Peter Wilson: ‘Command and control’ leadership was taught in the MBA schools in the late 1980s and 1990s. Those graduates are now CEOs and chairs and they’re holding on to a lot of these traditional notions, but is this changing? Are we seeing a different kind of leadership emerge?
Fons Trompenaars: I truly believe certain leadership can be defined, first of all, as enabling other people to perform better. These new leaders are finding ways to reconcile dilemmas. What great leaders, especially servant leaders, understand is the connection between viewpoints and across cultures.
The beauty of this is that the old paradigm is included in it. Servant leaders still sometimes give commands. And they are still in control. But the command is done after listening to your people. Control happens when you empower people, because if you don’t empower them, there’s nothing to control.
PW: We have an outburst of diversity activity going on at the moment. HR divisions are doing a lot of work on the different diversity streams – on gender, ethnicity, ageing, disability and so on, rather than viewing diversity as an issue or a solution to challenges. What better way forward could they be taking?
FT: Thomas and Ely wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review where they looked at stages of diversity management. If you don’t go through them, you’re in trouble. The first stage is compliance. You need to have some numbers because otherwise nothing will change, but if you stop at compliance, you’re in trouble. Take the gender quotas for boards in Norway for example. After five years of this quota system being in place, company and board performance was measured.
There was a correlation with gender but it was a negative one. And it shows that if you hire women because they’re female and not because they’re good – and if you force the board gender mix from 10 per cent to 50 per cent in five years – you don’t have enough time to educate this new influx of board members in order to get them up and running in that environment.
PW: Which companies have practised cross-cultural diversity successfully?
FT: One I’m very proud of is a company called AMD – Advanced Micro Devices. We helped them to see the difference between American and German talents and worked with themon how best to combine them. That approach needs a lot of work because you need to reconcile the tensions between the different centres, but that’s what they have done pretty well.
PW: We’re probably coming up to a period of significant merger and acquisition activity, and given that 80 per cent of mergers fail to achieve their expected benefits, what can we learn from cross-cultural diverse thinking that can help prevent that?
FT: A successful merger is about merging the values with the business. In other words, first diagnose the business dilemmas and then diagnose the cultural dilemmas and see how the reconciling of those can help you in supporting the solving of the business dilemmas.
Often what we see is companies approaching business dilemmas and only then dealing with the cultural dilemmas. But the real challenge is integrating the cultural work with the business work.
PW: Let’s turn to ethics. Ethical leadership is sort of synonymous with servant leadership. Are you seeing the emergence of ethical leadership elsewhere in your travels?
FT: I’m seeing this across the world. The best definition I’ve ever seen of integrity is about creating wholeness through the integration of opposites. And it’s all about how to integrate opposites to create a new whole. People are awakening and we’re getting there.
Often HR managers have to decide: “Should I reward the individual or the group?” It shouldn’t be about either/or. We should have group rewards that are aimed at what the group does for the individual and give individual rewards for what people do for the team.
So, we get this integrity in every group. I can see that meta-concept of integrity is emerging. I’m hopeful.
About Fons Trompenaars
Consultant, trainer, motivational speaker and author Fons Trompenaars was a keynote speaker at this year’s AHRI Convention in August. He is a globally recognised expert on cross-cultural communication and international management.
As founder and director of Trompenaars Hampden-Turner, an intercultural management firm, he has spent more than 25 years helping Fortune 500 leaders manage and solve their business and cultural dilemmas to increase global effectiveness and performance, particularly in the areas of globalisation, mergers and acquisition, HR and leadership development.
He has received the International Professional Practice Area Research Award by the American Society for Training and Development. He was voted one of the top 20 HR Most Influential International Thinkers 2011 by HR Magazine, and was ranked in the Thinkers 50 as an influential management thinker in 2011.