An article analysis: New Leaders Find Strength in Diversity by Anand Giridharadas, The New York Times, May 7, 2010
“Transcultural leadership addresses a new global reality. Today, productivity must come from the collaboration of culturally diverse women and men. It insists that leaders change organizational culture to empower and develop people”
Philip Harris andRobert Moran
At the beginning of the 1990s, organizations in North America and Europe faced an increasingly globalized marketplace, and a workforce that was evolving rapidly both in terms of its skills and its composition. In Canada, the starkness of this evolution could hardly be ignored: by the end of the decade, the proportion of foreign-born citizens would climb to the highest level seensince the late 1930s, and by 2001, 60% of new immigrants would cite economic reasons for their arrival. Across the Atlantic in England and Wales, the trends were not dissimilar, where it was predicted ethnic minorities aged 16-34 would form just under 10% of the workforce by 2009.
The American organization, for its part, could also no longer afford to operate from within a culturalvacuum. Certainly, US companies had for decades been successfully conducting business abroad, however, much of it was on a take it or leave it basis, with terms dominated by the language of a superpower. The 9/11 attacks served as a powerful reminder to America that it could not survive in isolation; it was not alone in the world, and neither could it afford to ignore the role and influence ofthose from different cultures - at home, abroad or in the workplace. Such lessons could also be readily gleaned from the statistical evidence:
“The U.S. workforce is expected to become more diverse by 2018 … Whites are expected to make up a decreasing share of the labor force, while Blacks, Asians, and all other groups will increase their share … persons of Hispanic origin are projected toincrease their share of the labor force from 14.3 percent to 17.6 percent, reflecting 33.1 percent growth.” (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008-2018 Projections)
A role for other cultures in organizations’ decision making, formation of norms and practices would have to reach beyond that of a fashion accessory: the assimilation of foreign workers, an understanding of their cultures and how they couldmake valuable contributions would be essential to compositional balance, pursuit of new business and continued success. As Harris and Moran (1996) identified at the time
“To thrive and, in many cases, survive … it is necessary for organizations to globalize in strategy, structure, and people….”
Faced with the need for extensive change and adaptation, shrewd organizations realized thatallowing internal strategies to ignore the transforming external environment would be a serious mistake.
In a new decade, it is within this context that we are able to place the arrival of a new breed of ‘hybrid’ leader, a hyper-modern individual who can instinctively create a ‘rainbow’ set of norms and practices by which to integrate and lead people of diverse cultures. In her 2005 book, ‘TheHybrid Leader’, Trudy Bourgeois observed
“Most leaders haven't embraced the new face of the 21st century. They don't know how to connect with people who don't look like them, think like them or act like them.”
However, this was only true to ‘most’. By the end of the 2000s, Giridharadas (2010) had identified a new type of hybrid leader, one that incorporated a new transculturalelement. The most visible examples of this new crop of leaders, he argued, being current US President Barack Obama, but also French-Lebanese-Brazilian executive Carlos Ghosn and the former Egyptian Nobel prizewinner Mohammed ElBaradei. What qualities, according to Giridharadas, does this new hybrid leader possess?
Unsurprisingly, empathy – a touchstone of Carlos Ghoson’s philosophy -...