Embracing and manifesting cultural differences in leadership
Your identity plays a significant role in how you lead. Recognizing and acknowledging your cultural background within your identity shapes your leadership style. Embracing the fact that there are celebrated business leaders from every culture, we can internalize and appreciate there isn’t only one way to be successful. This is the first step to accepting and evolving your personal gifts as a leader. For example, as an Asian female raised by traditional Taiwanese parents, I honed the skill of compromise early in life. Growing up in the U.S., I had many opportunities to practice finding common ground between Eastern values emphasizing collectivism and Western values emphasizing individualism. I am wired to hold and optimize opposing concepts in the same space. As a business leader, I have used this skill time and again to solve seemingly intractable problems with multiple stakeholders.
One of the most important practices in leadership is self-reflection. Through the self-reflection process, you find out all about yourself – the good and the bad. If you don’t accept all you are, you can’t use all you have. There are many aspects of yourself that are there for you to bring to everything you do. Your cultural background is an integral part of who you are. Self-reflection opens the door to discover places you may have overlooked in yourself. This helps you to love your uniqueness. There is, after all, no one like you. You have a perspective that only you can offer and contribute to others.
As leaders, we need to look for opportunities to leverage our identity in whatever we do for our business. It could be as simple as tapping into our personal and professional networks to source diverse clients. Who we are is who we know, and that’s powerful. When we combine our individual networks, we cover a lot of people! For example, Vanguard’s Leadership and Engagement for Asian Professionals (LEAP) Crew Resource Group partnered with ASCEND (a US- based, nationwide Asian professional organization) to co-produce an informative webinar featuring two of our own leaders on investing in these uncertain times. Organizations like this help to expand our network and reach new clients.
Our cultural identity is a wonderful tool to further business goals. As managers, we are charged with creating the right environment and equipping our team to drive business results. It is corporate culture that creates those outcomes. Research proves there are better solutions and more creative, collaborative results when you have a diverse group of people. Bringing our identity to the table is not only the right thing to do, it is also an appreciated one that is good for business. Our clients care about the culture in the corporations they are affiliated with. In my role leading a team of investment consultants who advise our Institutional pension clients, I not only represent, but also discuss our corporate diversity and inclusion efforts.
Embracing your cultural background is not just letting people know who you are, it also includes finding out who they are and how you can work best together. It’s often easy to hide your true self, creating an artificial line of demarcation between work and personal. Too often your personal identity is not accepted as part of your business identity. Getting to know others can allow you to see more of who you are.
Being vulnerable and open to sharing your personal story and inviting others to share theirs becomes a powerful and expansive give and take. Leaders should tell their story, as well as listen to the stories of others. There are plenty of appropriate avenues through informal conversations, blogs, and social events, whether virtual or in person. Just remember that while listening, you should be willing to really hear what the other person is saying.
A good tool for understanding your leadership style and learning about those of others is the Deloitte Business Chemistry types. Like Myers Briggs, it talks about different characteristics within four primary categories: Driver, Pioneer, Integrator, and Guardian. This tool provides greater insight into your style, and also helps us understand the behavior of those with different styles.
Remember that whether you’re conscious of it or not, all parts of you, including your culture, show up in all you do. For example, I am a Pioneer and an Integrator. This makes a lot of sense to me. Being part of an immigrant generation is a crucial part of my identity. When my family came to this country, we had nothing and had to pioneer new ways to do things. As a middle child, I was always keeping the peace, trying to integrate everyone and find compromise. The person I have become because of my background and culture is reflected in my business dealings. Today, my leadership sponsors the Open Architecture effort, connecting investment professionals and information technology. In addition, I find innovative ways to craft win-win pricing proposals for clients and Vanguard, and I bring a differentiated perspective to building our pension advisory business.
Throughout my career, I have found adaptation to be an evolutionary necessity, but rejecting who you are in the process is a mistake. My cultural heritage and personal background are strengths that I leverage daily.
Jean is a co-lead of LEAP and a Principal and Department Head in Institutional Advisory Services, where she leads a team of investment professionals. She embraced and manifested her own cultural differences to rise through the Investment Management Group Division leading teams in the Fixed Income Group, Risk Management Group, and Global Investors Shared Services. Jean has been an active member of LEAP since its inception – as co-lead for the Leadership and Professional Development sub-team, sponsor of all three LEAP Leadership conferences, and an active member of the Advisory Board.