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October 2014

While on a recent visit to a local shopping centre I took a break and was enjoying a coffee, gazing at my fellow shoppers when I noticed a lot of pedestrian traffic at the top of an escalator.  I noticed that an African woman was very hesitantly attempting to step onto an escalator, only to get close and then step away again. Watching her it was obvious that she didn't feel comfortable with escalators, quite possibly had never ridden one and might prefer to take the stairs! Her family spent quite some time traveling up and down the escalators demonstrating to her its ease and safety.  Eventually she conquered the escalator and was very clearly pleased with her accomplishment. 

This scenario required the woman to adapt to a new situation, either she could choose to avoid or confront it.  While for most of us using escalators is an every day occurrence that we never consider further.  This scenario serves´┐Ż as a good reminder that what is considered normal and ordinary in one culture can be daunting and frightening to another.

My assumptions while watching this scenario unfold, were that it provoked a sense of fear for her that possibly involved potential risks and danger. When we experience these thoughts and emotions our natural instinct is to steer away and avoid the circumstances or situation/s.  Another instinct often tells us to 'stick' around and conquer our fears.

New environments are a great test of just how flexible we really are, they force us to behave and react instantly to new, unforseen and unfamiliar circumstances.  Often when we find ourselves in these situations we need to flex our mindsets and behaviours and expose our core values and beliefs, of which ultimately determine our degree of flexibility. 

New cultural environments and interactions call on our adeptness to constantly recalibrate and adapt to the environments that we find ourselves in.  Delivering feedback or presentations, negotiating and sourcing across borders or leading teams across cultures all command a proficiency in flex in terms of behaviours and attitudes.  You need to know:

  • How and when flex is required
  • How to practise flexibility in a manner that doesn't compromise your core beliefs and values
  • Which actions will and won't enhance your effectiveness and act upon that
  • Be courageous enough to put yourself in situations that take you out of your comfort zone; regardless of the chances that you will feel awkward and possibly  challenge your unconscious biases

As I observed the apprehension, fear, satisfaction and pleasure that the woman on the escalator underwent; it reminded me of the benefits of external support structures and personal courage required to confront new challenges.


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Best Wishes
Tom Verghese

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This month I am recommending a book that was published in 1998 but still offers relevance and contemporary discussions and dilemmas.  Morgan provides a brilliant discussion around the challenges of navigating through cross-cultural ethics through personal stories of leaders working in global organisations.

The book takes an inside look at the dilemmas of leaders who are asked to make profits ethically according to their company's ethics code. It examines what companies 'think' they are doing to assist leaders in those situations and how those leaders are actually affected.

Morgan provides a clear roadmap for global leaders who need to communicate their commitment to integrity and accountability to their employees, their partners, and their customer base. 

As I continue to deliver workshops on cross-cultural ethics, I believe ethics and integrity are at the core of sustainable and long-term success for organisations.

Negotiating Cross-Cultural Ethics: What Global Managers Do Right to Keep from Going Wrong." By Eileen Morgan (1998).

'Raising Your Cultural IQ - DVD and CD

'Raising Your Cultural IQ' explores the issues around culture, the challenges that culture can pose and provides some great strategies on how to leverage on cultural differences and similarities.


'The Invisible Elephant - Exploring Cultural Awareness'
2nd Edition by Tom Verghese

Many aspects of culture are invisible, yet culture has an enormous impact on our lives. Like an Invisible Elephant, if ignored these aspects can lead to misunderstanding, stress and conflict. Alternatively, if attention is given to the Invisible Elephant, it can enhance productivity, improve teamwork and create more joy in our lives.

Book testimonial by Asma Ghabshi
Learning And Development Manager, Shell Oman:

"The Invisible Elephant made my perspective of my national culture in comparison to my personal culture more visible. It has given me a deep insight into dealing with people of different cultural backgrounds."

'Pillars of Growth - Strategies for Leading Sustainable Growth' - Book by Tom Verghese, Kerry Larkan, Steven Howard and Brad Tonini
Written with the business leaders and entrepreneurs of Asia in mind, 'Pillars of Growth' provides a road map to assist you in thinking through four critical concerns that impact the sustainable growth of every business.