Every Leader Needs To Cross Culture

Ponte Vecchio-Bridge-Cross Cultural

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Over the past 35 years I have led many teams into cross cultural settings. Sometimes the trips were for a few days. Sometimes they lasted a couple of months. I have also taken my family to live in another culture for five years. Yet, I am no expert. Living and leading in a cross cultural setting is difficult.

In today’s global economy many business leaders are spending time in other parts of the world. But most run from meeting to meeting and back to the airport. They overcome minor irritations that cultural differences present, but they fail to cross culture.

What does it actually mean to cross culture?

One online business source states that cross culture means “The interaction of people from different backgrounds in the business world. Cross culture is a vital issue in international business, as the success of international trade depends upon the smooth interaction of employees from different cultures and regions.”

This provides us with some sense of definition, but more importantly highlights the necessity for better understanding.

“Cross cultural” can be defined as “involving or bridging the differences between cultures.”

This simple definition does a better job of getting to the heart of the matter.

To be truly successful you have to be able to “involve” and “bridge” the differences.

And that wont happen through a few seminars or training sessions.

To truly cross culture, or arrive at being good at living and leading cross culturally, you need to truly engage the culture. This takes time. You may have to add some days to your business trips. You may need to utilize your vacations differently. You need to create enough space to actually experience the culture outside of your own interests. But if you do, here is what will happen inside of you.

You will notice over time that your attitudes will move from . . .

1. Superiority to humility.  Every person sees their own culture as superior to any other. Writing as an American, we probably take this to an extreme. We have been told inside and outside our borders that we live in the best country in the world. Most of us totally believe in American exceptionalism. And that can cripple us to the ability to “involve” and “bridge.” But if you spend enough time in another country you will begin to see how others view Americans. The “ugly American” syndrome is alive and well. We will begin to see valuable aspects to other cultures, like–relationship over accomplishment, community over individualism, or tradition over efficiency. An attitude of humility may begin to prevail. It is the understanding that we are not superior as a culture. We all bring good and bad into any cross cultural setting. If we will immerse ourselves enough we may find that there are values within the new culture we would choose to embrace warmly. To embrace and adapt well will require humility.

2. Self sufficiency to dependence.  If you remain in a foreign culture for any length of time you will begin to realize your profound deficits. You may not know the language. You might not truly understand how to navigate the city and its transportation system. You are unfamiliar with appropriate greetings, customs, and ways of coming to collaborative agreements. You will need to rely on others to be successful. This requires abandoning your sense of self and being able to ask for help. That can feel like a very vulnerable place to be. But dependence is good. We will become more approachable and accepting of what we don’t know. Dependence does not have to rob you of your initiative. It actually will encourage it at a whole new level.

3. Ignorance to understanding.  It is easy to encounter different cultural elements and declare them bad or wrong. Certainly for Americans we often see other cultures as incredibly inefficient. But again we miss the point. Most cultures around the world have a longer timeline than we do. There is richness, history, and tradition that informs some of these “inefficiencies.” To ignore such cultural variants may be to miss out on deep relationship and effective partnership. It takes a new level of understanding to be a good partner.

What does crossing culture take in practical terms? Seeing, listening, studying, and time. Be curious. Ask questions. Avoid condemnation. Take time. Watch your heart change.

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Augustine on Leadership


Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Saint Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings were highly influential. Without a doubt Augustine was one of the most important figures in Western Christianity during the 4th and 5th centuries. He is also considered by many to be the early father of the Reformation. Two of his most prominent works were The City of God and The Confessions.

Augustine was also a great mentor of leaders. I have written a previous post about this aspect of his life and some of his methods. Through his sermons and writing Augustine had much to say about leadership. In many ways he was a forerunner of the servant leadership philosophy.

In one of his pastoral sermons Augustine uses Ezekiel 34 as a background text to describe some of his convictions about leadership. Ezekiel 34 stands as a strong rebuke from God towards the religious leaders of Israel. They were to be watchful shepherds over God’s flock. Instead, they proved to be wayward shepherds only interested in bettering themselves.

Here are some of Augustine’s translated leadership principles from this sermon (Sermo 46, 1-2: CCL 41, 529-530):

. . . true shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves.

I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord’s greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage.

Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well.

Here are a few other quotes from Augustine with implications for leadership:

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task.

Order your soul; reduce your wants; live in charity; associate in Christian community; obey the laws; trust in Providence.

Other related posts:

Leadership the Augustine Way

15 Augustine Quotes That Helped Shape Modern Christian Thought

5 for Leadership (2/14/15)

3915604902_f66d2bf6e1Here is a fresh 5 for your Valentine’s Day. We have posts on Tim Tebow, leadership inquiry, leadership truths, leadership trust, and happy habits. Take some time and become more informed as a leader.

Trust & Leadership  “The key to a leader’s success is the relationship they develop with their constituents. This relationship is always based on trust. Without a deep sense of trust, a leader cannot have any relationship with constituents.” This comes from Will Lukang on the Lead Change Group blog.

7 Inquiry Methods You Must Master  “For most adults, inquiry is a route to information. For teenagers, questions are a rhetorical way to emphasize their point. For toddlers, questions serve to drive their parents batty. There’s also a more nuanced role for questions.” This provides an interesting paradigm for influence–from David Fields. Take a look.

Did You Learn These 9 Critical Leadership Truths?  “As I was visiting my children’s school*, I was struck by 9 critical leadership truths that were being promoted. What impacted me was the fact that as a leadership coach and consultant, I am often talking about these very same qualities and skills with my ‘adult’ clients.” This comes from Andrew Bryant and was found on Linkedin Pulse.

7 Essential Habits of Happier People (How Many Do You Possess?)  “Happiness: everyone wants it, yet relatively few seem to get enough of it, especially those in their early forties. (That’s about the time many of us start thinking, ‘Is this all there is’)” Jeff Haden offers some worthy reflection–this too coming from Linkedin Pulse.

Out of the NFL, Tebow Builds His Lasting Legacy  “The incredible fourth quarter finale to this year’s Super Bowl, complete with a bobbling catch and unlikely interception, made me wonder what’s become of a Christian brother with a knack for fourth quarter heroics: Tim Tebow.” Here is a leader who continues to make a difference in the lives of others.

There are the 5 for this week. Read more than one of these posts and consider.

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5 for Leadership (1/24/15)

medium_2115303614Here is a new 5 for Leadership with some excellent posts on MLK, Winston Churchill, leadership priorities, simple leadership and the future of leadership. There is something here that will enhance your leadership . . . I promise.

3 Leadership Lessons from Winston Churchill  “This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. We might draw many lessons from Churchill’s life, and not all of them salutary (his views on religion, women, and alcohol come to mind). Nevertheless, Churchill was an inspiring and effective leader in a time of crisis, and it is appropriate to consider what he might teach us today about leadership.”  This comes from Gavin Ortlund and contains some great insights and foundational principles for leadership.

What Are Your Leadership Priorities? 5 Areas to Target  “During a recent 360 feedback interview, the client I was working with said something that caught my attention. I’ve been thinking of it since then, and it’s having an impact on what I am identifying as my priorities and targeted behaviors for this year. My client said there are five things you can never be too good at and always need to develop.” This is from Linda Miller on the Blanchard Leader Chat site.

Simple Leadership  “If you are anything like me, the never-ending books, articles, biographies, and latest best practices of leadership are both overwhelming in their volume and confusing in their analysis. So allow me to cut through the unnecessary esoteric complexity of today’s often convoluted approaches to leadership and share a profoundly simple yet powerful system for effective leadership. There are six essential skills of simple leadership.” This is by John Barney on the Business Timezone Blog.

Imagining the Future of Leadership  Linda Fisher Thornton participated recently in the #LeadWithGiants Tweetchat. Here is her lead in: “During the Tweetchat, inspiring global voices weighed in on big questions, including these:

  • What will the future of leadership be like?
  • What is the best case scenario for the future of leadership?
  • How will we individually and collectively reach that best case scenario?”

MLK and Jesus: No Romanticized Kings  “Next to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, no leader has influenced me like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we honor annually during this time of year.” Natasha Sistrunk Robinson shares a striking post in honor of MLK Day from her blog, A Sista’s Journey.

There are the 5 for this week. I hope your 2015 is off to a great start. Lead well.

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5 for Leadership (11/29/14)

medium_10784025124In this 5 for Leadership we explore more deeply the art of gratitude and what it means to be truly thankful. Every leader needs to exhibit an attitude of thanksgiving. I hope these posts inspire you towards that end.

10 Reasons You Lose Gratitude and 16 Ways To Find It  “Gratitude is a form of happiness. Ungratefulness, unhappiness, and ugliness travel in the same circles. Ungratefulness paints everything ugly.” Dan Rockwell gives us some very practical advice on this critical virtue.

A Leader’s Reasons To Be Thankful  Art Petty provides 11 reasons leaders should be thankful for what we get to do and the influence we have–the privilege of serving.

3 Reasons To Be A More Thankful Person  “Ever wonder the secret to being thankful? I believe the secret to being thankful is in learning to be more content. We give thanks out of a heart overflowing with gratefulness. A full heart naturally produces gratitude. How do we do that?” Ron Edmondson taps some wisdom from the Apostle Paul for learning the secret.

What Is Gratitude?  “True gratitude begins with deep humility. True gratitude changes us. True gratitude transforms our relationships. True gratitude changes the game.” See what else Karin Hurt has to say about this necessary leadership trait.

5 Quotes from G.K. Chesterton on Gratitude and Thanksgiving  Justin Taylor gives us some timely and thought provoking quotes from one of England’s premier writers. Chesterton also was known as a great lay theologian, philosopher, poet, and journalist. These quotes will expand your definition of thanksgiving.

There are the 5 for this week. I hope you have had a beautiful and reflective Thanksgiving. May this holiday season be fruitful in your leadership life.

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5 for Leadership (9/20/14)

medium_6208433197Here is a new 5 for Leadership. We have posts on mentoring, storytelling, collegiate ministry, credibility and of course Apple. There has to be something here for you. Read one or more posts and be encouraged in your leadership.

The Top 4 Qualities of Great Mentors  Dan Rockwell opens this post with this line, “Mentoring ignites boldness by answering doubt with relational learning.” That should be enough to force you to click on this one.

What Apple Gets Right With Its Smart Watch  “When people say Apple has built things people didn’t know they need, it’s not really true. Apple has built things that meet the needs people have always had. More than any other consumer company, Apple gets what people really, fundamentally need.” There are some strong leadership principles here-take a look.

Credibility Is The Foundation of Leadership  This is a guest post from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner on Tanveer Naseer’s blog. Here is a quote to whet your appetite: “People are exceedingly clear about the qualities they expect leaders to demonstrate before they will enlist in a common cause and freely commit to action.”

The Power of Storytelling  “Stories are an integral part to communicating effectively with your employees. A great story goes a long way, because it’s memorable and helps create an emotional connection with the listener.  What we feel impacts what we do, so stories can be a great way to move employees to action.” David Grossman does a good job of showing the power of story and some practical ways to tell a good one.

7 Questions for Two College Pastors  “Why college ministry? What’s there to be excited about when it comes to college ministry in the local church? How does a church actually get after this kind of ministry, given all of the challenges? Two college pastors—from two very different ministry contexts—weigh in on these questions and more.” I lived and breathed collegiate ministry for over 25 years–so forgive me for pointing you towards some quality leadership advice in this arena. This comes from the Gospel Coalition Blog and contains some great insights.

There are the 5 for this week. Enjoy!

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5 for Leadership (8/30/14)

small__168206195Here is fresh 5 for your Labor Day weekend. We have posts on intolerance, leading above the line, how to keep moving forward, the inner leadership circle of Jesus, and words that can change lives. Take a few minutes and click your way through. And have a great Labor Day!

The Jesus Inner Leadership Circle  “Jesus had an inner circle of leadership. It sounds exclusive. And it was. But you should have one too.” Ron Edmondson points us to several reasons why we should have a inner leadership circle and principles for developing one.

Coaching Conscious Leadership  “The first mark of conscious leaders is self-awareness and the ability to tell themselves the truth.  It matters far more that leaders can accurately determine whether they are above or below the line in any moment than where they actually are.  Distortion and denial are cornerstone traits of unconscious leaders.” John Agno defines above the line and below the line leadership and why it matters.

How To Change Lives With Two Words  “Tell people they’re inadequate long enough and they’ll believe it. Undermine their confidence with constant correction, tweaking, and complaints and they’ll pull back.” Dan Rockwell tells us how to instill belief and confidence in others. Take a look!

Be A Pioneer: Five Power Tips For Moving Onward  “Somewhere around the junior high school years, our U.S. history classes cover the compelling stories of trailblazing people venturing west—crossing the plains ISO (In Search Of) new country and treasures. As I remember studying those narratives, I marveled at how these explorers relied on their smarts, determined to know more and go beyond the boundaries.” Deborah Parker share some great principles for resilient leadership from a historical context. 

Spiritual Leaders Fight Against Intolerance  “We live in a world that is increasingly intolerant, one in which violence, untruthfulness, hate, mutual criticism abound, and people constantly and deliberately do hurtful things to others.” Dr. Leonard Doohan helps us spot intolerance in others and ourselves and provides us with ways to reject intolerant behavior.

There are the 5 for this Labor Day weekend. I hope you have a refreshing one and that something in this post actually adds to your leadership refreshment.

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5 for Leadership (8/2/14)

small__4284694062Here is a new 5 for the first weekend of August. We have posts on the importance of story telling, inner city leadership, leaders and social media, top leadership advice, and the best posts from July. There is something here for you to inspire your leadership.

We Asked Top Leaders To Share Their Number One Advice, and Here’s What They Said . . .  “When I learned about the LDC (Leadership Development Consultation) Conference I was intrigued. I was excited by it’s vision statement: ‘Be inspired to pursue God’s highest in leader development in the nations.’” Paul Sohn has posted some outstanding insights to leadership. 

Leadership Now 140: July 2014 Compilation  Here is a treasure trove of posts from this past month on the topic of leadership from some of the best leadership development minds–all captured in one place on the Leading Blog.

How To Tell A Great Story  “We tell stories to our coworkers and peers all the time — to persuade someone to support our project, to explain to an employee how he might improve, or to inspire a team that is facing challenges. It’s an essential skill, but what makes a compelling story in a business context? And how can you improve your ability to tell stories that persuade?” This is one of the most popular reads on the HBR Blog. 

7 Keys To Becoming A Leader People Like And Want To Hear From On Social Media  “Any idea what other people think of you when they see you online? I promise you, they have a reaction. They really do. And most of us have no idea what it is.” Carey Nieuwhof gives us some great insight on how to think about our online presence as a leader.

Historic Inner City Conference Stirs Change  “More than 300 people associated with the Inner City ministry of Cru gathered July 22-24, 2014 for Creating Options Together. Cru staff members and representatives from partner ministries shared ideas and listened to each other to find effective ways to disciple inner city residents.” Check out some of the recorded responses. This is an important effort and there are some profound truths shared. 

There are the 5 for this week-enjoy.

Lead Like A King

small__149688248The biblical book of Deuteronomy is a retelling of the Law of Moses to a new generation of Israelites. The first generation who should have inherited the Promised Land failed to do so because of disobedience. Moses recounts much of what is contained in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers to this second generation. Deuteronomy is a sobering call to love and obey God.

In chapter 17 we find a section that gives instruction about Israel’s kings. Moses is anticipating what Israel will desire years into the future as she looks around at the other nations. There are five prerequisites for any would be king over God’s chosen people. These requirements help define the kind of king Israel should desire.

1. This king must be God’s choice.  God knew that the Israelites could ultimately fall prey to asking for a king for all of the wrong reasons, and therefore choose poorly. As a general rule, people do not have a great track record in choosing their leaders. God desired that the people seek Him for His choice of someone to rule over them.

2. This king must be an Israelite.  God also knew that the Israelites might be tempted by the pagan people who were already residing in the Promised Land to choose a leader from among them. But that would surely be a leader who would not follow God heart and soul. It would end up being a leader who would lead God’s people astray.

3. This king must not amass great personal wealth and military might.  God understood that a king would always be tempted to use his great power to surround himself with more power and great wealth. Leaders today are tempted to do the same. Moses goes on to further warn this king to certainly not lean on other nations for a military alliance, such as Egypt. The king was to find his security in God alone.

4. This king must not take many wives.  This is not simply a prohibition against polygamy. D.A. Carson states that in the Ancient Near East kings showed off their greatness by the number of wives they possessed. Therefore this was a limitation on the kings power and a preventative measure to keep his heart from being led astray. It is not because these women might be inherently bad, it is that the king would be tempted to acquire wives from surrounding nations that worshiped lesser gods.

5. This king, once he ascends to the throne, must write out a personal copy of God’s Law and read it every day for the rest of his life.  This was a tall task to help insure that the king would revere God, follow God’s commands as he led, and to not place himself above the common Israelite.

Summary: God chooses God’s person who will rule not from power and might, but whole heartedly towards God’s purposes for God’s glory and the well being of God’s people.

How do these precepts inform your own leadership?

In the day of Moses there was another king coming who would defy cultural connotations by eschewing worldly power and passions. He would carefully follow all of God’s words. He was intent on building an alternative kingdom, a spiritual kingdom. He would sacrifice himself for us. This is the Servant King we wait for again. King Jesus.

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Keeping Idols At Bay

small__9756724403You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. Leviticus 26:1-2. (emphasis mine)

If you want to understand the sixteen prophetic books of the Bible, you must also come to terms with Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. These two chapters in the Old Testament spell out the blessings of covenant obedience and curses of covenant disobedience. Chief among the warnings is the danger of idolatry. God warns his people that to give allegiance to anything other than himself is idolatry. Ultimately the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah fall prey to covenant disobedience and are taken captive and exiled by foreign nations. And leaders led them there.

These are not just Old Testament realities. We too can fall prey to idolatry in this day and age. Anything we give allegiance to over and above God himself places us in the category of idolaters. As leaders this can be things as subtle as power, status, and gain. I have argued before that leadership is always a leveraged proposition. Our choices as leaders always affect a greater number of people. Our decisions, no matter how personal, ripple with consequences towards others. When we are seduced by the idols of our age we run the risk of leading others down the same path.

The writer in Leviticus offers us a double edged solution, sabbath and sanctuary.

Sabbath is about rest.

Sanctuary is about worship.

Both are grounded in trust.

When we maintain a sabbath rest on a weekly basis we are declaring that we are not omnipotent. We require rest and refreshment. The passage tells us that we must guard, keep, and protect our sabbath rest. There is only one who is omnipotent, and he can lead just fine during our down time. He can supply what we need through sabbath that we might lead again with fresh perspective and power.

When we engage in daily personal worship and weekly corporate worship we are bending the knee to declare that we too stand under authority. We must lead from a posture of surrender and submission. Worship is royal imagery that portrays a subject kissing the hand of a supreme ruler. It is giving adoration to one who is worthy.

Rightly choosing to maintain regular sabbath will keep us from making tired, self centered decisions that might lead to self promotion and self protection.

Rightly worshipping the King of Kings will keep us from worshipping something less.

Instead of falling prey to leadership idolatry, and to leading our people toward the same, we can enjoy the holy intimacy that flows from sabbath and sanctuary. And that will keep our idols at bay.

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