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What were a few differences you ran into?



Asians have massive respect for authority. This, in effect, mean that they won't ever say no to, or disagree with, their boss. I had to learn to ask open questions, because if they could say yes they would. They would still guess at what I wanted to hear and tell me that. I got told different things than other members of the management team, not because anyone was trying to deceive, but purely as a show of respect.

My favoured leadership style is servant leadership, that my job is to enable everyone else to do their jobs properly. That didn't work. I had to teach myself how to do authoritarian leadership, which I hate with a passion, but it's the only style that works.

The language barrier is a huge thing. I would give an instruction, something else would happen, and the reason would be "I didn't understand you". They wouldn't ask for clarification, because of the respect thing. After training myself for years to not send emails, I had to get used to sending lots of emails again, because if it was written in plain English it had more chance of being understood and followed.

There's a ton of other, more subtle, stuff. I've been comparing notes with other western leaders here and it's a shared experience. Except for the douche bosses who are naturally authoritarian - they love it here.


Instead of calling this a 'respect' for authority, I'd call it a combination of submissiveness and deferring of all decision making, partly through a desire to avoid accountability. If you look at your situation where something 'else' happens due to a 'misunderstanding', I see this often with hierarchies: There is a rush to go off and do something, and no desire to ensure it's the _right_ thing.


Yeah that's a great way of putting it :)

It's expressed as "respect" if you talk to them about it, though, so I tend to use that term as it's non-prejudicial. Submissiveness is more accurate, but could be a problem in conversation hehe


Curious why the servant leadership style didn't work for you and why you think that is because this is the approach I prefer as well but I'm young in my career.


It doesn't work in Asia because of cultural reasons.

Independent thinking and enabling others is a very American way of thinking. People don't realize how much culture is derived off of core principles within major founding documents (declaration of independence, constitution).

In Asia, Confucian philosophy dominates the cultural landscape in terms of what values they have. One of the big principles of it is how to maintain order in society. A "perfectly ordered" society is one where the hierarchy is maintained and everyone functions in their proper place.

If it sounds like dystopia to you I'd encourage you to read more about it to understand what about it makes sense and what tradeoffs you get from a society like that.

Long story short, your leadership style needs to fit the people you're leading, not yourself. You can be the best servant leader but if everyone wants to be your servant, you're going to have a bad time.


This mirrors my experience in the MENA region (where a lot of staff are from asian cultures). It's hard to encourage people to work independently when they're coming from a "do what you're told" culture.


This, exactly. It was a huge surprise to find that asian people do not think of themselves as equals. Incidentally this is also one of the reasons democracy is struggling here, in my opinion.


Don't think it is an equality thing.

If I were to distill it into one central theme, it would be centered on how each culture views and values conflict.

The principles of the US has themes of "cooperation by conflict". Voting is the entire population fighting each other in a controlled setting. The 3 body system of checks and balances uses conflict as the central mean to prevent power accumulation.

Rationalism is the underlying reason for this acceptance of conflict. A dictionary definition: "Rationalism is the practice or principle of basing opinions and actions on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response."

From an emotional perspective, conflict is seen as detrimental, tearing down relationships, creating unresolvable discord and enmity, and the possibility to lose control over territory, position and power. However, from a rational perspective, conflict is positive. It puts the most logical, structural, or prevailing idea to the top.

The American revolutionists had gone through a lot. The history of western Europe was one where your lives were in the hands of emotional kings who could reward you one day and behead you the next without rhyme or reason. They were under the excessive, unchecked power of Britain, exhibited time and again through taxation without representation. They saw how much control the Bank of England had over the commonwealth. It was a time of rampant monopolies, major powers that had consolidated all control, and where conflict was an affront to power.

Because of all this, they baked conflict into the system.


As a narrative about how the US works, that's a great story.

As an east vs west philosophy debate, it completely fails to recognise that European cultures have also "baked conflict into the system".

It also fails to recognise that SE Asian cultures were also colonised by European powers.

A better explanation is that the American values were straight-up inherited from European ones because America (and Australia similarly) was wiped clean of indigenous culture during colonisation, while SE Asian countries were not. Better because it explains why all "western" cultures share these values, and why SE Asian cultures do not.


not sure how Europe got in this, was comparing American values versus Asian values. Conflict is the center of attention in American values (you could say western values, I don't know enough about modern European sentiment to say that). Conflict is indirect in Asian values.

Do you mean that American values aren't so anti-European that I depicted, or rather are derived from European values? I think I allude to it with rationalism, which originates from Europe. The history of European civilization is the foundation and backdrop for American ideals.

As much as America has tried to lay a foundation for a better western civilization, I think a mature modern America still has the problems that they were running away from in 18th century Europe - power eventually gets consolidated and individualism is compromised despite the checks and balances against it.


This: "The American revolutionists had gone through a lot. The history of western Europe was one where your lives were in the hands of emotional kings who could reward you one day and behead you the next without rhyme or reason. They were under the excessive, unchecked power of Britain, exhibited time and again through taxation without representation. They saw how much control the Bank of England had over the commonwealth. It was a time of rampant monopolies, major powers that had consolidated all control, and where conflict was an affront to power."

this ignores the fact that Britain has also "baked conflict into the system", and that Britain shares an idealogical framework with Europe, that America inherited, but SE Asia did not.


Because he was in southeast asia where people expect authority?


> After training myself for years to not send emails

Why would you do that? That's a recipe for miscommunication and mis-coordination in any country.


I'm a geek, I have a massive preference for written communication. Salesfolk, marketroids and other species of colleague prefer verbal communication. I had to train myself to call some people and email others, in other words to use their preferred communication method rather than mine. It worked a lot better.


In my (limited) experience email should be used for either:

* non-urgent

* not-that-important

* things you want (others) to remember

* communications you may want to point your finger later on (proof/contract details etc)

For everything else phone and in person communication are vastly superior and should be preferred.


I always wonder if this is a personality thing... I vastly prefer email (or slack/chat rooms) over phone / in person verbal, with some exceptions for certain types of brainstorming / planning.

I like to provide my thoughts on a topic in written form up front so people have a chance to think about it, and like the same in response.

Plus having a written record of decisions and even the thinking process is so helpful.


I also prefer emails... but this is not a personality thing. The email simply does not have enough dimension to replace normal talking.

You cannot express yourself because there is no body language and cannot talk things through because of the feedback loop. You cannot reflect to jokes or ask about the wellbeing on seeing someone coughing. You can ignore a pressed question by simply not answering - this is very hard to do in person. You cannot see from the eyes of the other person if he's really listening or just seems to be really tired.

It's great to have an email describing what I have to do and it is great for talking to someone you are familiar with. But it is a bad idea to use it for client communication or for doing business in general.


I'd love to read a blog post about this if you write one!


Much more politics.


Oh, there's plenty of politics in American companies as well. It's just culturally you have to pretend that you haven't even heard this word and are honestly acting in the best interests of the company/team/customers, while using the dirtiest tricks in the book when nobody's watching before your competitors do the same to you.




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