How many nights have you spent in a hotel in a city many miles from home? Perhaps nervous about the meeting in the morning, you find yourself lying on the bed flicking through the TV channels for something to watch to keep you awake to offset the growing jet-lag. Automatically, you search for channels and movies in your own language.
That’s a missed opportunity. Even without speaking the local language, you can learn a huge amount about a country’s culture from tuning into local television shows, especially comedy programs. When I was heading Organization and Management Development at Pepsi International, I would encourage our international executives to study local comedy shows. Comedy can be particularly hard to “get” if you’re not from the originating culture, but that’s exactly why it shines a light on how different cultures tick (“The Office,” which was syndicated in some 80 countries but had localized versions created in eight, is the classic example). It can help you see the world as others see it.
Being able to tune into a culture without pre-conceived biases or judgment is a skill all leaders need in complex, global organizations. This was validated in my most recent research into mindfulness and leadership, where it emerged as the number one skill. The research involved conducting and coding 88 in-depth behavioral event interviews of leading change with 65 leaders, spread across multiple industries and from across five continents. My research team and I were hoping to shed light on the skills that made the biggest difference in leading across complex global organizations. And being able to tune into a culture and work with different world views stood out.