October 29, 2008

Salad bowl

My son just kept me on the phone for an hour. After a long introduction about his upcoming activities -- lots of volleyball matches around Italy and Europe in addition to exams -- he finally got down to business. A girl. They met through a mutual friend and an evening out ensued during which he found out that her mother is from Spain and her father from Southern Italy. They met on neutral ground in Germany, where she was born, before the family finally settled in Trento. She told him that her mother always gets angry when she doesn't respond in Spanish. "Mine too," he added, "but the language is English". And so they discovered that they had multicultural backgrounds in common -- something that wasn't obvious from their sightings around the university halls.

I think people have a sixth sense about these things.

Anyway, she told him that having an American mother was very "fico"*. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

a domani,
* very "cool"

October 16, 2008

Madonna is back

Not wanting to dwell on the front page with its scary news about the further drop in world stock markets and even scarier news on Italian school reforms, I plunged ahead to the "spettacolo" section to read about Madonna's upcoming divorce from Guy Ritchie.

Seems to me she could have used an expat coach for her years in London to help her cross cultures more successfully. In addition to the various personal issues with her husband, she simply has never managed to feel comfortable in London, even after eight years. She has always felt like a "fish out of water", she hasn't really made good friends and she never really understood the pleasures of pub life. Vanity made her strive to appear an English lady by adopting British habits, but her heart wasn't there.

Let's give her a 6 on the Cultural Intelligence scale. (The ability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts)

The Head -- she could have worked on her cognitive knowledge by reading a good book about British cultural ways, and a few others on cultural dimensions and cross-cultural theory to try to understand the way people behave and the underlying roots of their behavior. In addition to a personal trainer, she could have added a personal cross-cultural trainer to her staff. Then should could have worked on her metacognitive skills to build a new mental framework to help her understand the quirks of daily life.

The Heart -- I don't think she has any self-esteem issues but she could have used some help with her sense of self-efficacy, or belief in her ability to get from incompetence (cross-culturally speaking) to competence. He could have worked on her motivation or desire and abiltity to engage others -- take action to acquire local behaviors that would lead to better interaction.

The Body -- Using knowlege and motivation, actually respond appropriately to the new environment, leading to better feedback and spiraling upwards to a greater personal satisfaction.

Instead, she regularly got on a plane to NY to avoid the whole issue.

NY here she's back!!

a domani,

October 15, 2008

In change we trust

Change is in the air. Big scale change from the US elections to the worldwide financial crisis and small scale change in each of us individually.

As I rumble around getting my coaching and training business up and running, I have been thinking about what it is I actually help people do and through a series of mind jumps, it finally came clear -- I help people manage change and even be transformed in the process. They can be expats living and working abroad who are up against massive change coming at them from 360°, or, like my Italian client coming over this evening, self-initiated change as she explores new professional paths.

So, what else do you do when a concept comes to mind, but plug it into google and have a wander. Somewhere on page two I downloaded an article from a professional Human Resources development journal on, "The Myth of Change Management: A reflection on personal change and its lessons for leadership development" by a guy named Jonathan Gravelis. After having spent a career implementing change in large organizations, he embarked on his own personal change and discovered that the usual goal-setting, programmatic approach to change does not address the messy reality that enacting change generally involves. The "five-step" ect. change models appeal to our desire for illusion that structure is all you need to change things successfully.

(This is all leading up to a great "lets leverage cultural differences" moment, so hang on.)

The stress of change stems from our unrealistic desire to predict and control the outcome (idea from another guy named Firth back in 1999). So, Jonathan asks, "Should we focus on helping people learn to live with a degree of anxiety, uncertainty and ambiguity?" While it's a good idea to have a plan for change, its also important to acknowledge the unpredictable results that will come from every action we undertake. "Constant re-planning and short-term tactical flexibility are as important in change as long-range strategies." "Adaptive leadership" is the buzz word.

Any of you readers that are living and working in Italy know exactly what he is talking about -- I even have a label to your right filled with blog posts on the exquisitely Italian skill of managing ambiguity and uncertainty (which, by the way they learn at school along with Greek and Latin).

Not to mention our perceived Italian "lack of planning" , that clearly acknowledges unpredictable results by relying on constantly adjusted "just in time" plans to account for new new input from a very mobile external environment.

While living and working abroad, why not pick up some "change management" skills by learning to embrace the ambiguity and uncertainty in your life and seek out the rationale for each just-in-time planning experience that comes your way.

a domani,

October 4, 2008

a little CQ

If you don't live in Rome, or have never picked up a copy of The Roman Forum, I would like to introduce you to the monthly English-language magazine on "news and views about Rome". Over the last couple of years I have written a number of articles for them, on subjects ranging from Rome's A1 professional volleyball team to "Cross-Cultural Driving Lessons" and "A Day in Palestrina". Now I keep a column on CQ or Cultural Intelligence and Cross-Cultural Coaching.

For September's column, click Here. I am preparing another column for the November issue today -- so keep you eyes on the newstand!

Buona Domenica,