Few leaders and managers navigate a normal week without being reminded that globalization is here and here to stay. You dial an 800 number and connect with a customer service rep from India. The youth pastor at your church is taking your daughter or grandson on a mission trip across a border. CNN reminds you that what happens in Haiti or Chile will affect your colleagues and acquaintances in the media or in relief and development organizations. Perhaps you worship in a multi-ethnic church or you serve on a missions committee.
"In spite of profound yet hidden differences," writes James Plueddemann, "many pastors naively lead short-term teams and attempt to create crosscultural partnerships. I have noticed a growing number of voices suggesting that anyone can do crosscultural partnerships. Missiologists call this `the amateurization of missions,' while the amateurs call it 'the democratization of missions.'"
Yikes! Read this book and you may be tempted to cancel your next crosscultural trip. And for good reason. According to Plueddemann, you (and your culture) might be more goal-oriented, but your friend or co-worker from another culture might be more relationship-oriented. Will that be a problem? Usually, yes.
The author, with a considerable global track record of missionary, mission organization CEO, seminary professor, researcher and author, believes that an understanding of biblical leadership (versus biblical ideas tweaked via our cultural bias) is needed to complete the cycle of evangelism and church planting. We need both a theology and a theory of leadership that enables leaders with differing cultural backgrounds to do Kingdom work together.
His real life crosscultural examples (stories from the multi-ethnic trenches) illuminate his well-researched insights. (He cites the 1,500-page tool, "The Bass Handbook of Leadership," published in 2008, and Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers.") Some cultures elevate individualism. Others salute collectivism. Still others have a low tolerance for ambiguity, while some nations have a high tolerance for ambiguity. So what happens when a get-your-ducks-in-a-row short-term missionary check-list-maker meets up with a we'll-figure-it-out-sooner-or-later national leader? Unintended conflict.
What if your church desires to "partner" with a church in another country? Watch out, warns Plueddemann. "The idea of `equal partners' is foreign to most of the world. Partnership in much of the world assumes a junior or senior member."
"Crosscultural leadership is a school from which you never graduate," says Joshua Bogunjoko, one of many contributors to the informative two-page vignettes, "Reflections on Multicultural Leadership." The author's diagrams are excellent. The three circles of 1) biblical principles of leadership, 2) my cultural values of leadership, and 3) leadership values of other cultures intertwine only in a small area. Yikes again.
"Too many Christian books on leadership are written from a monocultural perspective interspersed with Bible verses and marketed as universal principles of leadership." Not! Plueddemann adds, "The biblical text is inspired from God and is without error, but my interpretation is not."
Though he took an American Management Association course, it "raised subtle doubts in my mind about the universal benefits of Western management models." One of the author's friends suggested he title this book, "My 1001 Greatest Leadership Mistakes." This is a vulnerable and transparent book, but wise. Yet if he ever writes the "1001" book, I'd buy it.
P.S. It's tough to do justice to this extraordinary book in just a few paragraphs, because it's a rare mix of humility, insight, memorable illustrations and crystal clear charts and graphs, like the grid on page 88 comparing High-Context Cultures with Low-Context Cultures in six areas: time, communication style, authority, leadership style, conflict resolution style and time. Another yikes.
on November 30, 2009
What happens when a white North American reports to a black Nigerian? The North American has a schedule and sees events in sequence, one, two, three. The African sees a picture and sees events in their totality, all at once. They are both right. How do they work together?
By the end of Page One, I was hooked. Jim Plueddemann had me fascinated with the story of himself and his African boss. The image of a white guy from North America reporting to a Nigerian was intriguing, and the difference in their responses to the events was gripping. Each chapter continued the same way, with vivid, powerful and meaningful stories.
Plueddemann gives practical, down-to-earth solutions to leadership problems. Although his book is based on his missionary experiences, his examples are powerful techniques for anyone working in unfamiliar cultures - business, education, government or any other cross-cultural endeavor. Highly recommended!
on June 20, 2010
I was captivated by this book. Once I started reading it I could not put it down. Jim Pleudemann nails the cultural approaches to leadership right on the head. Having grown up in Africa and the United States it often brought a smile to my face when I recalled instances where a simple issue became complex because of leadership differences.
Recently the issue of leadership styles lead to an unfortunate miscommunication between an African organization and our church that lead to the closing of a very much needed school. This caused consternation and needless hardship for both the church and organization. Both parties had the same objective and meant well but lead to an unfortunate turn of events. Needless to say, I have recommended this book to our mission group at church. I would strongly recommend this book to westerners working cross-culturally and vice-versa. Jim has a way with words that really breaks down the intricate nature of leadership cross-cultural in a simple, non-judgemental manner, a MUST read!
on April 27, 2011
This book is a MUST READ for anyone who is scratching their head, trying to figure out why they just don't "get" that other person. We tend to judge people when they do things differently than we would. But understanding the "why" behind their behavior makes all the difference! Even if you're not planning on going overseas, there are plenty of cross-cultural situations right in your own towns and cities. I have been a missionary in Latin America for over 25 years and really wish I had read this book years ago. (However, without my years of experience perhaps I would not have been so convinced of the negative impact of the cross-cultural misunderstandings that are so relevantly illustrated in this book.) Pleudemann draws from secular global research that observes several common "themes" and how they are lived out with very different perspectives all around the world (i.e. power-distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism vs collectivism, etc). I love how he brings out the positive aspects of each of the differing cultural preferences. It certainly has motivated me to understand and validate these differences and thus gain a panoramic view of a diverse world, all designed by our Creator. I can't describe the impact this book has had on how I now understand myself, my co-workers, my neighbors and even my husband!
on August 31, 2013
As a retired vet, I was always taught that leadership was: "The Art of motivating people to accomplish a mission." That probably works in a military environment and even in most places in Western cultures, but when one has to start leading across cultures, then the measure of leadership effectiveness for the majority world or 2/3 world is "using the job to develop people, rather than using people to accomplish the job" (p.177). Put into a ministry/church context: leaders " use their gift of leadership by taking initiative to focus, harmonize, and enhance the gifts of others for the sake of developing people and cultivating the kingdom of God (p 14). This book will turn your Westernized understanding of leadership on its head.
on May 23, 2014
A lot of work of study has been done on leadership in Christian circles. A lot of it concerns itself with a mono-cultural approach to Christian leadership. Plueddemann does an excellent job in defining, describing and bursting into the complexities that surface in cross-cultural leadership. Through a high employment of research that has been previously done, he explains context (high/low context) as the underlying software that works in all cultures and that helps missiologists and missionaries to understand why leadership theories and styles vary cross-culturally. While other books do address the question of how of leadership, Plueddemann addresses the question of why.
I highly recommend this book to the readership of missiologists, missiology students as well as missionaries and pastors serving in other cultures.
Martin Munyao (PhD Student, Missiology)