Mintzberg on Developing the Developing World

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The previous discussion about Henry Mintzberg’s “Quiet Leadership” led me to read some of his newspaper articles. “Africa’s ‘Best Practices’” is from theDaily Times of Pakistan (March 9,2004), although it has been published elsewhere earlier. Mitzberg asks the important question: do we or even can we develop leaders?

Perhaps we don’t develop leaders so much as foster the conditions that bring out leadership. If so, then a key condition must be the self-respect that comes from working things out for ourselves, individually and collectively. This self-respect is fostered by organizations and institutions that can likewise stand on their own feet, building on the best of their own cultural traditions.

All good leaders, in any field, work to build their people’s self-respect — and not “self-esteem”. Having a Real Boss is a part of it, but not all of it. Managers must work within the culture in which they live and move. Importing our cultural assumptions simply doesn’t work, because they will only be overlaid on top of indigenous cultural assumptions.

I recall an early lesson in this. A man in our church had emigrated to the USA from Communist Romania in the 1980s. He led a class which he introduced by talking about worldviews.

“When I lived in Romania,” he said, “I believed that I had totally rejected communism. How could I believe in any part of it? I had become a dissident! But then I came to America. Here I began to understand just how deeply communism ran through my attitudes and beliefs, even my faith.”

We often don’t know how much our own preconceptions and prejudices affect our own actions, because we never go somewhere where they are foreign, where other prejudices rule.

I’m not sure that I agree with everything that he is saying (Mitzberg may miss the point on some aspects of how culture limits the types of organizations that a people can build) but he makes points that are solidly grounded in the literature.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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