Leadership and Coaching in Nepal – Deborah Koehler (part 12 – end)
Now back in Berlin and taking a moment to reflect on the differences and similarities in training in developed and undeveloped countries. Which issues dominate? Which have no cultural boundaries?
Management training provides information that supports the values and cultural norms of a company along, as well as builds new skills. This is true everywhere. But the Nepal context makes it complicated.
In Nepal there is very little prior mindset about corporate values on which to build. Head offices from around the world send out frequent documents stating what the corporate values are, but these all come out of a western mindset. Nepalis agree to these values but really don’t know how to live them. Their mindset is anchored in status and power; the western, in shared leadership and the development of subordinates. During training, these two value systems collide.
In Nepal, respect is automatically given to superiors, and pro forma acceptance of messages from them is perfectly natural. But these messages get processed in unfamiliar ways. It is hard for me to know what has actually been heard – or how it has been heard. So I ask them not to repeat or paraphrase the request, but to take appropriate action on it. If I do not actually see them do what I have spoken about, I simply cannot know how the information is received. With a western audience, I might ask for an example. Because we have a similar cultural understanding, the words used would have common meaning. However, in Nepal, “common language” is not known, and purely verbal feedback is unreliable.
So, a major challenge in training across borders is what to do when such common language does not exist.
The feedback I received is that the participants related to me as a trainer – and they have had many foreign trainers before me – who did not expect them to think and act as if they were westerners, but who accepted and understood them as Nepalis and worked with that. I embodied for them and demonstrated to them the kinds of behaviors and values I was hoping to teach. This put the lessons within their reach.
Is this way of training valuable only in Nepal? Do trainers in the West regularly assume they understand more about their students than they really do based on the comfort factor provided, on the surface, by common language about management topics? Do trainers/coaches rely too much on untested assumptions about commonalities that are cultural and gender based?
I would say yes. Cultural norms bind us as a tribe and often lead us to assume too much. But, in the programs we run, it is the outliers and divergents who most need space – and the safety – to come forward. If the training is not set up to embrace diversity in gender, position, and nationality, then it is not likely to be effective. Moreover, as younger workers and managers come to their jobs with a greater readiness to question authority, trainers need to find ways to model and communicate shared norms while providing space for alliances to be built across different “tribal” groups. Where, then, does the real authority lie? Training needs to help participants know when to lead, when to follow, and when to participate. These times and contexts are not fixed once for all; they are situationally dependent. In Nepali, as well as other cultures, our task is to help our people recognize the situation so that they can respond appropriately – and effectively.
* the end *