Leading Across Diversity with MIKA

Great opportunities abound for a new baby food product that is about to be launched in Liberia. The product underwent extensive research, design and took into consideration the special dietary habit of the Liberians. The company shipped large volume of the products into the country, launched its products with a baby picture on it, and coupled with extensive promotions and free sample for parents to try with their kids.

The result? It flopped! It is not because the product is not working, but because of the baby picture on the front of the jar. What? It was only found out later that African distributors usually place pictures of the contents on their label, and placing a jar with a baby picture on the front created a different meaning altogether. Oops!

This is just one of the numerous interesting stories of what happens when we are not managing diversity consciously. If we look around us, hospitals are receiving patients from all over the world, especially when Singapore is a medical hub. In fact, Interpreters are engaged by hospital to support the local surgeon in explaining medical condition to either a patient from Vietnam or Dubai. After all, if you are a patient, you want to know why you are operated on.

And this is a real picture in our workplace today, where a professional may easily encounter 10 to 12 different cultural contexts in a single day. Close to 90 percent of leading executives from 68 countries shared the concern for cross-cultural leadership as the top leadership challenge for the next century.

The top of the list includes areas like: understanding how to mange diverse customers, recruit and develop cross-cultural talent, managing diverse teams and adopting an adaptive leadership style while demonstrating respect and building trust.

How do we ensure that our cultural diverse environment can thrive? In fact this is an exciting time where multiple possibilities can be created if leaders and businesses knew how to better manage and engage the multiple talented and diverse perspectives. This is a great opportunity if managed well, and must be managed consciously.

I am going to share with you 4 pointers of leading across diversity using the acronym – MIKA.


Find a Motivator to know more about this person and curiosity is a motivator. This is an important and first ingredient, in ensuring that you are creating the right chemistry with your co-workers from another culture. Being curious will motivate you to understand and appreciate why your co-workers is doing what they are doing.

For example, in a conversation between an American and Italian, the assumption that an American may hold is that, “now that we are friends, there is no need for argument”. However the Italian don’t think so. In fact for them, “now that we are friends, we can have a REAL argument”. Might not be a bad thing after all if they argue with you, now that you know they see you differently – a true friend! Adopting curiosity as a motivator will prompt you to ask question and seek clarification if necessary to avoid the unnecessary.


This refers to igniting a strategy in managing the process. This helps you in managing expectations from both sides. If you have acquire knowledge that your German counterparts adopts shared leadership approach by seeking consensus from all parties, you might be able to manage their expectations better by sharing with them the norms in Singapore or specifically your organization in this part of the world.

The same company does not operate similarly across the globe. Ignite is about what is more useful from the information you have gathered. Don’t try to get it right the first time. In fact, if you are appreciative of the person and seek an effort in understanding them, they will notice and will not fault you for it. People are magnanimous than you think, if you appreciate them.


Acquiring the knowledge of their culture is important, however it is impossible for us to know each and every culture across the globe. Most training would emphasize too much on understanding the cultural context in which they operate and therefore behavior. This might not be useful as the main indicator of how to work with them, as it is just a broad categorization of the behavior.

Acquiring the knowledge of the culture is useful if you are meeting a business associate for the first time, where you do not have the luxury of understanding your counterpart on a social, informal level. The knowledge gained will help you to maneuver the meeting consciously.


This is about exhibiting the behaviors that are useful to accelerate the progress and relationship forward. We are referring to behavioral flexibility. For example, not all German, Australians, American or Asian counterparts might behave the same as your book says.

Exhibit behavioral flexibility and work with your guts. For example, an Australian and a Filipino met in a business meeting for the first time. The Australian acquired knowledge about the Philippine culture and understand that trust building is priority, and decided not to talk about money and terms, but it turned out that the person is open to discussing about the fees and charges on the first meeting. Be flexible. Adopt behavior that enabled the process at that point of time.

“Influence Is The Lever That Moves The World.
Be The Influence.

Article By:
Joseph Wong is the Founding Director and Behavioral Transformation Coach of TrainingGearAsia Pte Ltd, with a purpose on “Building Influential Leadership Across Asia”. His expertise and program on INFLUENCE can be found at www.traininggearasia.com. Or email influence@traininggearasia.com for more information.

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