However much we tell ourselves that we are unbiased and progressive, we all have unconscious bias – and it’s up to us how much we let that influence our leadership. The very definition of unconscious bias is that it’s a bias we aren’t even aware we have. Our upbringing, background, cultural environment, the social circles [...]
Some leaders are so keen to prove that they are on top that they forget the shoulders they stand on to be where they are… Think back through your working history. Think of every leader you’ve had, since the first job you took in your youth, to the leadership team that supports you where you [...]
News editors love a hoo-ha because the headlines and leading paragraphs almost write themselves. In this century, issues linked to cultural differences are a particular favourite. To take one recent news story, Language teaching crisis as 40% of university departments face closure and Lack of language skills is diminishing Britain’s voice in the world (the latter accompanied by a picture of the Foreign Secretary looking glum) were just two of the headlines it inspired. And newspapers can be as polarised as the opinions they both generate and reflect, as The Telegraph demonstrated: The decline in UK language learning is a rational market correction, harrumphed Daniel Hannan in its columns, promptly provoking the tit-for-tat heckler from one commentator: “Just like the decline of interest in voting for politicians…” Touché, as the French might have it. But much as its popular in some circles to dismiss this sound-bite/attention-grabbing approach to journalism as ‘mental fast-food’, I think that pies are a better analogy. (Moreover, analogies help us understand new points in the context of what we already know. And what could be more British than a pie?) The headlines are the crispy golden pastry that provides the allure. The meat, however, lies further down. Daniel Hannan, although he is well known to have his own axes to grind, has something of a point. Focusing on European Languages – and on French and German in particular – may be a red-herring; in a globalised world, these are not the only languages other than English that matter. But the close of Language departments, as opposed to specific courses, suggests a broader problem either already present or brewing – and it is this that seems to have inspired the gloom at the Foreign Office and at the British Chambers of Commerce. While their quoted comments highlight both the nature of English as an international language of business (although they don’t mention any distinction between British English and World English) and the role of language skills in doing business with our neighbours (who they fear we are becoming less interested in), it was the final words of a quote from the BCC’s John Wastnage that gave the most food for thought: It is true that English is an international business language, but knowing your client or supplier’s language will help open the initial door and open cultural understanding.” […]
Harriet Green OBE has many outstanding qualities: attracting attention to her opinions, her abilities and to herself are just three of them, judging by coverage in recent days in The Times and The Telegraph. Her business abilities clearly extend to knowing which elements of a story will capture both an audience’s and a journalist’s attention: her message to other women to contact blue chip company Chairs directly rather than using headhunters or recruitment consultants – and using her own example as evidence of the success of this approach – makes no mention, for example, that she holds an OBE and is a member of the UK Prime Minister's Business Advisory Group. Not everyone who is chipping away at the glass ceiling possesses quite such a diamond-tipped chisel. I hope that it’s not cynicism that leaves me wondering whether chutzpah alone would have been quite so effective.
An organisational culture may not be as blatantly draconian as to demand silence, but it can certainly encourage specific topics – or specific speakers – to remain pretty heavily muted. And an environment that discourages speaking out cannot avoid discouraging something else that is just as important: listening.