First off, my apologies for not posting in a while. My excuse? This book!
I was given this book as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. I started reading it at the time, but for some reason got distracted. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and dived in head first – and I am so glad I did!
“Leading Across Cultures” by James E. Plueddemann is a fantastic resource, especially for global Christian organisations and/or global not-for-profit organisations. I plan to use many of the insights I’ve gained for upcoming posts. It has reignited my passion for cross-cultural training, because it has so many examples of why it is crucial.
Ok, enough with the vague commentary (but it really is fantastic). Plueddemann was previously the International Director of SIM, a well known Christian mission organisation. He brings a great wealth of experience to this book. I always find theories much more digestible when they are full of personal stories and examples.
Regarding the content, it has some fantastic insights into why leaders in cross-cultural situations struggle and how to overcome it. Of course he mentions the usual Hofstede characteristics of cultures (at some point in future I’ll also discuss these), but brings a new general term that I had not previously heard of: “high-context” vs “low-context” cultures. My country, Australia, is a “low-context” culture. This means, for example, when we are communicating, the emphasis is on the direct words that we are speaking. You don’t need a lot of other information to understand the meaning of what is spoken. For instance, if I say, “Yes, I am ok with your decision,” it generally means I am ok with it.
In contrast, a “high-context” culture needs awareness of a lot more information, in addition to what is spoken. For someone like me from a low-context culture, I would potentially never see this information. It could be body language, tone of voice, eye movements – many from low-context cultures would see it as a secret that they can never quite understand. So if someone from a high-context culture says “Yes, I am ok with your decision,” it could mean any number of things, including that they are definitely NOT ok with your decision.
Neither a low or high context culture is right or wrong – just different. And the brilliance of the book is that it clearly and logically explains these differences – no mumbo jumbo, so to speak.
Plueddemann also has a brilliant metaphor for explaining WHY leaders need cross-cultural training: If they are a good leader in their culture, it is like they have learned to play one instrument. But when faced with many cultures, it’s like learning to play other instruments. I have my own “musical” extension on this. As a violin player, I can read treble clef perfectly. But if I was to learn the piano, I would not only need to read treble clef – I would need to learn to read bass clef too, which would prove quite challenging.
Maybe I’m weird, but I love it when someone (in this case, this book), helps me to eloquently explain the ideas that rattle around in my head so that others can understand them too. This is definitely a recommended read!!