When it comes to leadership, one of the most challenging but ultimately rewarding things you can do is challenge your own cultural beliefs. This isn’t easy, as our cultural beliefs are often deeply ingrained and can be an integral part of our identity. However, by actively seeking out opportunities to question these beliefs, we can become more open-minded, empathetic, and effective leaders.
My Own Story
At the age of 26, I was leading a team when I learned an important lesson about how my cultural upbringing impacted my leadership. After a conversation with a staff member, unbeknownst to me she walked away in tears. I don’t recall the topic of the conversation only the fallout of it. Other staff saw her visibly upset and with empathy comforted her. Her reaction to our interaction spread like wildfire throughout the department with staff rotating their time to be with her before I was aware of it.
The event was very formative in my early leadership role. As a child of South Asian heritage, I was taught to respect elders and authority. Actually, this was more reinforced than taught. And as the youngest of 3 siblings, I truly felt the leadership role was a way of getting respect. I could say things and others would follow it. I had a voice with impact – authority.
As a young leader, I viewed the staff member as being over-the-top emotional and even a bit attention-seeking. I held tightly to my feeling that it was the staff member’s responsibility to come to me if she had a concern.
Culturally, being taught to respect authority also rolled into not questioning authority. It also meant I expected the same. Was this team member questioning my authority in a passive-aggressive manner?
Even though this incident happened over 30 years I am reminded of it being a turning point. I started to learn, that culturally held beliefs are both helpful and at times needed to be challenged.
“Limited authority is given to leaders through positions of power, strong leadership is earned through respect.”
Benefits of Challenging Your Cultural Beliefs
One of the main benefits of challenging your own cultural beliefs is that it allows you to gain a deeper understanding of others. When we hold on to our own cultural perspective, it can be easy to make assumptions about others based on our own experiences and biases. By being willing to step outside of our cultural comfort zone and truly listen to the perspectives of others, we can gain valuable insights into how they see the world. This, in turn, can help us to better connect with and motivate people from diverse backgrounds, which is an essential skill for any leader.
Challenging your cultural beliefs can also help you to become a more effective problem-solver. When we are stuck in our own cultural perspective, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture or to consider alternative solutions to problems. By being open to new ideas and ways of thinking, we can become more creative and adaptable leaders, which can be especially important in fast-changing environments.
Finally, challenging your cultural beliefs can help you to become a more authentic and genuine leader. When we are authentic and genuine, people are more likely to trust and respect us. By being willing to examine and potentially change our cultural beliefs, we show that we are open to learning and growth, which can inspire others to do the same.
I know firsthand that it can be tough to question the cultural beliefs we’ve held on to for so long. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone and examine these beliefs, but the rewards are truly worth it. By actively challenging our cultural beliefs, we can grow as leaders and become more authentic, compassionate, and impactful. And in the end, this will help us build a better world for everyone.
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