LeadershipWatch

7 Top Insights for Leading East-West Business Teams

Singapore skyline, Asian Business Teams

As business leader you are increasingly dealing with global business teams. For instance East-West business teams in which people from cultures you know rather well need to collaborate with people from cultures you are less familiar with. This is a new reality in today’s business world that has a great impact on the success of companies. And you don’t need to be in Asia to recognize this. Globalization, technology and growing FDI of Asian companies in the West increase the need for cross-cultural skills on both sides.

“To be successful in the current and future business world, cross-cultural skills are increasingly important.”

And mind you: just learning the unfamiliar Asian business etiquette is not enough.

Effectively assessing cross-cultural context and its impact on team performance is not always easy. Even after 25 years I still can find myself in situations where I think I recognize and understand the cultural differences, but nevertheless am surprised by the unexpected behavior of team members.

For instance, just a few weeks back I had a meeting with Indian team leads. It was about setting up a good planning for the coming 6 months. Not the first time in my life I had this type of discussion with Indians, and yet I tricked myself by not paying enough attention to the Indian appreciation of hierarchy versus my Dutch interpretation. By letting them decide on their own as a team they felt confused because they expected me to set a clear direction, and therefore they didn’t know how to meet my expectations. I needed to remind myself that empowering people works differently in the Indian culture versus the Anglo-Saxon cultures.

Over the years I have lead and facilitated many East-West business teams in complex transformations, learned a lot and repeatedly wrote about it.

Here are our top 7 articles, most popular with LeadershipWatch readers determined to improve their multicultural leadership skills.

We hope you find them useful too (you will find lots of practical tips!)

How to increase your understanding of the cultural differences in your team

1. Leading cross-cultural teams: do you understand the cultural differences in your team?

How to improve team communication

2. How to avoid making people lose face

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3. How to create openness despite cultural differences

.

4. How to stimulate Asian team members to speak up

How to interpret and deal with authority across cultures

5. East and West perceive authority differently and it affects your team

How to plan and schedule better

6. Leading Indian – Dutch business teams: 3 insights that help create results

How to build mutual trust across cultures

7. Cross-cultural leadership: How to build mutual trust

Thoughts?

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Photo: © HRS Business Transformation Services


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Why Curiosity is a Key Business Attitude for the Future

Leadership Quote by HRS Business Transformation Services

Curiosity is more than just a nice to have in today’s business context. It is essential to successfully navigate the rapid technological changes coming our way.

For instance for my current client, a large retail company, which is facing significant changes that require an important digital transformation with significant impact on the organization and employees. As program manager supporting this strategic corporate transformation process I witness daily how stimulating people to adopt a curious attitude makes a big difference and has a positive impact. Highly complex transformations like this one often bring people and teams in situations where there are no clear predefined answers and solutions; where people need to explore, need to get outside the ordinary routine, and learn new ways of looking at things to find new ways of working.

It comes down to this: How do we fundamentally react to change?

1) We close off? Try to restore the as-is? See the unknown as a potential threat?

Or,

2) We open up? We feel intrigued by it because it’s new and we don’t know it? We open up to it, we want investigate it, understand it, even if it puts us outside our comfort zone?

Reaction 2 has serious advantages! Why?

a) You train yourself in finding patterns, connections, dependencies, mutual impact, which you didn’t see at first. It will help you to find new solutions in a changing business environment, rather than to sticking to traditional ‘right or wrong’ reasoning. It will lead to better decisions.

b) It will make you see the opportunities first and quite possibly give you the skills and relationships to take advantage of these opportunities.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing things because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

That’s why curiosity is a key trait for anyone aspiring to compete and succeed in tomorrow’s economy.

Curiosity is a key attitude for the future

Don’t just take my word for it:

World Economic Forum: Why you should never lose your curiosity


Additional reading suggestions:

Keep an open mind: Why the open mind always outperforms the closed one

Listen to learn, not to react. Ask questions, not only when you do not understand something, but certainly also in global business teams working with people born and raised in different cultures (India, Japan, China, ..): How to create openness

Learn about new technological evolutions, things you don’t know, learn a new language – the possibilities are endless (I love MIT’s open courseware).

Deliberately sideline fear in decision-making. No mercy.

Stimulate members of your business team to do the same.

Feedback, Thoughts? Tell us!

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Photo: © HRS Business Transformation Services


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

6 Memorable Things I Learned in China

One Belt One Road (OBOR)

This summer I traveled to Beijing and Ningxia, thanks to the China Unlimited contest organized by the China EU Mission. I had hoped to learn more about China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative reviving the old silk roads (because it will have global implications) and about the Chinese language (because I am studying Mandarin). I sure did, and pass some highlights on to you:

1) The best Chinese language teacher I know is called Leo Fu. He teaches at Beijing International Chinese College北京 汉语学院

Chinese character lessonsLeo Fu (Chinese name Fu Qiang) made me see that the key to learning and remembering Chinese characters is understanding their pictographic origins, often dating back more than 4000 years. He will soon publish a Chinese etymology book, a kind of Chinese Mendeljev’s Table (I can’t wait!). Beijing International Chinese College also has a wonderful open library, I discovered. One day I will return to China and study Mandarin for real. Leo Fu will be the first person I’ll call.

2) Oracle Bones offer unique insights into China’s distant past

Oracle Bones

They also gave Leo Fu, who copied many oracle bones inscriptions as a child (straight from the bones onto his notebook – that was still possible back then), his love for Chinese characters. Oracle bones, usually made from shoulder blades of oxen, were used in ancient (Shang dynasty) China as tools to find out about the future. Pits were bored into the bones. A diviner would ask a question to the ancestors, apply hot pokers to the pits, and interpret the cracks that appeared as a result. The answers of the ancestors were written on the bone, together with the date.

Standing in front of ancient oracle bones in Beijing and recognizing many of the characters, I suddenly understood. The Chinese – who still honor and respect their ancestors more than most of us do in the West – are uniquely connected to their distant past. And it is thanks to their script, first recorded on Oracle Bones.

3) Ningxia was an economic hub on the Silk Road when the Han (206 BC-220 AD) and the Tang (618-907 AD) ruled China

Ningxia museum Tang Dynasty horse

There is ample evidence for that in Yinchuan’s Ningxia museum, where I stood face to face with delightfully expressive animals – like this horse unearthed from a Tang Dynasty tomb. The museum also houses beautiful Hui Muslim relics, including the smallest Koran in the world. Not bigger than a thumbnail, remarkable!

4) … And is gearing up to be a major hub again as the ‘One Belt One Road’ project unfolds

China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative reviving the old silk roads is starting to get much attention in Europe and the US: how will it affect global trade patterns, what will it mean for business, what are smart ways to collaborate? Ningxia, with its large Muslim population, is clearly determined to play its part. The roads are better than they are in Brussels. A high-speed line linking Yinchuan with Xi’An is in the making. And Yinchuan’s state-of- the-art iBi Business Incubation Park (see header image) looks certain to attract many innovative startups and investors (hello digital silk road).


How will OBOR, probably the most significant global economic initiative in the world today, affect your business? Here are some good and recent studies:

HKTDC Research – China Trade: One Belt One Road, Navigating the New Silk Road

McKinsey: China’s One Belt One Road will it Reshape Global Trade?


5) The Chinese know a thing or two about perseverance

They managed to plant and cultivate countless vines and goji berry plants, despite repeated setbacks, harsh winters and an initial lack of water. Ningxia’s wines are now winning international prizes. Ningxia’s goji berries are sweet and tasty, and the leaves make for an excellent cup of tea (I am having one right now). When the Chinese get into things, it is always for the long haul. OBOR will become a fact of life, and probably sooner than we think.

6) Chinese university students are bright and keen to get to know us better

China's Ningxia university students

I much enjoyed getting to know the students of Ningxia University 宁夏大学. They asked us many detailed questions, mostly in excellent English (this never fails to amaze me, my Mandarin is nowhere near as good). I was intrigued by how much they knew about my home country, pleasantly surprised by the interest they showed in our company HRS, touched by their hunger to learn more. They certainly proved the point I have been making for a while: the Chinese learn from us more quickly than we learn from them.

Thoughts, Feedback, Questions? Get In Touch:

IMG_4241

Hanneke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, European Commissioner Navracsics, and other China Unlimited Contest winners

Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.


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Photo’s: Copyright HRS Business Transformation Services

Why the Open Mind Always Outperforms the Closed One

Blosseming tree in Tuscany landscape with bright red, green, and yellow colors

People confronted with the fast changes in our sometimes chaotic and uncertain world can have the reflex to close themselves off to the unknown. Consciously or subconsciously they adopt a closed mind. When we do it collectively this closeness can become part of our culture. People, teams, organizations, and whole societies can seriously suffer from ‘closed-mindedness’. Those who manage to cultivate and maintain an open mind are far more successful on the long run. Why? Let me explain in short.

The open mind is driven by curiosity and wonder

The open mind does not take life for granted. It wants to explore life. The open mind is genuinely interested in new experiences. It is not afraid of the unexpected. It is fascinated by it and wants to understand it, learn from it. The open mind is comfortable with differences and with using a variety of lenses to view the world around.

The open mind is a free thinker. It is willing to step outside fixed patterns. It is attentive not to fall into the trap of prejudices and self-fulfilling prophecies. It deliberately looks for different opinions as a source for new insights.

The closed mind on the other hand experiences change as destabilizing. It is directed by a fear of the unknown. It does not feel comfortable with differences and divergent views. It appreciates the status quo, with prefixed views and likeminded believes and opinions.

The open mind learns faster

The open mind has a natural tendency to move out of its comfort zone to find new experiences. It is motivated by new experiences because they offer opportunities for learning and personal growth. It is often a good listener and develops empathic ability. This helps to learn faster.

The closed mind seeks comfort in what is known/familiar. Therefore it has a natural tendency to stay inside its comfort zone, which limits its learning opportunities.

The open mind understands the closed mind better than vice versa

The open mind, that learns faster, has an advantage over those who don’t. When confronted with changes, or with different opinions, the open mind more easily makes sense out of it. It does not always have the same opinion or beliefs about things, but it understands the differences better. The open mind is intrinsically more focused on building bridges, rather than on building fortresses.

The closed mind’s thinking is based on preconceptions, which can be wrong or outdated and can trigger wrong conclusions. It has more difficulty with letting go of its own views, and with understanding different opinions and changes. The closed mind has a hard time with building bridges.

The open mind develops and grows faster

The open mind challenges itself to understand more things, and sees more easily how things are connected. This gives the open mind a strong edge over others:

  • A stronger ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • Building up more and broader knowledge that leads to better decision making
  • Higher resilience when things are not going as expected
  • Faster and more effective execution of ideas and decisions that are outside the comfort zone

History is filled with examples of the positive outcomes of open-mindedness. It can transform people, organizations, and whole nations. Like for instance China, that for centuries was a closed society with hardly any outside influence. But it experienced a significant prosperous and war free period in the 16th century when it opened its borders for international relationships, trade, and science, which brought new crafts, crops, literature, and cultures to the empire. Or like for instance the way Nelson Mandela dealt with the differences in his country after years of imprisonment by his fellow countrymen. Or like Abraham Lincoln, who appointed a few of his biggest enemies in his government because he believed they would make the team stronger.

But also for instance the way a company like Lego that was close to bankruptcy in 2004 and reinvented itself by opening up to internet-oriented game technology. It chose to totally revise its strategy and to develop new methods of interacting with its youthful customer base through new Lego-designing competitions and contests, with great success.

In fact, all successful innovation finds its roots in an open mind! (Read Elon Musk’s take on this)

Fostering an open mind is vital, and maybe especially in today’s fast changing world. This applies to every one of us in our daily lives, and also for organizations that want to create sustainable success.

How do you keep an open mind? How is this affecting the way you live and work together with others? Or as a leader, how do you stimulate a culture of open-mindedness? Feel free to comment!

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Photo: Mark Stroble/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Leadership: Do You Choose to Play in the Winners Zone or Not?

Our success, our feeling of accomplishment and our happiness, in our personal lives, as leaders, in our teams and in our businesses, it very much comes down to whether we ‘play to win’ or ‘play not to lose’. Are we truly aware of this? I strongly believe that this seemingly simple and superficial statement has a profound significance, which defines our success and that of the teams we lead.

People, teams, organizations, even whole nations can suffer from what I call a ‘playing in the not-winners zone’. I could call it the ‘losers zone’, but I don’t believe in a world of winners versus losers. We all win and lose sometimes; it’s part of life. However, we can influence the balance between winning and losing by building and nurturing a specific mindset in how we approach situations and circumstances. There is a clear distinction between a ‘playing in the winners zone’ – mindset versus ‘playing in the not-winners zone’ – mindset.

Playing to Win versus Playing Not to Lose

People who play in the ‘winners zone’ are busy maximizing the chance of winning and minimizing the chance of not winning.

People who play in the ‘not-winners zone’ are busy maximizing the chance of not losing and minimizing the chance of not winning.

Let this sink in! It seems obvious, but is in fact a crucial difference! It is a difference in mindset and behavior that is sometimes very subtle and not easy to recognize, but if you pay close attention you witness it all around you every day, maybe also in your own behavior. And it has a huge impact on the outcomes and success we create!

Playing in the ‘winners zone’ gives you a bigger chance of having a positive impact on your own and other people’s lives. It increases the chance to learn and grow, to innovate, to create positive change.

We are all human beings, and we are complex creatures. It is not always easy to adopt a ‘winners zone’ mindset, and we can find ourselves slipping into a ‘not winners’ mindset once in a while. It takes conscious choice, positive energy, courage, and endurance to pull ourselves into the winners zone.

“True and sustainable success arrives when we choose to play in the winners zone.”

A close friend challenged me the other day. She said: ‘I am not sure if I really believe in this focus on winning, in the end you can still lose without being able to prevent it. For example, what if you are a tree among a group of trees, and you have grown yourself into a nice strong, big, tall standing tree? You are the best tree in the group. So you get picked out and cut down, because you are the most successful tree of them all!’

I liked the example. It shows that the difference between playing to win versus playing not to lose is not a simple black and white / right or wrong comparison. It takes conscious consideration to figure out what success actually means to us. In this example it actually comes down to the following question: do you prefer to be that strong, beautiful tree that everybody looks up to and admires for its top quality wood, even if you might be cut down for it? Or would you choose not to grow big, but to stay a small weak tree with a few skimpy branches and brown leaves; a tree that is unnoticed, not used, and left behind?

Ask yourself:

  • Do I really aim for the best? Or do I have multiple goals in the back of my mind: best and second best?
  • Am I willing to put all my effort into reaching the best? Or do I keep a part of my energy aside?
  • Do I act pro-actively; do I choose to play offensively? Or do I act re-actively, and play defensively?
  • Do I perceive ‘not-winning’ as a learning experience, as getting one step closer to success? Or do I calculate the chance of ‘not-winning’, and accept it as a possible end state?
  • Do I always keep the desired end result as my standard? Or do I accept to ‘poor water into my wine’ and to lower the bar?
  • Do I want to inspire others and have a positive and lasting impact on people? Or do I want to maximize my personal gain and try to keep it?

Choose! In which zone do you want to play? And what about the people you’re leading?

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Photo: frankieleon/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Leading Change: The 4 Levels of Ownership

Four-Leaf Clover on Wooden Table, Ownership

We all know that when people feel responsible and take ownership of a change process it drastically increases the success rate. But did you know that ownership has 4 levels? Four levels that will have a different impact on the results you and your team achieve!

Successful leaders know how to stimulate a culture of ownership by paying special attention to these 4 levels. Let me share them here with you.

Level 1: Ownership of My Tasks

At this level people feel responsible for their tasks. They want to understand their tasks. They want to know exactly what they have to do, and they want to do it well.

Typical examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to know how they can do their personal tasks successfully
  • Focusing on how to grow their skills and competencies
  • Asking for clear rules and instructions
  • Seeking coaching and feedback about how they perform their tasks
  • Finding motivation in becoming expert in their job
Level 2: Ownership of My Results

People feel responsible for the results of their work. They want to understand what needs to be the outcomes of their work and how they can achieve these.

Examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to know what results they need to achieve to be successful
  • Focusing on finding effective ways to create the desired outcomes
  • Asking for clear goals and targets
  • Seeking for feedback and measurement of the results they achieve
  • Finding motivation in outperforming standards and targets
Level 3: Ownership of My Work’s Impact on Other Team Members

At this level people feel responsible for having a positive impact on other people’s work. They see their work as part of a team effort. As part of a chain of activities and results, in which each team member plays an important role. They feel their work needs to add to the team’s success.

Examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to understand how their role contributes to the team’s results
  • Focusing on knowing the interdependencies between team members
  • Asking for clarity about team processes and operating rules
  • Seeking feedback about how to improve collaboration and processes
  • Finding motivation in contributing to becoming a high-performance team
Level 4: Ownership of My Contribution to the Organization’s Success

Level 4 ownership means that people feel part of a journey to achieve a bigger cause, which supersedes their personal or their team’s work. They want to contribute to the broader picture, to the organization’s success, and feel responsible for this.

Some examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to understand in-depth the vision and strategy of the organization
  • Focusing on knowing the strategic objectives of the organization
  • Asking for clarity about the relationship between the team’s objectives and the strategic objectives
  • Seeking feedback and measurement of the team’s contribution to the company’s strategic objectives
  • Feeling co-owner of the company and its success

Mind you! These 4 levels might come across as almost obvious. But don’t interpret these four levels the wrong way!

“Each level of ownership has its merit depending on the situation in which you and your team are. Pushing the wrong level of ownership at the wrong moment can confuse people and will have a counterproductive effect.“

Let me explain:

Level 1: Especially at the beginning of a change process, when new change initiatives are initiated in the organization, you want to pay attention to this level of ownership. Probably there is uncertainty and lack of clarity about the details of what exactly needs to be done. Especially in this phase of the change process your team is looking for guidance, structure, and clear distribution of roles. Establishing ownership of tasks is important under these circumstances.

Level 2: When the change process has started, and your team starts to recognize a structure in what they are doing, then people want to get a clear view on how they are progressing. They will need to understand whether they are moving in the right direction, whether their work needs a few adjustments. This situation makes you want to shift focus from task to results, and on guiding your people to take ownership of results.

“People who do not understand and own the results of their work cannot collaborate effectively with others!”

Level 3: In each change process, not long after the start, there is an important shift that is often underestimated. It is the shift from ‘starting’ to ‘speeding up’. This is the phase in which the team needs to create rhythm and momentum, and often starts to feel outside pressure. At this moment you want to focus your team on ‘how do we collaborate, and how can we improve this’. Establishing level 3 ownership will be a vital prerequisite for successful change and it will probably take more time and energy than anticipated.

“Under pressure we tend to focus on our own job (level 1 & 2 ownership), while improving our collaboration is likely more effective (level 3 ownership).”

Level 4: When the change process is delivering results and objectives are being achieved you want to embed these in the your team’s daily reality. You want it to become the foundation on which future changes can be built. A mistake that often occurs is to pay too little attention to this phase of thoroughly embedding what is achieved. The consequence is that most of what your team learned will be lost after a while. Level 4 ownership is vital for the organization’s success and will only emerge when your team truly understands what it achieved, and is recognized for it. Take time to celebrate and to let sink in what is achieved together.

 

Interesting Readings and Videos:

Harvard Business Review: Francesca Gino’s take on How to Make Employees Feel Like They Own Their Work.

MIT Sloan: An interesting film ‘We the Owners’. In ‘We the Owners’, craft beer, solar, and construction companies show the benefits and challenges of ownership culture.

Nature.org: Sharing an intriguing interview with Jack Ma (Chairman and CEO of the Alibaba Group) about taking ownership of China’s environment.

SmartBrief: Julie Winkle Giulioni’s article ‘The promise of high-ownership teams’.

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Photo: Umberto Salvagnin/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Leading Change: We Need More Transparency

Leading Change, We need more Transparency: drops of water on a green leaf against a green background

When you are leading your business team through complex change your team’s success will to a large extent depend on the level of transparency you are able to establish. The power of transparency is often underestimated. The true meaning of transparency is often misunderstood. Therefore: some experience-based thoughts about transparency, and how to stimulate it in your team.

Transparency accelerates teamwork

Why? Because it creates trust! In our current VUCA business environment this is becoming increasingly important.

The more transparent we are to ourselves and to others, the better we understand what we want to achieve as a team. Teams who experience transparency generate a stronger mutual focus, as well as a higher level of mutual trust.

Teams who experience transparency generate a stronger mutual focus, as well as a higher level of mutual trust.

Transparency starts with you

Creating an atmosphere of transparency starts with you being transparent yourself. Transparent about your intentions, about who you are, about how you work, what you value in life and believe to be important. Transparency about your habits, about your qualities, and your weak points.

Transparency has a lot to do with being open, honest, and authentic. Especially when you are working with people with different cultural backgrounds and nationalities your transparency will help your team to develop trust despite the cultural differences.

Quote from Thomas Jefferson on blue background

Transparency does not mean you always have to know the answers. When you don’t know the exact end result yet, just say so, and focus your team on what needs to be done to move forward and to find the answers together.

Read more here about how to be transparent yourself.

Not being open to others because you do not have all the answers yet has often a counterproductive effect. It will undermine trust.

Listening creates transparency

No, this is not an obvious statement. Letting other people speak is not creating transparency by itself. It is the way we listen that makes the difference. Listen to learn! Listen between the lines, to what is unsaid. When people feel you are really listening and tapping into what they feel, believe, and think they will become more open and share more.

When you are willing not only to hear them out, but also to learn from them, to change your own way of looking at things, then transparency starts to grow.

Read more here about how to stimulate transparency, especially when working with Asian team members.

Transparency is about clarity, not about micro-management

Transparency is also about being clear about what you expect from other team members. This is not the same as telling them in detail what they must do. Trying to create transparency by micro-managing people will result in a lack of motivation, in complacency, and eventually in a lack of transparency. 

Instead, stimulate transparency by keeping the focus on the desired end-result. Here is a question that works well in my experience: ‘How do you think this can contribute to achieving our end-result?’

You stimulate transparency by making people aware of the bigger picture, and of their contribution. True teamwork originates when team members take ownership for the end-result, see beyond their own tasks, and see how their work impacts others.

Related article: How to Stimulate People to Think Impact.

What are your thoughts about transparency? I’d love to read your comments below!

Are you leading global change programs? Find more detailed tips and insights on how to create openness here:

Leading cross-cultural teams: how to create openness – part 1

Leading cross-cultural teams: how to create openness – part 2


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Photo: Jenny Downing/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Skills of the Future: The Best Expert Advice on Creativity

Woman in black dress standing in business office with iPad in her hand watching out of the window over downtown Hong Kong

By 2020, creativity will be one of the top 3 skills anyone who wants to be successful in the economy of the future will need, according to the Future of Jobs report. We looked for the best expert advice on creativity – and found it.

When the World Economic Forum released its Future of Jobs report in Davos, one specific image jumped out:

The image listing the Top 10 skills business leaders, managers and anyone who wants to thrive in the industries of the future will need. Here it is:

World Economic Forum: Top 10 Skills for the Future

Complex problem solving, critical thinking, managing people and complex change: we have written loads of articles on those important qualities and skills (You can take a peek at our best-read articles of 2015 here), and shared our own experience.

But not on creativity – and wrongly so. Creativity jumps up from tenth (2015) to third (2020) in the ‘Skills of the Future’ list. Creativity is not just a nice-to-have, a source of inspiration visiting the lucky few. It’s a skill we’ll all need more of if we want to stand out in a workplace filled with robots, and find innovative answers to increasingly complex business questions.

So we looked for solid creativity advice, and turned to the best experts we could find: American writer Elizabeth Gilbert and Dutch designer and entrepreneur Daan Roosegaarde. Both spent their entire lives being creative. Both built a successful business (see here, and here). Both manage to inspire people worldwide: Gilbert with her bestsellers Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear and Eat Pray Love, Roosegaarde with cool projects like a smog filtering tower and smart highways, amongst others.

What did their creative journeys teach them? What are their insights and best tips?

Creativity Tips from Elizabeth Gilbert (@GilbertLiz):
Stimulate your curiosity

Gilbert: ‘I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses. But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity. The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion. Passion makes you get divorced and sell all your possessions and shave your head and move to Nepal. Curiosity doesn’t ask nearly so much of you. In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?”

“Creative living is living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Elizabeth Gilbert

Forget about perfect, just start

Gilbert: ‘Creativity starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable. Perfection stops people from completing their work, yes – but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work… I think perfection is often a high-end, haute couture version of fear.’


Recommended reading:


Creativity Tips from Daan Roosegaarde (@SRoosegaarde):
Turn your idea into reality by playing ping pong, not bowling

Roosegaarde: ‘There are two ways to turn an idea into reality. You can play bowling, or you can play ping pong. The old way, at least that is what I think, is bowling. You have that ball in your hand and it’s so big, it is so heavy, it shines so beautifully. Then you throw that bowling ball and pray it will hit target.

I no longer believe this is a good way to create and innovate. I believe in playing ping pong: you take a tiny little ball, not expensive, and there you go: poek poek poek poek … and you create something together. And THAT is nice, this is how I create, this is how I learn.

Don’t push away people criticizing your ideas, but try pulling them aboard

Roosegaarde: ‘Dare to act, even when people tell you: “That’s not possible”, or: “What you have drawn is not allowed, it is against the rules.” You will always meet resistance.   I generally try to involve people criticizing my ideas. I try pulling them aboard. If that proves to be impossible, here is my advice: ignore them. And just get to work.’

‘Creativity will be our most important export product.’ Daan Roosegaarde

‘Most of the breakthrough ideas come from people in their 20s,’ Bill Gates recently said when he was quizzed on innovation.

So what if your son and prospective scientist (like mine is) spends many hours acting, playing music and exploring unfamiliar cultures – when he could in fact be studying?

You guessed it. Encourage him (or her). To be successful in the economy of the future, creativity is key.

Where do you find creative inspiration? How do you turn ideas into innovative results? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Source and more tips from Liz and Daan:

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book ‘Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear’ (2015), Daan Roosegaarde in College Tour, Liz Gilbert TED talks and Daan Roosegaarde TED talks.

You can read the full Future of Jobs report here.

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of our ‘Skills of the future’ Expert Series in which we share valuable insights, pointers and lessons from a list of business leaders, experts and role models selected by Hanneke Siebelink. Find previous Expert Series articles here.

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Hanneke SiebelinkHanneke is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

Leadership Introspection: The Only Person You Can Actually Change Is Yourself

Leader meditating on a mountain top in the sun

Leading change means dealing with resistance. Whether in organizations or in our personal lives. Many change initiatives fail because people are not willing or not able to follow the new direction. A huge amount of energy goes into trying to manage the resistance and trying to convince, motivate, encourage, stimulate, or force people to follow the change. And often only with mediocre results! How can we do better? What are we missing?

There is a crucial ground rule in change management that defines our success as a leader of change. And it is very easily neglected!

LeadershipWatch Leadership QuoteTake some time to let this sink in…

‘People do not resist change, they resist being changed.’ Why? Because you and me, we all, we like to be able to lead our own lives. We like to have the ‘steering wheel’ in our own hands. We like to feel that we accomplish things by our own doing. We like to be recognized for it, it makes us feel good and successful. It gives us confidence, and motivates us to explore new changes. Being able to hold our own steering wheel gives us identity and allows us to develop ourselves, allows us to grow.

This statement may seem logical, but applying it will have a profound impact on your daily actions.

If you want people to change without taking over their steering wheel, you will need to help them to steer differently themselves, individually and collectively.

Don’t steer for them, but create a context in which they will take up the responsibility to change themselves. And this almost always means that you need to change yourself. By changing your focus, your communication, your instructions and guidance, your facilitation and coaching. By changing the way you set the context and the boundaries, and the way you respond to resistance.

You cannot force people to change, but you can change yourself and by doing that you can stimulate others to change too.

So if you are confronted with resistance or unexpected unpleasant behavior of others:

  • Don’t look for the problem in their behavior – Look for the solution in your own behavior and the way you will respond
  • Never blame others, it will change nor solve anything
  • Take criticism seriously, but not personally – You can learn from criticism without having to beat yourself up about it
  • Be open and transparent to others about what you value – If you do not know yet, make it clear to yourself first
  • Be inclusive in your thinking and acting – Always aim for win-win, even if you do not feel a positive click with the other … yet
  • Allow people, including yourself, to make mistakes – As long as we learn from it
  • … and last but not least … if you truly believe this change will benefit us all? … NEVER GIVE UP!

What are your thoughts about this? I’d love to read your comments below!

Liked this article? Use the subscription button (PC: see right-hand sidebar; Mobile: find button below this article) to stay up to date with LeadershipWatch articles and news. Your personal information will be kept strictly confidential.

Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

When East Meets West: Peter Hessler Shares His 3 Best Tips for 2016

Chinese Gate at the Tiananmen square in Beijing

When the American journalist and writer Peter Hessler (Peter is staff writer at the New Yorker and contributing writer for the National Geographic) moved to China to teach and write, he discovered that things were almost diametrically opposed to what he had been used to in the U.S. He was surprised, confused, often annoyed, sometimes amused. Most of the time he felt lost (‘During those early weeks I would have felt even more disjointed if it hadn’t been for the steady routines that surrounded me.’)

Here’s what he did. Every day after his Chinese language class (he found an excellent teacher) he picked up a newspaper and walked down to the local tea house. There he sat down and observed, until the people in his village started to approach this odd ‘waiguoiren’ (外国人, foreigner) and started to ask him questions.

Hessler: ‘I wanted to overcome these language and cultural barriers that made things so difficult at first. I believed that, next to teaching English literature, it was my job to develop a mutual respect and understanding that would allow me and my Chinese students and friends to exchange ideas comfortably.‘

Needless to say: he succeeded, and while your own exchanges with Chinese/Asian people are likely to take place in meeting rooms and under time constraints, Peter learned some lessons you could benefit from too:

1) A Chinese/Eastern smile can hide many emotions

People born and raised in China, or more broadly the East, are not the open books that many Western people are. A Chinese smile, for instance, often serves as a mask against deeper feelings.

Hessler: ‘Those smiles could hide many emotions – embarrassment, anger, sadness. When the people smiled like that, it was as if all of the emotion was wound tightly and displaced; sometimes you could get a glimpse of it in the eyes, or at the corner of a mouth, or perhaps in a single wrinkle stretching sadly across a forehead.’

So be prepared to be observant when you are talking to people from the East, and learn to recognize hidden signals.

2) Relationships and individuality are valued differently in East and West

Hessler: ‘The longer I lived in Fuling, the more I was struck by the view of the individual – in my opinion, this was the biggest difference between what I had known in the West and what I saw in China. For people in Fuling, the sense of ‘self’ seemed largely external; you were identified by the way that others viewed you. That had always been the goal of Confucianism, which defined the individual’s place strictly in relation to the people around her (…). Group thought could be a vicious circle: your self-identity came from the group, which was respected even if it became deranged, and thus your sense of self could fall apart instantly. There wasn’t a tradition of anchoring one’s identity to a fixed set of values regardless of what others thought.’

Though young people are finding new ways to bridge this ‘group thought versus individuality’ divide, the difference is still real and can lead to painful misunderstandings in East-West business settings. Find more background on some common mistakes we encounter as well as personalized tips here:

Losing Face, SmileyHow to avoid making people lose face

Intercultural Communication, text balloons in green and orangeHow to stimulate your Asian team members to speak up

3) Be honest and transparent about your own traditions and values

Looking back at all those years he lived and worked in China (Peter currently lives in Egypt), how did he and his Chinese friends and students overcome the countless cultural barriers? How did mutual bewilderment eventually make room for mutual respect and understanding? What one element does he now single out as being crucial to the effort?

Hessler: ‘It required a great deal of patience and effort from everybody involved. But mostly it required honesty. Even if these moments of candor were occasionally unpleasant.’

In other words: it is all right to be different. As long as you try to see things from the other person’s side, and are honest and transparent about your own values and traditions. Read more here:

Chinese New Year cake with symbol of The Year of The HorseWhy learning Chinese business etiquette is not enough

Peter Hessler is very observant. He does not judge. He understands the limits of generalizations (‘This not about China. It’s about a certain small part of China at a certain brief period in time.’) That makes him one of the best China experts I know, even if he disagrees (‘I am not a China expert but one of the foreigners trying to figure things out.’).

And he is a darn good writer too.

Source:

Peter Hessler interview (Capturing the essence of Chinese society, 2014) and books (Country driving, 2010 and River Town, 2001)

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of our Expert Series in which we share valuable lessons from a list of business leaders, experts, and role models selected by Hanneke Siebelink. Find previous Expert Series articles here.


Hanneke Siebelink of HRS Business Transformation Services at the China-EU conference in BrusselsHanneke is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

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