August 23. 2012
I would like to continue elaborating on what it means that Great Leaders CONNECT, if they want to succeed internationally. In my last blog, I wrote about how C stands forCommunicate Effectively.
O is for Observe Culture. I think the characteristic of a leader that will make or break you in the long-term, is your ability to be a learner. When most people think of leadership, they think a specific position, like being a boss. In reality, it’s more about influence than position. And influence is based on your ability to connect. Internationally, your ability to connect depends on how well you observe the culture you are in. Observation means both watching and learning, as well as abiding by and complying within that culture.
When most people think of the difficulties of being overseas, they probably think of the challenges that come with adapting to the climate and different food. While those are certainly things to adapt to, I think the hardest things to adapt to are the norms, practices, and values of a culture. These cultural differences range from wedding ceremonies and how you eat food to what kind of clothes you wear and how you relate to other people. Being an American in Kenya can be difficult at times. For example, as an American I value timeliness, efficiency, and productivity. Without even knowing it, I sometimes value these over relationships and community. For example, in the office if a visitor comes by to visit the Kenyan staff, it does not matter what they are working on, everyone will put their work on hold to make that person feel welcome. Or when someone randomly stops by at a Kenyan’s house, it is not just to say hi. There is an expectation to take them in, have some tea and bread, and spend time together despite what they had going on before. That is just one example of how various values affect everyday life within a culture. And how you absolutely have to be able to adapt to that if you want to connect with those you lead and work with.
Let me clarify that I do not think leaders should change who they are or what they believe. I simply mean to say that you must be able to adapt to and understand cultural differences. I do think there is a line that differentiates cultural values and absolute values. There are certain Biblical values that I will never compromise or condone. But for the values that are relative, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
N is for Network Intentionally. I would say that networking is building connections and relationships, both personally and professionally. Networking is a normal part of most people’s lives. But I think it becomes even more crucial when you are living overseas. That is because you are more vulnerable being outside your comfort zone, new to the environment and people around you. Just networking will not be good enough, because the process takes time and hard work. To be wise, you must network intentionally. In a professional sense, it is useful for more than just fundraising. It means seeing gaps and finding people and organizations that can help you close them. For example, if you see a technology skill gap with the staff, find someone who can train the staff. In CARE for AIDS, we have noticed that we need to continue finding new and innovative ways to get clients jobs and employment. We are constantly searching for other organization that can help train clients in new skills and business creation. For example, we are able to partner with Equity Banks, a Kenyan bank, which has been able to train all our clients in personal savings and finances. We have also been able to find an organization KickStart that is able to train the clients in good farming practices. Another relationship that has paid off tremendously is an organization Feeding Children Everywhere that has been able to provide us with over 150,000 meals of food for the clients!
In the personal sense, networking intentionally means having a support team around you. You should not live life alone. We were not meant to. Especially in leadership, you need friendship, accountability, and encouragement from others. Being intentional means finding people who can offer you those things. Find people who you can share life with, people who will be honest with you no matter what. Find someone who will keep you accountable. It’s easy to get caught up in our own ideas thinking we can save the world, without realizing the affect of our decisions on others. Learning to network intentionally will help you to be more effective and can keep you from being unproductive, wasting time, and trying to do too much alone.