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Understanding the difference between exterior and interior diversity (1009 hits)

By Leslie N. Pollard, Ph.D, D.Min, MBA, president of Oakwood University

Nothing is more mission critical for 21st century organizations than leadership that has the technical, conceptual, and interpersonal skills demanded in our competitive environments.

Within the interpersonal domain, we want to go a step further and assert that in a multi-national, globally connected environment, no 21st century leadership skill is more important than leadership competency across cultures. While much emphasis in diversity education is placed on exteriority (those external features: race, gender, language, etc) I now call to your attention those interior realities which provide the "software" that drives our interactions. I share a story that illustrates the reality of this concept.

While traveling to Lagos, Nigeria recently, the airline I had taken mistakenly sent my clothes to Cairo, Egypt. After waiting in vain to receive at the baggage claim area of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, we learned that my bags had been mistakenly sent to Cairo, Egypt.

Not one to be discouraged, my host, Dr. David Babalola, offered me some beautiful and colorful examples of local Nigerian garments to wear. Then Dr. Babalola said to me, "Dr. Pollard, let's go to town center in Lagos so that you can see the city." And that we did.

After we toured for more than an hour, we happened upon two little street children, that I estimate to be have been 7 and 5 years old. As we stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the Lagos skyline, the older boy, with his little colleague watching nearby, approached my host and me. The first little Nigerian street child began his appeal to me for a financial gift, with his upturned palm. He started his speech in Yoruba (a tribal language of western Nigeria). I decided to play along by nodding and grunting as if I understood his attempts to get me to donate a few coins to him.

After about two minutes of entertaining his best and most animated appeals, I finally audiblized an answer: "I am so sorry" I said, "but I don't understand a word you are saying." At the sound of my American accent, his little eyes opened as wide as saucers and a smile crawled across his face. He turned to his little companion and giggled in perfect English, "Hurry, hurry! Come see the black white man."

The three of us laughed at his quick and comical analysis--though it revealed a profound anthropological insight. While in my Nigerian dress, I looked like thousands of other Nigerians walking the streets of Lagos, the essential difference that distinguished me from thousands of Nigerian nationals was largely, a subsurface, i.e., interior difference.

Effective cross-cultural leadership requires that we begin by appreciating the multiple cultures of the people groups that we lead. We will want to consult with persons from the cultures we are serving, read their histories, and thoughtfully and carefully listen to their stories. We will want find a cultural mentor to determine what role honor, shame, face, status, gender, position and other cultural values play in follower responses to leadership. And in your careful attending to followers, your commitment will be richly rewarded.

I sometimes pose the following scenario to audiences when I am speaking on leadership across cultures: My wife Prudence and I have been married for 38 years. We went on a cruise to the Western Caribbean for our 20th wedding anniversary. Suppose I had said on that first evening, across candlelight, and romantic music: "With each passing year, I tolerate you more and more." What do you think would be the first words you would hear in response to my heart felt expression of tolerance? My best guess would be "Man overboard" because tolerance has its limits!

As leaders, by understanding the subsurface differences which motivate our followers, we can move beyond tolerance, to affirmation, to inclusion and contribution.

Oakwood University is happy to join with the community to present the "Future and Beyond HSV" symposium on April 20, 2017, at the Von Braun Civic Center. This event will feature national and local speakers, breakout discussion sessions and other opportunities to explore how the Huntsville area can be better positioned to become a more diverse and inclusive hub for talent and innovation.

Original article courtesy of AL.COM
http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/03/understanding_the_difference_b.html
Posted By: Reginald Culpepper
Thursday, March 23rd 2017 at 5:49PM
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