Out of all the blog posts I’ve submitted over the last couple of years or so this one was the most difficult to start for a variety of reasons. The first obvious one is the sensitivity around diversity and how we as a society address diversity and its many complex components. Forcing myself to pull back on pontificating the importance of embracing diversity and sticking to the script of sharing my leadership experience…..I quite frankly cannot progress forward with this post without pontificating the importance of diversity. Please indulge me.
EVERYTHING we do in our personal and professional lives has an impact globally, seriously. Almost daily advanced technology has thrust us out of this closed environment thinking to realizing our ideas, thoughts and sensitivities can travel across the globe. Just pushing the send button can now impact someone living in Iceland…a long way from my small town in Pennsylvania. We all have an impact whether it’s positive or negative on not just our immediate surroundings but around the globe, and therein lies the importance of embracing diversity. To the close minded, I’m sorry it’s here and it’s not going away.
Now, back to my script…..
I lived in Ireland for a few years where I was a global chief commercial officer, the position was responsible for 12 countries so the role was vast and I must say extremely exciting. Having worked globally indirectly in positions prior to this role it was the first time in my career where I actually lived and worked abroad. Now, as you can imagine Ireland is typically not a place you would say you’d find young African American male professionals residing in abundance (haha!!). However, the wisdom I obtained from that experience has been priceless. It has precipitated me to post this blog on the importance of leading across cultures and stressing why it matters today. Right from the very start after getting the position I spent the majority of the 1st few months understanding the countries, and the vice presidents/directors who reported to me….this was an eye opening experience. Nope, I do not speak Mandarin, Russian, or Portuguese (I do speak a little Spanish, and French) so just the communication barrier alone was a bit of a challenge. What impacted me the most was the profound respect I had for the other cultures that made the attempt to not only learn my language but master it. This forced me to remove my preconceived notions and hidden biases to reciprocate that same interest. If it wasn’t for that beginning lesson…I would have been provided a early ticket back home. Humility was something I didn’t practice prior to moving overseas and it took time and some hard knocks before I realized the importance of respecting other languages and cultures. The best thing the job offered was the opportunity to meet the families of the colleagues I worked with and mingling with them on a personal level (some of them I still communicate with). That turned out to be the best on-boarding I ever had in my career. Conversely, many of the folks I worked with never had experience actively interacting interacting with African Americans…let alone working for one. So, you can say it was a bit of a “culture shock” on both ends (LOL!). To be clear I knew going into the role that there was going to be immediate obstacles, and that some of the folks would have a problem working with an African American man. This would turn out to be the biggest challenge of my career.
I spent a lot of time leadership flexibility to the cultures in that my style has always been to adjust my leadership style to the situation or person….not vice versa. I understood upfront they (my direct reports) had the upper hand from a leverage standpoint, I had to EARN their respect I was in their backyard. Once I earned their respect based on my competency, respect for them, and humility I was able to get a lot of things accomplished. Honestly however my immediate thinking when I was presented the opportunity to lead 12 countries was to drive business, drive business, and drive business more. My fear was that I will never be afforded this kind of opportunity again and I have to produce. What shook me away from this thinking was a conversation I had with my mother who stressed the importance of connection and humility to “Be Educated” while “Educating”.
Moral of story, we all whether in your professional or personal lives should embrace diversity because of the many reasons I’ve described but importantly because we’re now one global society…whether you like it…or not.
AH2 & Beyond Consulting