Friday, May 4, 2012

Holidays and the global leader-Showing respect

Today, May 4th, is the Remembrance of the Dead day in the Netherlands recognizing those who lost their lives during WWII. The names of Shell staff who lost their lives are literally carved in stone in the foyer of the old HQ building and a solemn ceremony with their descendants is observed that day. An amazing two minutes of silence is observed nationwide at 8pm along with a wreath laying by the Queen in Dam Square in Amsterdam. May 5th is Liberation Day marking the official liberation from Nazi occupation. I was deeply impressed by the reverence with which these ceremonies were conducted and the degree to which a new generation of Dutch citizens have adopted them.  When I lived in The Netherlands I witnessed these ceremonies as well as a stunning memorial service at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Always conducted on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, this moving ceremony was carried out by members of the British Commonwealth countries in honor of those who fought and died in WWI.   These observances are little noticed outside of Europe these days.  If you've never lived in Europe there is no way to really understand the lasting influence of the World Wars on the national psyche of the occupied countries and the devastating impact on those societies. 
What does this have to do with leading in a global environment?  First, I think a key element of developing a global leader dictates that they live outside their home country at least once.  Only by becoming immersed in another culture can you emotionally as well as intellectually understand underlying forces that are very different to your own.  In my times living outside the US I was endlessly fascinated with these cultural ceremonies in different countries.  Respecting those differences is critical to being successful.
On a day-to-day practical level, scheduling meetings, webcasts and video conferences that takes all these ceremonies into account can be a daunting task.   The list at this link gives you an idea of how difficult this can be depending in which countries you operate.  Even the most experienced global leader can make mistakes in this area.  I saw US leaders inadvertently schedule meetings on Canadian Thanksgiving and European leaders schedule meetings on US Thanksgiving.  Even more subtly, scheduling face-to-face meetings that cause staff to travel on those holidays can be a problem also. Honoring these national events shows respect and respect generates trust....a key quality for any leader.  Building trust at a distance isn't easy.  Respecting national holidays and ceremonies is a way to do so.  A simple email to staff in a particular country in advance of an important holiday...just letting them know you are thinking of them on their special day.... can have a powerful effect.

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