Welcome to the May issue of our newsletter.
This past month I spoke to a national project management convention, which was held in the auditorium of Tomas Bata University in the town of Zlin, which lies a few hundred kilometers east of Prague. The unexpected highlight of my visit to Zlin was to see the most unusual office of a CEO I have ever seen. Tomas Bata was one of the 20th century’s most successful entrepreneurs and he created the global Bata Shoe network of manufacturing and retail stores that still thrives today along with numerous charitable activities and a university that bears his name. Bata was truly a lead-edge thinker and leader of exceptional talent and commitment to his employees. He commissioned a famous architect to build what amounts to a city for his employees—comfortable, well-designed housing that looks as good today as it did when it was built some 70 years ago. Realizing that his business was quickly becoming global and that would mean the need for managers to be sent to other countries, he created an interesting compensation program for his employees: over a stated period of time, if you learned a new language, you would get an automatic raise in salary for each new language you learned. Likewise, if you didn’t, you would get a decrease in salary—a pretty powerful motivator. But, the most incredible thing was the access his employees had to him. The headquarters office was a ten story building and Tomas Bata’s office was in an oversized elevator—yes, an elevator. That way Bata could spend time on each floor of the building, seeing and being seen by all his employees in the building. He knew something then that many leaders struggle with today: how important, and what a powerful message of caring and engagement, it is to spend time with employees at all levels. This is what drives corporate culture and it is one of the key reasons his employees felt they were part of something much bigger than themselves—they were members of the Bata family.
I am not a Bata scholar, and I have not done extensive research on his life, but from what little I have read and heard from people whose parents, relatives, or friends worked for him, I would feel pretty secure in making the observation that he was a leader who realized that his most valuable asset was his people and he knew how to show them he cared for their comfort and development, all of which led to a very engaged and productive international workforce.
This brings me to this month’s column. The former Chairman and CEO of Gould Electronics, David Ferguson, shares his thoughts on international leadership, along with some personal experiences that led to meaningful insights. David is a distinguished member of our faculty and is someone I have known professionally, and as a friend, for more than 12 years. His significant success in business aside, his article will give you some insights into what we call The Human Element of Leadership, of which he is an excellent example. Thanks for this wonderful contribution to our newsletter and leadership archive, David.
Each month a member of The Prague Leadership Institute’s faculty, and/or an invited guest author, share their thoughts on a wide variety of leadership-related topics. To all of them go our sincere thanks for taking the time, and having the generosity of spirit, to share their wealth of experience.
Thank you, too, for taking the time to read our newsletter and for your support.
P.S. This month’s book recommendation is Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden, Ph.D. This is a delightfully easy to read, informative and very practical guide to doing business in 60 countries. From cultural overviews to protocols and business practices, this is a wonderful addition to one’s library, especially today. The thinking behind the book is best summed up by this quote from Socrates, “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”
My terminology for international leadership is a leadership responsibility that crosses national and cultural barriers. One may ask why leadership skills in an international setting would vary from leadership skills in one’s native culture. In many cases, it is the same. But it has been my personal experience that in most cases it is significantly more complex. The opportunity for misunderstandings and therefore mistakes are much greater. In an international situation, one’s leadership skills must be more alert and different in many ways. ...