RSS On the Road: 3 Cross-Cultural Observations from China

I recently returned from a trip to Beijing and Shanghai, China where I joined several dozen others on a tour organized by the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce. To say the experience was enlightening would be an understatement. I truly appreciated the opportunity to learn about a culture that, up until this trip, was at once mysterious and historically fabled to me.

(Visiting the Great Wall of China)

I thought I would share with you three specific observations made during this visit that served to clarify my naïve preconceptions. I’ll then apply my cross-cultural lessons to those in leadership positions. After all, one of the most important attributes of a leader is a high level of engagement with others.

Observation #1: It’s Difficult to Squelch the Drive for Success

It wasn’t long after we landed in China that I made my first significant observation that the country seems to be more aligned around their economic philosophy of capitalism than they are their political philosophy of communism. Everywhere we went there were people trying to sell us things, but at no time were people speaking or acting in ways that suggested their political culture was superior to democracy.

What I learned from this observation is that individuals will work hard when the payoff justifies the effort. This appears to be even more important than whatever the political environment might be at an organization. As a leader, remember that your talent will stay fully engaged if they are both challenged and motivated to take on the challenge.

Observation #2: There’s No Substitute for Personal Connection

My second observation is one of amazement by the openness of the Chinese people to maintain eye contact with me. Unlike when I visit parts of this country, there was a refreshing personal connection with many people, especially as I was hiking up the steps of the Great Wall. The smiles I received and the numerous photographs in which I was included will forever be etched in my mind.

This observation made me realize that there is no substitute for interpersonal connection between the leaders of an organization and the talent they are tasked with developing. Even though interactions were brief with my new Chinese friends, I’m confident the feelings we shared are similar to those felt when one has a brief but memorable interaction with the “boss.”   It is often memorable and can even be profound!

Observation #3: Appreciate the Legacy of Your Decisions

My two tour guides in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai were proud of the progress their country has made in the last 30 years, but also concerned about the impact this “progress” had on their cultural history. There appeared to be a greater emphasis on growth than on the quality of that growth.

As leaders we need to be fully aware that the decisions we make today can have far-reaching consequences — both intended and unintended. It is hard to ensure that every business decision will properly align our growth objectives and maintain the integrity of our culture. And, just as I learned from the two tour guides, change just for the sake of change isn’t always best.

I’m curious to hear about lessons you’ve learned in your travels, either domestic or international. Feel free to share in the comments below!

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One Response to “On the Road: 3 Cross-Cultural Observations from China”

  1. Megan Horvath says:

    Mitch-
    I agree with your observations from China. The people were so very welcoming of the visitors to their country and were eager to share their culture and rituals with us, unlike we may find in other countries. They were proud of their heritage and yet unsure of the future of their culture considering the heavy influence of the Western Way. Another observation my husband and I had was that the country ensured that everyone had a job; from the street sweepers to the numerous employees at any given retail shop. China almost felt like a well-oiled machine. The poor didn’t even seem to mind that they had less than the wealthy, but that they had jobs at all made them content. I appreciate hearing how others viewed the trip; as I feel that our time in China opened my mind up to a more global view.

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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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