Tuesday, June 15, 2004

What does it mean to manage people? What does it mean to follow well?

What do you do if you don’t fit in the culture and social structure at your job?

Just as a warning, I’m going to say a few things here that may be seen as having racist undertones. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or patience right now to run my words through a politically correct ringer. On top of this I may go back and reconstruct my arguments at a later time.

When I first started working here I was truly excited about working in this environment because I actually felt that I was finally working in an environment where I was expected to gain results and more accurately take initiative and bring about innovations and change. I could identify problems or areas where improvement was necessary. I could propose a solution, work with other to build it, and then be rewarded for the results.

I didn’t feel that I was allowed these sorts of opportunities when I was working for a public school district. You were expected to work within the confines of the system. On top of that when you work with a system that is so old, static, and stagnant, you often find yourself working in a system impregnated with political favoritism and encumbered with bureaucracy.

So in my early days of working here, I did receive a great deal of satisfaction in my job, simply because I saw that I was successful and providing results and contributing to improving my workplace. I worked under leadership and tutelage of a number of people who were excellent managers in the sense that they knew how to choose their employees well. They knew how to guide them, and they realized that their job entailed more than just telling their employees what to do and how to do it. In addition to this they encouraged me to use my own judgment instead of second guessing or constantly monitoring what I was doing. On top of this I actually felt that I could address any problems I might have had or things that I felt uncomfortable with.

Maybe it’s because I was raised as an American and in American culture directness is valued over indirectness. This group I work in is managed mainly by people from Eastern or Asian backgrounds. In Asian cultures you are expected to be indirect and understand each other intuitively. More you are expected to follow the hierarchical chain of command. It would be unthinkable to bring a proposal of change directly to your manager without following some indirect way of doing so. I might add that some of the indirect methods I seem to have witnessed here include covert and sneaky action. Now I’m going to state this very plainly here, but I am not making a judgment call on whether my culture is better than another’s, I am simply observing that I there are differences between communication styles in Eastern and Western cultures and that at time these differences cause conflicts.

I've been having difficulties fitting in here, and it's all been very deja vu to my own experience growing up in an Asian family where Father knew best and the rest of us were expected to follow what he mandated... regardless of whether or not it was wrong or a better way could be taken. Both my brother and I spent much of our adolescence balking at our dad's will.

Even here, it seems that there is a guise of 'listening' to employees; however, leadership doesn't always listen with their ears or minds open.


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