Change, we are often told, is inevitable, unavoidable and should be embraced by leaders. Change, though is not just organisational, it is also social and as leaders we need to recognise and appreciate all its manifestations.
A great friend of mine, in his seventies and a military man is exasperated when he sees young men enter a building or room while wearing a hat. In his day this was completely taboo and considered rude. The offenders are more likely to be ignorant of this tradition rather than rebellious or intentionally disrespectful.
Another friend berates the younger members of the rugby team he coaches for not phoning him with their availability, preferring instead to communicate through Facebook.
I read recently of people “tweeting” each other during a presentation. Normally I would consider anyone using their mobile phones during a presentation as rude and inconsiderate, but are these just new norms and am I in danger of becoming as curmudgeonly as my aforementioned friends? Looking at this in another way, it offers a new way to interact with your audience
The etiquette of social media is evolving rapidly as is this new way of interacting with people. Organisations are trying to come to terms with it, writing rules to avoid the worst potential consequences, but this is not easy. I read last week of a police force that had issued a 7,000 word document outlining acceptable email practice, the size of which may reflect the complexity of the subject, but also inhibits the likelihood of anybody reading it, let alone complying with it. Sites like Facebook are a potential minefield as they are very public, but the traps are avoidable if you use common sense and sensitivity, providing a powerful new communication tool.
Etiquette is peculiar to generations and to cultures. Globalisation, multi-culturalism and foreign travel all expose us to different practices and standards, occasionally causing confusion and offence, but also delight, wonder and appreciation. I remember being fascinated in Hong Kong by the local tradition of burning money and laying out food on graves to honour deceased ancestors. This was all the more intriguing when the money was revealed as “hell money” – akin to Monopoly money and the food was retrieved and enjoyed by the family once the ancestors had chosen not to partake!
When abroad it is tempting and generally a good idea to adopt the local customs – when in Rome – but you can still stay true to your self. You don’t have to use the mixed sauna if you find it embarrassing, no matter how much pressure from your host.
On a recent course with students on an international Masters programme at Nottingham Business School, we were treated, on top of Mam Tor in snowy Derbyshire to songs in several different languages – three of them were to the tune of “Frère Jaques” but were about tigers and butterflies. A wonderful demonstration that in many ways we are as alike as we are different.
When is it correct to bow, when to shake hands, when to hug and when to kiss cheeks? Should emails contain greetings, and polite sign offs? I believe that leaders help to set standards, but not by being stubborn, change resistant or aloof. Leaders should look to set an example, but also to be sensitive to others’ preferences, upbringing and habits, and maybe even embracing the new way. Challenge different behaviour and standards if it bothers you, but more to appreciate why they do things as they do. Remember Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People – “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”