The Practice of Personal Leadership
(Excerpted from The Practice of Personal Leadership in The SIIC Intern Program)
This paper presents the framework of Personal Leadership as it was conceptualized at the time of the writing of the full article in 2000. It reviews the principles of Personal Leadership, its theoretical foundation, and the kinds of intentional behaviors that support us in its practice.
When people communicate between cultures, where communicative rules as well as the substance of experience differs, the problems multiply. But so, too, do the number of interpretations and alternatives. If it is true that the more people differ the harder it is for them to understand each other, it is equally true that the more they differ the more they have to teach and learn from each other. To do so, of course, there must be mutual respect and sufficient curiosity to overcome the frustrations that occur as they flounder from one misunderstanding to another. (p. 5051)
Personal Leadership speaks specifically to the ways in which we navigate these frustrations. It suggests specific practices that foster respect and open us to the mutuality of teaching and learning across cultures.
Many of the ideas woven into the framework of Personal Leadership will be familiar to experienced interculturalists, as well as to those conversant in both eastern and western philosophic traditions. Indeed, PL is not about leading others in the traditional western sense of leadership, nor is it what some might consider a more eastern approach, keeping private ones true feelings while conforming to group norms (Seelye and Wasilewski, 1996). Rather, Personal Leadership is leadership of our own internal experience such that we actively engage our intercultural encounters with consciousness and creativity. This paper posits that doing so enhances our capacities as effective interculturalists.
Personal Leadership: Principles and Practices
Consider first one of the fundamental tenets of intercultural communication: cultural self-awareness (Casse, 1982; Bennett, 1998). From our first moments in the field we are taught, and in turn come to teach, that to understand anothers culture we must also come to understand our own and the dynamic interplay between them (Yoshikawa, 1980, 1987). Edward Hall (1996), speaking at an SIIC evening program, reminded us that it was through cultural self-awareness that the field began. He explained that before there were training programs, books, and manuals, there were only curious, self-aware individuals. They had to use their own experiences, to learn from their own mistakes and their own successes, as they attempted to work effectively across cultural difference. They served as their own instruments.
Since those early days some fifty years ago, the intercultural field has become increasingly sophisticated in both methodologies and knowledge. We now have books, manuals, and training programs, and professional development forums such as the Summer Institute. We can learn about the theoretical foundations of the field: low and high context (Hall, 1976, 1981), value orientation (Kluckholn and Strodtbeck, 1961; Condon and Yousef, 1975; Kohls, 1988), facework (Ting-Toomey, 1994), verbal and nonverbal communication styles (Hall, 1976, 1981), etc. We can study culture-general dimensions of intercultural interaction (Paige, 1993; Martin and Nakayama, 1997; Bennett, 1998), including such phenomenon as culture shock (Hall, 1959; Barna, 1976; Bennett, 1977; Storti, 1990) and re-entry shock (LaBrack, 1983; Pusch and Loewenthal, 1987; Storti, 1997). We can increasingly move beyond the general to the particular, having now at our disposal a plethora of well-researched culture-specific materials to prepare us for almost any given or anticipated encounter. Reviewing the Intercultural Press catalogue gives ample evidence of this.
As interculturalists we take well-deserved pride in this evidence of the fields maturity. With such resources now at our fingertips, however, we can too-easily become seduced into a focus on the cultural other to the exclusion of the cultural self. To the degree we allow this to happen, we risk our field losing its most fundamental strength (Ramsey, 1997a).
Visionaries in the intercultural field suggest that we must re-focus our attention not only on the cultural self but even more specifically on the intrapersonal transformative process (Fowler and Ramsey, 1999). Nancy Adler, in fact, urges interculturalists to operate from proprioception, which she defines as attend[ing] to internal messages, vision, and values (Fowler and Ramsey, 1999). Edward Hall would undoubtedly agree that the effective interculturalist must focus now as ever before on what it means to be your own instrument (Hall, 1996).
Personal Leadership (PL) provides interculturalists with a roadmap for this journey. It takes us to the very heart of what it means to be an effective interculturalist.
Personal Leadership is a state of mind, of heart, and of what the Japanese call our hara, or belly. It describes a way of being and of interacting with the world that begins from the inside-out (Covey, 1989). It asks us to be fully present in our lives, awake to our habitual behaviors and willing to look at every situation with fresh eyes. Personal Leadership offers the possibility of a creative and inspiring relationship to work, family, friends, and colleaguesto everything we do.
Practicing Personal Leadership means sustaining a commitment to deepen our own intercultural capacities. It asks us to disentangle internal experience from external circumstance, recognizing that we are the creators of the former and not the victims of the latter. Practicing Personal Leadership encourages us to recognize that every situationevery new experience, every challenging encounter, every joy and every sorrowcan serve us in both exploring and fulfilling the purpose of our lives.
Personal Leadership invites us to identify a guiding vision and to intentionally and attentively craft a life in alignment with that vision. (Ramsey, 1997b; Schaetti and Watanabe, 1998; Schaetti, 1998)
As we engage in Personal Leadership, practicing the principles of Consciousness and Creativity as presented below, the transformative potential inherent in the intercultural experience is made manifest.
The Principle of Consciousness
In examining the principle of Consciousness, consider for a moment the commonly-invoked image of a fish in water. Is the fish aware that it lives in water? Probably not. The fish takes the water for granted. What other environment could it possibly find life supporting? It is when we are a fish out of waterin the experience of difference and contrastthat we become aware of our versions of business as usual, our habits.
It is easy to live life from habit. Many of us operate extensively on automatic pilot. We drive the same route to work every day, shop at the same grocery stores, engage in the same exercise program. We become habituated to making decisions, solving problems, and resolving conflicts with a repertoire of skills and strategies that have served us well over time in familiar environments. Such habitual behavior, however, is not adaptive and can in fact be quite detrimental in new cultural environments. One of the greatest gifts of the intercultural encounter is the call to wake-up to our habitual behaviors and to look at all situations with fresh eyes. It invites us to learn through very direct, on-going and personal engagement with difference just how we all create the water in which we live.
As the intercultural literature has recognized, fresh eyes are critical to those who find themselves in the midst of uncertain and ambiguous situations. The ability to withhold judgment and to tolerate ambiguity have long been recognized as key intercultural skills (Casse, 1982). The field has given little guidance, however, on just what to do when judgmental thoughts or discomfort in the face of ambiguity arise (as they inevitably do) in intercultural interaction. Withholding judgment too often is only an external façadea matter of simply not speaking the judgmental thoughts. Discomfort in the face of uncertainty becomes a stoic sufferance. However, closed lips and stoic sufferance towards something regularly encountered are not particularly life-enhancing. Neither practice is sufficient for the effective interculturalist.
The unstated corollary to Edward Halls be your own instrument is be your own teacher. Engaging the intercultural experience with consciousness brings self-awareness forward as both instrument and teacher. It encourages us to actively engage with difference in order to expand our repertoire of behaviors and broaden the ways in which we interpret events. It also suggests that we value self-reflectionbeing awakeand that we do whatever is necessary to stay awake. Consciousness, then, is a cornerstone principle in the intercultural practice of Personal Leadership.
The Practice of Suspending Judgement
As biologists Maturana and Varela suggest, humans, biologically, cannot not function from habit and cannot not judge (1992). What we can do is recognize, suspend, inquire, and allow change. We can be aware, to a point, of how we are constructing our world. We can choose to move with as much awareness as possible, even if only from one habit pattern to another.
The Practice of Engaging Ambiguity
The Practice of Inviting Reflection
The Practice of Somethings Up
It is important to remember that intercultural communication is a whole body experience. It influences and is influenced by what some have started to call our bio-cultural awareness (Castiglioni and Bennett, 1998) and what Ramsey calls embodied knowing. However much we may have studied and come to cognitively understand the cultural other, we nevertheless respond emotionally and viscerally to intercultural difference. When the behavior of a cultural other pushes our comfort zone, or we are pushed by our own attempts to behave appropriately in a different cultural context, we experience the physical dissonance of embodied ethnocentrism (Bennett, in Castiglioni and Bennett, 1998). As effective interculturalists, we learn to recognize that Somethings Up. Engaging our experience with consciousness, we tune into these culturally constructed physical responses and to the meanings we assign them. We learn to ask ourselves, What just happened that I feel upset, uncomfortable, annoyed?
Rather than limiting ourselves to cognitive reflection, however, we also learn to bring our attention into the sensory experience of our bodies. That is, we dont just think about what the knot in our bellies might mean, we actively engage our cultural bodies to release the knot. We return to our quiet space, use our breath, use what Schaetti calls authentic movement and authentic soundwhatever movement and sound our bodies ask of us in that momentto ground ourselves and to relax (DeRohan, 1984). As we learn in these ways to clear and maintain our bio-cultural sensors, we become increasingly able to engage our intercultural experience with consciousness.
The Principle of Creativity
First, creativity is thought to be a core competence for any individual who works and lives effectively across cultures (Ramsey, 1994; Sorrells, 1996; Ramsey and Sorrells, 1996). In this sense, creativity implies that an individual is particularly flexible, having the ability to adaptively respond to what is called for in each unique situation, to rid him- or herself of scripted expectations and [to] become free to respond as the circumstances of the moment dictate (Howell, 1979). Such a person reacts not from habit but, calling upon a wide variety of skills and strategies, tailors a response to the particular context and people involved. Such a person knows how to learn and can incorporate all that is learned from one moment for use in the next. The principles of Creativity and Consciousness are closely interlinked.
Ramsey and Sorrells (1996) have integrated the literature to offer six phases to the creative process:
Calling attention to the relationship between creativity and synergy, Charles Hampden Turner (1981) discusses the process by which seemingly disparate and contradictory forces work together. This is in fact the essence of creativity: the ability to see connections where none were seen before. Such connections are facilitated by asking the dumb questions and by intentionally staying full of curiosity and wonder.
Creativity as we are discussing it in the context of PL is also about recognizing that we make choices in every moment about how we will experience the circumstances of our lives. We are not passive reactors to outside stimuli but the active creators of our own (Yoshikawa, 1980). When in intercultural interaction we feel offended, confused, superior, inferior, we can recognize that these feelings come from within ourselves and are not caused by the person or circumstance out there. Living from the inside out, we can respond to our emotional highs and lows with creativity rather than from either the role or attitude of victim.
Finally, Creativity as we are discussing it here also refers to a persons joy and connection to passion. Creative living does not refer to an innate ability to dance or draw, but rather to living a life that grows from a connection to what has deeply-held meaning and motivation.
The Practice of Aligning with Vision
Articulating a vision is more than a cognitive exercise. The process must engage three ways of knowingknowing from our head, from our heart, and from our hara. As we commit to living in alignment with our vision, these three ways of knowing serve us as a guidepost. We learn to draw on their synergistic wisdom, using neither head nor heart nor hara in isolation from the whole. When we notice that theyand therefore weare out of balance, we make conscious the creative moment. We reconnect. From that place we then either re-align our behaviors with our vision, or revisit and revise our vision to match a changed reality. Crafting a vision and living in alignment with it means that we are never left alone to respond to ethical challenges or to uncertain intercultural interactions. We have only to look to our vision, to what we know to be true for ourselves, in order to step into the creative inspiration it offers us, our passion and our joy, and to receive guidance as to our right action.
The Practice of Witnessing Emotion
We can choose to respond by witnessing emotionnot suppressing, not getting hooked, rather engaging the emotion as an avenue into deeper levels of inquiry. We can ask ourselves, What is behind this emotion, what story is driving me here? Evoking authentic movement and sound can assist us in moving out of our systems the emotions that block access to creativity. In these ways we honor emotion as another sort of mirror, one that again leads us to a deeper intercultural understanding of our experienced reality.
The Practice of Living in Liminality
For the effective interculturalist, liminality offers a place in which to hold things in a tentative way. It provides a place in which to move beyond singular truths and to examine multiple realities. It is in our intercultural encounters with difference that we can recognize the limitations of our one right way. Maturana and Varela (1992) call this recognition the social imperative for a human-centered ethic. Whenever we find ourselves holding tightly to certainty, knowing the one or even just the best right way, we can invite ourselves to step into a bigger picture, into another domain where coexistence takes place (Maturana and Varela, 1992). That domain is liminal space. Unconstrained there by a monocultural either/or, we can access the full range of our both/and creative options.
The Practice of Not Knowing
Personal Leadership, then, is built upon the interconnected principles of Consciousness and Creativity. The best way to visualize the relationship between these two principles may be by paraphrasing Muneo Yoshikawas (1987) double-swing Möbius strip: complementary and constantly in interaction.
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