BRIDGING THE GAP
'Coach, I came across a great article," Dan tells me, drawing my attention to "Six Fundamentals Leaders Need for Global Success", which he read on Chiefexecutive.net. It describes a study done by Right Management and Tucker International of 1,867 leaders of 13 nationalities to help multinational clients that need to develop leaders who can fulfil global responsibilities.
The six qualities the study identified are: adapting socially, demonstrating creativity, having an even disposition, respecting beliefs, instilling trust and navigating ambiguity.
"I have a question for you," says Dan. "Why are many Thai leaders not good at navigating ambiguity?"
"Dan, can you elaborate more on this term?" I ask him.
"Navigating ambiguity means seeing through vagueness and uncertainty, not becoming frustrated, and figuring out how things are done in other cultures."
"Dan, there are three reasons:
- Family: We raise our children, perhaps with too much love and care, until they graduate. They live with us until they get married. Hence, most middle-class children grow up amid certainty and in a highly protective environment.
- The educational system: We don't educate our people to apply good critical thinking. We teach them to pass exams by repeating 'right' answers. Hence, certainty is the goal for studying.
- The workplace: Seniority is still a core Thai value in most organisations. We listen to the senior tell us where to go, what to do and how to solve our problems. Again, it's safer to listen to the poo-yai."
Dan acknowledges my explanation but is still hopeful he can encourage his staff to broaden their horizons.
"Coach, how can I help my Thai team to be good at navigating ambiguity?" he asks.
"That's tough. Give me a minute to think. What do you have in mind?"
"I have to start by educating them that navigating ambiguity is inevitable."
"Why is that?"
"Because of the dynamics of change. You can see that what is happening now was not predicted accurately even three years ago. Nobody will be able to predict the next three years. The world is moving towards more uncertainty than before.
"But we have to be able to live with it. We have two choices: to survive or to prevail. To survive you need adaptation; to prevail you need a proactive approach. As a high-performance organisation and because it's in our best interest, we must prevail. That's why we've made innovation one of our organisation's core values."
"Okay, Dan. I think your rationale will make people realise they need to change. Then what's next?"
"What do you think, Coach?"
"Dan, people don't like ambiguity because there is an element of uncertainty. How do you create an environment in which people have a little bit of certainty? How do you encourage people to try something new without fear of failure?""I think I will create a new set of norms. Here are some ideas I have to make people feel safer when we try out new things:
- Mistakes are considered learning. Each time we fail, we don't look for scapegoats. We ask: What do we learn from it? How do we prevent the same thing happening in the future?
- We execute when we have just enough data _ not the perfect answer. Sometimes 80% of data is enough instead of doing 'analysis until paralysis' simply because we want more data. In doing this, we need to learn to make better use of our executives' judgement. Because when we don't have enough data, we need better judgement to substitute.
- We need a more diverse group for new initiatives. Collaboration from people who have different backgrounds and perspectives will help us to navigate ambiguity better.
- We need to listen to each other more, as no one is an expert on the future. But I'd like your advice on how we can improve team listening."
"In The 3rd Alternative, the late Stephen R. Covey suggested the idea of Empathic Listening," I tell Dan, summarising part of what he wrote:
"I encourage you to take this paradigm to heart: 'I seek you out.' Think about your own stressed and strung-out moments in your relationships with others. When tensions are high and confidence is low, when the next step doesn't look clear at all, when a wall has gone up, try an experiment with empathy.
- Go to the other side and say, "You see things differently. I need to listen to you."
- Pay the price to understand. Give your full attention. Don't multitask. While you're listening. Don't judge, evaluate, analyse, advise, toss in your footnotes, commiserate, critique or quarrel. The speakers don't need you on their side. All they need is your positive regard for them.
- Pay close attention to emotions. Affirm feelings: 'You must feel (sorry, disappointed, confused, unsure, sceptical, worried, frustrated) about this.'
- Listen to a story. When you go to a movie, you don't interrupt and argue with the story and talk back to the screen. You're involved, your sense of reality is suspended, and you're almost in a trance."
Listening with that level of focus, I suggest to Dan, can help people overcome a lot of things.
Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are available at www.thaicoach.com
About the author
- Writer: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai