I have listened to many sessions about multi-cultural and global leadership aimed at helping leaders understand how to work successfully in multi-cultural environments. I teach in very diverse classrooms, listening to students on Masters-level management programmes grapple with their leadership dilemmas.
Added on 04 August 2015 by Roger Delves
What strikes me is that we’re always going to have far more that separates us than that brings us together. Alisdair MacIntyre is a moral and political philosopher who puts it this way: “I am someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s cousin or uncle. I am a citizen of this or that city, a member of this or that guild or profession; I belong to this tribe, that clan, this nation. I inherit from my family, my city, my tribe, my nation, a variety of debts, inheritances, rightful expectations and obligations. These constitute the given of my life, my moral starting point. This is in part what gives my life its own moral particularity.”
We each have our own moral particularity (the qualities or features that make us different from others), which we refine and develop throughout our lives – but its start point is an inheritance and that inheritance is cultural. So it seems to me that trying to align our differences may not be particularly helpful or beneficial – indeed what might be more useful is to look for commonality.
My moral particularity is grounded in my Anglo-Irish upbringing, in the deep Catholicism of my Irish mother and her large family and in the deep love of countryside of my British father, with his far smaller family. Both spent their formative years enduring, in different ways, World War II. I am a product of the Grammar School boom of the sixties and seventies. So what might I possibly have in common with someone brought up, probably much later, in Eastern Europe, North America, South East Asia or the West Indes or from wherever else my colleagues, clients and co-workers may hail?
I believe that within the essence of all decent people there is common ground – ground on which we can all stand, regardless of the richly interesting differences that exist between us. That common ground consists of a shared sense of integrity and conscientiousness.
I like emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman’s definition of integrity: it’s being able to recognise right from wrong, being able to act on what we recognise and being able to tell others that we are acting because of what we recognise.
At different times we each have trouble with different parts of this process. I also like the duality captured by the word conscientiousness: it has a sense of being controlled by or done according to one’s inner sense of what is right or principled, but it also has a sense of being careful and painstaking, meticulous and scrupulous. Indeed conscientious is in my world a synonym for professional.
So for me the leader who has conscientiousness and integrity will always find common ground with other professional leaders and followers. The cultural backgrounds of these individuals may differ, but the foregrounds will be recognisable and reconcilable, generating the shared understanding and shared culture from which successful, sustainable high performing teams can spring and flourish.