bias, we tend to generalize from a Baby Boomer or two and conclude that they are representative of the entire generation.

As mentioned earlier, the debate about generational differences is far from settled, with the skeptics arguing that many of these differences can be explained in part by age, life stage, or career stage, while others argue that there are in fact generational cohorts that we can view as belonging to different categories based on common shared experiences (e.g., World War II for Traditionalists, the Civil Rights movement for Baby Boomers). There are actually two sets of arguments here. The first argues that categorizing individuals by generation ignores individual differences. Costanza and Finkelstein (2015), for example, argue that “The key to managing a multigenerational workforce effectively is for managers not to make decisions about employees using their generation as a shortcut to their characteristics and needs but rather to measure critical individual differences as well as to track the gradual developmental and demographic changes that occur within and among individuals over time.” (p. 317)

The second argues for not using generation at all as a category to differentiate individuals. Here are Costanza and Finkelstein again: “The assumption that grouping people into arbitrary cohorts on the basis of supposedly impactful events they may have experienced in a common way will somehow magically make them much more homogeneous on those variables is not only unsupported by the research but also runs counter to what we know about individual differences.” (p. 321)

However, while those proponents of generational differences argue that individuals who have more or less experienced what sociologists call “history-graded influences” (such as the independence of Singapore for Singaporeans or the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 for Filipinos) can potentially impact their developmental outcomes, this does not suggest that everyone will be impacted in the same way. As Lyons et al. (2015) stated: “… within-cohort variance does not disprove the existence of generations; it is an interesting empirical feature of generations that helps us to delineate patterns of thought and action within the generation.” (p. 351) For example, organizational behavior researchers analyze employee data by looking at groupings such as length of service. The assumption here is that in general those with differing lengths of service might have different attitudes about the organization – and in fact, they often do. This is not to deny the existence of variation within each of the categories of length of service, but simply to use a grouping variable to understand patterns. Similarly, market researchers segment potential customers through such variables as age and gender. Advertisers charge more for TV ads that are targeted for that coveted 18-49 segment.  Furthermore, as Banaji and Greenwald (2013) have pointed out, “It is not possible to be human and to avoid making use of stereotypes.” In fact, they suggest, we have stereotypes based on different categories, and we rarely stereotype persons on one category alone. It is the combination of these categories that allows us to form an impression that makes each person unique.

The reality for many managers is that more and more of them are facing multiple generations of employees in the workplace. Furthermore, millennials alone are expected to be 50% of the workforce by 2020. This adds even more complexity and another dimension to the diversity of the workforce (in addition to other dimensions such as race, gender, and cognitive styles). My advice to managers is the following. First, be aware of your own assumptions and biases with regard to different generations. Increasing your self-awareness by checking with others and asking for feedback should be part of a manager’s toolkit. Per, a Swedish Baby Boomer manager recently hired to manage a group of very young engineers at a high-tech start-up, initially started by giving a lot of autonomy to his team. To his surprise, not everyone responded well, with some of them asking for more structure and more direction than Per would have expected from these Millennials.

Second, learn to adapt a flexible style especially when communicating with different team members. While this might go against your natural preference, fight the tendency to always stay in your comfort zone, especially when selecting how to communicate with others. The most successful salespeople and presenters make it a point to know their audience and tailor their messages accordingly. Learn about and practice different styles so you will be able to draw on these different styles as needed. Third, make an effort to learn the wide range of social media platforms available. Most of us know about LinkedIn and Twitter, but what about Pinterest and Yammer? How much do you know about these tools, and how the extent to which your organization is using them as communication tools for employees? Read about, and/or ask colleagues and your direct reports, about how you can use some of these tools to improve your communication.

Fourth, seek commonalities among your diverse team members to build cohesion and a common purpose, and learn how to use these differences to your team’s and organization’s advantage. Kathy, a marketing manager for a consumer products company, built a highly effective team made up of different generations of members by involving them in developing a challenging goal for the team (in her case, to create a successful marketing campaign in 12 months) and drawing on the different types of expertise within the team for contributions. Another example of using generational differences effectively is the practice of reverse mentoring, which companies such as Cisco, MasterCard and HP have implemented successfully.


Banaji, M. and Greenwald, A. (2013). Blindspot. New York: Delacorte Press.

Costanza, D. and Finkelstein, L. (2015). Generationally Based Differences in the Workplace: Is There a There There? Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8 (3): 308-323.

Hawley, C. (2009). Managing the Older Employee: Communicate, Motivate, Innovate. Avon, MA: Avon Books.

Lyons, S. et al. (2015). Generational Differences in the Workplace: There Is Complexity Beyond the Stereotypes. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8 (3): 346-356.

Steel, P. and Kammeyer-Mueller (2015). The World Is Going to Hell, the Young No Longer Respect Their Elders, and Other Tricks of the Mind. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8 (3): 366-371.

Tafjel, H. and Turner, J. (1986). The Social Identity Theory of Group Behavior. In S. Worchel and W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of Intergroup Relations, pp. 7-24. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.

Taylor, P. (2014). The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Slowdown. New York: Public Affairs.

Twenge, J. (2006). Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitles – and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York: Free Press.

Van Vugt, M. and Park, J. (2009). The Tribal Instinct Hypothesis: Evolution and the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. In S. Sturmer and M. Snyder (Eds.), The Psychology of Prosocial Behavior, pp. 13-32. London: Blackwell.

Adopting a “Reverse Innovation” Attitude

Professor Vijay Gavindarajan’s concept of reverse innovation – developing ideas in an emerging market and coaxing them to flow uphill to Western markets – is a powerful one. If you are familiar with his work, you will know that he cites many examples, especially at GE, where products such as a low-cost ECG machine were originally developed in emerging markets like India and yet have become innovations sold in developed countries as well.

As he points out, reverse innovation “refers as much to a state of mind as to best practice.” While he does not spell out what this state of mind is, let me offer some thoughts on what global managers can do to adopt an attitude of reverse innovation.

If you work for a for-profit or a not-for-profit firm these days, you will more than likely have interactions with people from different parts of the world. Like myself, some of you will have gone overseas on short-term or long-term assignments. Many of you are also members or leaders of global teams.

Before reverse innovation can even be considered as an organizational practice, a global company should examine its approach and overall relationship towards its overseas offices and locations. In my experience, reverse innovation can best thrive when a company views its overseas offices as:

1. Important markets or locations which could potentially make a contribution to the company

2. A source for potentially good ideas, best practices, or specific areas of expertise of value to the company

3. An integrated part of the company where these offices are not treated as “second-class citizens.”

It does not thrive when companies see their overseas arms simply as an additional source of profits or cost advantage, or as a resource to be exploited. In other words, adopting a stance similar to that of the colonizers (e.g., Great Britain) with their possessions in the early days (e.g., India) will not help a company become truly global and take advantage of reverse innovation.

Without these three conditions in place at the organizational level, it will be very difficult for a global manager to encourage and practice reverse innovation at the individual level. Now if you happen to be with a company where these organizational conditions are present, then you are fortunate. But having these organizational conditions is not enough. Here is what you can do to take advantage of your opportunity and adapt a reverse innovation attitude.

First, become more self-aware. Learning more about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses and where you can improve, will give you a dash of humility plus a degree of self-confidence. Since we are all subject to biases, especially about ourselves, you will need to have the courage to ask others what you can to do improve. Asking for feedback is necessary for you to increase your self-awareness. Of course others may have their own biases so be sure to ask people who you can trust, who know you well, and whom you believe are relatively objective in their observations. They can be someone with whom you have a significant relationship, a close friend, a co-worker or a mentor. When you do this, be sure you have a specific behavior in mind and not just ask a general question on how you can improve. You might want to ask, for example, how you can be a better listener. Try using Marshall Goldsmith’s feed forward tool or discussing the results of your 360-degree feedback with a trusted friend or co-worker.

Second, develop respect for different cultures and business practices. In my MBA course on Cross-Cultural Management, many of my students who have never worked overseas are surprised at what they assume to be common management techniques and practices is not that common in other countries. Asking subordinates who speak up and express their opinion, or to disagree with you if necessary, is something not typically done in societies with higher “power distance” than our own. Recognizing that these practices are different from ours, and not necessarily inferior, is a difficult concept to grasp initially for some of my students, but is necessary for a successful global manager. A good rule of thumb to follow is that when you see a management practice in another culture that is different, try describing what the practice is first and suspend judgment by evaluating it right away.

Third, improve your listening skills. In my work with executives over the years, one common weakness I see in many of them is their lack of listening skills. For those of you managing globally, this means not only paying attention to content but to context as well. First of all, you will meet many very smart managers who may struggle at times with their English, and who may not understand some of the idioms and expressions we use. Do not assume that there is a correlation between intelligence and the ability to speak English. I have seen too many instances of American executives who are so impressed by how well some non-U.S. executives in their overseas locations speak English that they want to immediately place them on a fast promotion track. Second, many countries, especially in Asia and Latin America, belong to what Edward Hall calls “high context” cultures. This means listening to what is said “between the lines,” and how something is said becomes very important. Effective salespersons know how to do this well. You should, too. Listen carefully to what your global counterparts are saying, paying attention to what they are saying (e.g., how direct or indirect their message is) as well as how they are saying it (e.g., body language, tone of voice).

The road to becoming a truly global manager with a reverse innovation attitude starts with these fundamentals.

Goldsmith, M. (2002). Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback. Adapted from Leader to Leader Magazine (

Gonvindarajan, V. et al. (2012). Reverse Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Hall, E. (1992). Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.

Building Cultural Self-Awareness

In a recent coaching session I had with an executive I will call Henry, we reviewed the results of 360-degree feedback interviews I had conducted with over 12 of his stakeholders (e.g., his boss, direct reports, internal and external customers) as well as the results of an anonymous survey. Like many very successful managers, Henry believed he was pretty self-aware, yet was surprised at some of the feedback he heard, especially from his direct reports in several Asian countries. While Henry saw himself as a “straight shooter” and open about his opinions, his Asian direct reports had a different impression. They described him as intimidating and as someone who argues too much without listening.

We know that self-awareness is an important component of emotional intelligence and for becoming an effective leader. For global managers, I would add that cultural self-awareness is also an important key to their success interacting with and getting results through others from various cultures. In psychological counseling over the past twenty years or so, there has been a strong emphasis in making sure that therapists are aware of their own assumptions, biases and values. Various assessments and training have been introduced to enhance therapists’ competence and their effectiveness (Roysircar, 2004). As Royscircar notes:

“Therapists must put their assumptions, values, and biases to scrutiny because they will resort to these anyway. They need to ask themselves how U.S. sociopolitical issues, such as prejudice against minority groups, communism, Islamic fundamentalism, immigration to the U/S., bilingualism, or those with visible physical differences and disabilities have affected their social views of people and whether these social views may be related to their theoretical orientation in professional practice.” (p. 660)

Similarly, global managers (especially those from the Western world) must also put their assumptions, values and biases to self-scrutiny since otherwise, they will resort to these unthinkingly. Their unconscious biases when dealing with others who don’t speak English very well, whose attire might not fit with what might be considered appropriate in a corporate setting, or whose physical mannerisms might be inappropriate in a Western setting will certainly affect their interactions with and judgments about these individuals.

According to Eurich (2017), there are two main categories of self-awareness: internal (understanding yourself) and external (understanding how other people see you). Her distinction is actually based on self-concept theory; psychologists in this field use the term objective self-awareness and subjective self-awareness respectively. Eurich argues that the two are not necessarily correlated but there is some evidence that these might be influenced by culture.

Cultural self-awareness is first of all about understanding your own culture, and acknowledging that part of your behavior (as some anthropologists claim, as much as 25 percent) may be due to cultural influences. This may difficult to achieve, especially for those who have never traveled, or who have not been exposed to cultural diversity. Hall (1973) and Adler (2008) have used the analogy of a fish that cannot imagine what it is like outside the water because it has been swimming in that environment all its life.

The second aspect of cultural self-awareness is recognizing the differences between your culture and other cultures, especially when it comes to behavior in the work place. Gina, a manager for a global financial services company whose parents were Puerto Rican, recalled the excitement she felt when her company asked her to move to London for two years: “In my mind, London was just like New York. I had travelled internationally before and of course spoke English; I was set. I came to New York as a young child and growing up, thought it was the center of the world. I really subscribed to the cliché that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I expected the world to conform to my beliefs.”

She remembered some of her initial impressions of her British colleagues at the F/X desk where she worked. Most of them spoke more than three languages, and she met one colleague who spoke seven languages. When she mentioned to him that she wanted to learn another language, he commented, “You do not speak English, you speak American. We speak English.” Rather than taking this remark as an insult, Gina reflected on her lack of cultural self-awareness, and her arrogance in thinking that coming to London would be easy because she already knew the language. Adler (2008) makes this insightful comment: “Although we may think that the biggest obstacle to conducting business around the world is understanding foreigners, the greater difficulty actually involves becoming aware of our own cultural conditioning.” (p. 81)

A third aspect of cultural self-awareness includes understanding of different gestures and other non-verbals, which are important in building our intercultural competence. This ability to understand cultural rules and codes has been shown to be a predictor of positive interpersonal outcomes. In an interesting series of studies, Molinsky and his colleagues (Molinsky et al, 2005) developed a measure which they called the Gesture Recognition Task (GRT). This was made up of a series of 15 real (e.g., a shoulder shrug) and 13 fake non-verbal gestures (e.g., twirling the right finger in front of the body from chest level to above the head). Several hundred U.S.-born and non-native-born students participated in the study. In their first study, they also developed a measure of intercultural competence, and they found a positive relationship between performance on the GRT with self-ratings of intercultural competence. In a second study, performance on the GRT was also positively associated with ratings of observers who rated the students on their intercultural competence, reinforcing the importance of the ability to “read” cultural non-verbal behaviors.

Even e-mail communication can be influenced by cultural differences. Holtbrugge and his colleagues (2013) did an interesting study of a sample of professionals in the IT and services industry of large multinationals. The sample, which was obtained from professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn, consisted of 235 participants from 28 different nationalities, including India, Finland, Germany, USA, and China. According to the authors, 75-80 percent of virtual team communication is done by e-mail. They constructed a 23-item questionnaire measuring such dimensions as directness, promptness, preciseness and task-relatedness. The researchers found significant differences between respondents coming from high-context (e.g., Argentina, Brazil, China, Italy, Pakistan, and Uruguay) and low-context (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the U.S.A.) cultures in their e-mail communication styles, with high-context, polychronic cultures preferring more formal but more fluid e-mail communication, and low-context, monochronic cultures preferring more precise and prompt e-mail communication.

The following are several strategies to enhance your cultural self-awareness. One, find out what managers’ impressions are about your own culture. Of course, some of their impressions may be based on simplistic and even outdated stereotypes. However, they can provide some insights into the cultural influences that impact workplace behavior in your culture. Some might not be willing to express their opinions directly for fear of being “politically incorrect” (although in my experience Europeans seem to be more candid than Americans about expressing their impressions of different nationalities). In conversations, therefore, you might have to probe and ask different questions. For example, you might ask them to compare and contrast two managers they know who are of the same nationality.

Two, learn about the successes and failures of managers from your country who have worked in other cultures. For example, Brad, a British manager of a multinational identified several British colleagues who had been sent overseas on expatriate assignments. Through his contacts, he found a few who were successful and others who were less successful in their assignments, and reached out to them. Learning about the experiences of individuals in both groups gave him valuable insights on his own cultural self-awareness and important lessons to apply.

Three, look for opportunities where you can immerse yourself in a different culture. You might ask, how can I do this unless I actually travel to that country? Nieto (2006) has described a practice called a cultural plunge that professors in San Diego State University have been using over many years. A cultural plunge “…is individual exposure to persons or groups markedly different in culture (ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and/or physical exceptionality) from that of the ‘plunger’.” Examples he gives are attending services or religious ceremonies of a group with a different ethnicity (e.g., African-American) or language (e.g., Vietnamese), or interacting with homeless people or people with disabilities. The plunges don’t have to be that long; to help with cultural self-awareness, however, it is important to reflect on the experience in a structured or organized way. Adapting Nieto’s suggestions, I would suggest that after whatever “plunge” you undertake, make sure that you jot down or type the following right after your plunge: what you experienced, your emotional response, whether the plunge reinforced or challenged your stereotypes, lessons learned and implications for your role as a global manager or leader.


Adler, Nancy J. 2008. International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, Fifth Edition. Mason, OH: South-Western Publishing.

Eurich, T. (2017). Insight. New York: Crown Business.

Hall, E. (1973). The Silent Language. New York: Anchor Books.

Heine, S. Positive Self-Views: Understanding Universals and Variability Across Cultures. Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology, 2: 109-122.

Molinsky, Andrew. 2007. Cross-Cultural Code-Switching: The Psychological Challenges of Adapting Behavior in Foreign Cultural Interactions. Academy of Management Review 32(2): 622–640.

Nieto, J. (2006). The Cultural Plunge: Cultural Immersion as a Means of Promoting Self-Awareness and Cultural Sensitivity Among Student Teachers. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter: 75-84.

Roysircar, G. (2004). Cultural Self-Awareness Assessment: Practice Examples from Psychology Training. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35 (6): 658-666.

“Flash” Organizations and Temporary Teams – On the Rise?

Lately, I’ve been reading a number of articles on the rise of so-called temporary organizations. While such types of teams have been around for a while (e.g., movie crews, emergency response teams), several related trends seem to be driving their prevalence. One is the reluctance of workers who get laid off to move elsewhere to find work. Related to this is the growing number of workers doing freelance work in what is known as the gig economy. Third is the rise of crowdsourcing. And fourth, with the increasing opportunities in technology and software for groups to get together quickly, so-called “flash organizations” are popping up, where freelance workers get together for a limited amount of time to work on specific projects with clear deadlines and end points (Valentine et al., 2017).


What do we know about such temporary organizations and their effectiveness? Are there lessons learned that we can apply to large, traditional organizations – management practices from these temporary organizations that are transferable to permanent organizations?


In their paper, Valentine et al. (2017) describe flash organizations as “crowds structured like organizations to achieve complex and open-ended goals.” In fact, they unequivocally state that “Flash organizations advance a future where organizations are no longer anchored in traditional Industrial Revolution-era labor models, but are instead fluidly assembled and re-assembled from globally networked labor markets.”


In a recent research piece, Burke and Morley (2016) propose defining a temporary organization as “a temporally bounded group of interdependent organizational actors, formed to complete a complex task.” (p. 1237) Such temporary organizations of course are nothing new, both within and outside the context of traditional or permanent organizations. Task forces, committees, project teams, surgical teams, and special assignment teams are examples of the former; movie or theater productions, software development teams, and emergency response teams are examples of the latter. What they all have in common is a fixed end point, whether that is defined by time or by the achievement of a certain objective.


On the other hand, it does not seem like large organizations are going away soon. The big four technology companies – Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft – have been increasing their headcount every year, as have the largest U.S. Fortune 500 companies. In my recent book (Henson, 2016), I wrote that despite the changes going on in organizations today (especially with automation and robotics), the three organizational building blocks or “infrastructure” elements of structures, rewards, and processes will continue to be in place to help an organization achieve its strategy and objectives. The modern organization, despite much criticism, is arguably still a great invention, and will continue to evolve. And these building blocks of structure, rewards, and processes will remain essential to any organization.


Take the so-called “gig” economy, where there exists an increasing number of part-time and freelance jobs. According to a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report, these constitute approximately 4% of the U.S. workforce. However, the Wall Street Journal (August 9, 2017) reports that this segment will most likely shrink due to a labor market that is strengthening as well as disillusionment with this type of work. After the 2007-09 recession, as companies reduced their workforce or shut down completely, the unemployment rate increased and laid-off workers sought part-time employment. With the labor market now growing, companies are hiring once again, and they are hiring full-time workers. Uber for example recently hired over 100 drivers for customer-support jobs. Even for their part-time and freelance workers, many companies are offering perks. Uber’s competitor Lyft has implemented a “tiered perks” program with enhanced tax, health and car-maintenance services to its 700,000 drivers, depending on the number of rides completed. DoorDash, a food-delivery start-up, offers its independent contractors health-insurance plans and next-day payments. Signing and referral bonuses are not uncommon in these companies.


McAfee and Brynolfsson (2017), who earlier wrote the masterful The Second Machine Age, recently published a sequel to that book. In their chapter entitled “Are Companies Passé?”, they try to answer this question by drawing on the work of the Nobel-prize winning economist Ronald Coase. Coase wondered why, if markets were so great, a lot still happens within companies. For Coase, the choice between firms and markets comes down to costs. While markets are efficient, they have higher costs than firms in several areas, e.g., the costs of negotiating and making decisions, the costs of concluding separate contracts and enforcing them. Therefore, he concluded, big firms will continue to exist. In addition, as McAfee and Brynolfsson point out, companies offer additional advantages:


“Companies also exist because they serve several other economic and legal functions that would be difficult to replicate in a world made up only of freelancers who constantly wrote contracts to work together. Companies are assumed to endure indefinitely … which make them suitable for long-term projects and investments. They are also governed by a large and well-developed set of laws … that provide predictability and confidence. As a result, companies remain the preferred vehicle for conducting many kinds of businesses.” (p. 319)


Having permanent employees provides advantages to companies as well: stronger psychological contracts between employer and employee, greater stability of the workforce, a larger repository of tacit knowledge, greater protection of intellectual property, clearer lines of succession, and a “stickier” corporate culture. Permanent organizations also help employees in these organizations achieve the four drives that Lawrence and Nohria (2002) have identified that we have acquired through evolution – to acquire, bond, learn and defend – more so than temporary organizations do.


While there will always be a segment of the workforce choosing to remain independent, many still find satisfaction with belonging to a company (see the four drives above). Uber found that in 2016, 45% of new drivers left the platform in their first year. According to a JPMorgan Chase Institute report, while about one in six workers in the gig economy are new each month, more than half exit within a year.


Not surprisingly, flash organizations make use of the three building blocks of structures, rewards, and processes, but with some twists. For example, as Valentine et al. (2017) have argued, permanent organizations have what is known as asset specificity, the pattern of relationships that gets established as employees work together over a period of time and learn to coordinate and collaborate together. In flash organizations, roles for workers are clearly defined, and these roles are then arranged in a hierarchy to make sure that authority and decision-making are also clear.


Valentine et al. provide examples of flash organizations in software, project and game design. In all three cases, the organizations lasted three weeks, and they all completed their goals to the satisfaction of the leader and received an acceptable quality rating by three expert reviewers. These flash organizations had 93 crowd workers, 22 team leads and 24 teams. As a specific example, one such flash organization was the EMS Trauma Report group, which was tasked to develop an Android application for emergency medical technicians that they could use to send advance reports to the hospital while they were still in the ambulance. Valentine et al. wax optimistic about the future of such organizations: “We envision a world in which anyone with an internet connection can assemble an organization from an online labor market and then lead that organization in pursuit of complex, open-ended goals.”


In a recent article about their research and on the rise of flash organizations, the journalist Noam Scheiber (2017) point to three lessons from these types of organizations. First is the importance of technology in facilitating the emergence of these teams. Some groups collect many data points on potential candidates to identify the best mix of members. Second is the need to define clear roles and responsibilities. And third is the need for what Scheiber calls “middle managers” but who are actually team coaches, project managers or leaders. None of these lessons are particularly unique to flash organizations; in fact, these organizations are continuing to utilize the infrastructure elements of structures and processes.


For those responsible for organizing temporary teams, here is some advice. First, select team members carefully, making sure the teams have the right technical skills but also the right balance of interpersonal and soft skills needed for members to work together and develop what Meyerson et al. (1996) call swift trust. Swift trust is important especially when these temporary teams are virtual, as many of them are. Iacono and Weisband (1997) have suggested that trust in such virtual teams is built around “doing” more than “relating” and these involve two mechanisms: initiating interactions, and relevant and timely responses. In their study, those virtual teams that had frequent messages initiated by members regarding work content, and frequent as well as timely responses to these messages, tended to build trust more quickly and ended up performing better than other teams.


Second, define roles and responsibilities carefully while allowing for some flexibility. This is especially important when managing and resolving conflicts with members or groups in the temporary organization who identify with different entities. For example, in an interesting case study of the Panama Canal Expansion Program, where there were multiple parties (including a local Panamanian company and U.S.-based contractor), conflicts often arose that were not necessarily resolved by defining roles and responsibilities alone (van Marrewijk et al., 2016). The authors found that interventions (such as having celebrations, creating images of a unified team) were necessary. Presumably, this also helped to build trust. There are some who have argued that since members of these temporary organizations are not likely to work again in the future (with some exceptions; this is certainly not true of temporary organizations within organizations), they are less concerned about long-term benefits (for example, acquiring teamwork skills). Rather, the focus of these teams is on the task, for example, clarifying roles and responsibilities. However, as the Panama Canal project study has shown, an exclusive focus on the task is not sufficient. Interpersonal relations still need to be considered. Furthermore, because of the need to develop swift trust, leadership skills become very important.


Third, for teams that are embedded within large organizations, proactively shape the right culture for the team. Some of the key cultural elements to have in place include transparency, adaptability, trust, and teamwork. And fourth, make sure the leader is an effective “boundary-spanner.” Such leaders have not only the desire but the skills to network, build alliances, involve different kinds of stakeholders, and the ability to influence upward and laterally. They willingly share information and collaborate with different groups. When these teams are embedded within a larger organizational context, the issue of knowledge sustainability and transfer become critical. Capturing lessons learned is important, not only in terms of the content of the project but also in terms of collaboration. The larger organization can learn a lot about effective collaboration from those temporary teams that become truly effective.


In addition to a rise in temporary organizations, we are also seeing a rise in temporary workers within organizations. Estimates are that roughly 20-30% of the workforce is made up of independents working for more than one organization. Independents are “separate and not equal” in many organizations.

There is perhaps a larger issue here that is beyond the scope of this post, but worth mentioning. Some have suggested that the decline of permanent employees may have contributed to the rise in wage inequality in the United States. In the past, when organizations hired many employees for all sorts of work (including janitorial work), there was at least in principle the opportunity to get promoted. With the increase in outsourcing, many organizations have trimmed their permanent payroll to focus on their core activities. Such outsourced firms generally pay less, with fewer benefits and fewer opportunities to get promoted and get pay raises.


At the same time, as McAffee and Brynollfson have pointed out, jobs that require high social skills have increased as a share of total employment. They state three reasons for this. First, since the world is becoming more complex and fast-paced, managers are needed to serve as “transmission belts” and facilitate the challenges of coordination (e.g., communicating, negotiating, etc.). Second, we are more persuaded by good stories and anecdotes than statistics and data. Third, we are social animals and like to work together. They argue that the companies of the future need to be more egalitarian and more transparent, i.e., that they share more information more widely than those in the past.



Bakker, R. (2010). Taking Stock of Temporary Organizational Forms: A Systematic Review and Research Agenda. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12: 466-486.


Burke, C. and Morley, M. (2016). On Temporary Organizations: A Review, Synthesis and Research Agenda. Human Relations, 69 (6): 1235-1258.


Iacono, C. S. and Weisband, S. (1997). Developing Trust in Virtual Teams.


Meyerson, D. et al. (1996). Swift trust and temporary groups. In Kramer, R.M. and Rylwe, R. R. (eds.), Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research. Thousand Oaks, CS: Sage, pp. 166-195.


McAfee, A. and Brynjolfsson, E. (2017) Machine-Platform-Crowd. New York: W. W. Norton.


Scheiber, N. (2017). The Pop-Up Employer: Build a Team, Do the Job, and Say Goodbye. The New York Times, July 12.


Valentine, M. et al. (2017). Flash Organizations: Crowdsourcing Complex Work by Structuring Crowds as Organizations. www:


Van Marrewijk, A. et al. (2016). Clash of the Titans: Temporal Organizing and Collaborative Dynamics in the Panama Canal Megaproject. Organization Studies, 37 (12): 1745-1769.