Being the China Leader is Not Easy

Are you leading well in China?  Get prepared for the home office to mistrust you.

It does not always happen, but it is common.  China has Westernized quite a bit, but the differences between China and the West are still vast.  Thus, actions that work in in the US often do not work in China and vice versa.

The core issue is trust.  We, as humans, trust that which is familiar to us.  We mistrust things or events that are foreign to us.   So we mistrust Chinese people once we have ‘met’ them as we have found they are different. They have crossed our boundaries in some way and we have put them in the mistrust column.

So if you as a Western leader identify with your Chinese workers, then you can get branded.  People in the West have judged them and now you according to their culture.

A lot of the information you send to the home office will not make sense in an American context.  You will appear strange if you do right.  It takes a lot of energy to maintain trust with the home office in this environment.

Another confusing issue is Chinese people are good at buttering up bosses.  Thus, Westerners visiting your facility will get treated quite well by some workers.  Other good workers who hate buttering up will not connect.  Finally, people who are good at English are seen as smarter than those who are not good at English.  The impression Western visitors may get even if they visit may not conform to reality.   As Westerners, we subjectively see all with out Western glasses. When events do not make sense easily, we unconsciously dump them into boxes in our mind.  Problems start to occur.

People in the home office will start to find their trusted people. Often the reasons are poor.

This one has good English. This one is smart (because has good English) Or this one I like because they make me feel good.    Few people read books on cross cultural understandings. They leap to judgment or have no means to reach proper judgment.   All of this can make your ability to decide weak.  It can make the home office incapable while believing they are OK. 

Prepare to put a lot of effort into maintaining trust with the home office.  Also, you need to really understand Chinese people around you.  They are neither as bad nor as good as you may think.  We can attest that leading in China is great, but it takes a lot of work to cross the cultural divide and maintain trust. 

Thoughts?

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Posted in: China, Culture Development, Leadership

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