The leadership team at Wellspring in Kigali, Rwanda asked me if I would give a day to do professional leadership development for them as a team. I am always happy to teach, especially developing leaders, however I was not travelling with my regular toolbox of training content.
So resorting to a topic I think is relevant and I’m confident with, I focused on the topic of mentoring and how it models how Jesus interacts with his disciples.
The Rwandan “style” of top-down management and leadership practices are largely influenced by tribal and feudalism paradigms, which describe leaders at the top of the hierarchy where they direct and control all activities of the people working below for them. This is an organization that is trying to function in a different manner – one completely led by Christ like principles.
Teaching cross culturally is not new to me, but each time it is an experience. As the teacher you are constantly scanning your audience trying to read if you are being understood or if a particular point really causes a connection. This training was done in English removing the additional challenge of translation – and getting a proper translation of what you are trying to convey.
Language or phrases are often a foul-up in training cross culturally. When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go.” After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass. Instead the ads said “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”
So, when teaching cross culturally, you want to check phrases to see how they translate.
Now this group of leaders spoke English, but that does not mean that our expressions or colloquialisms are going to be understood. My friend Bob has been having this experience with his sense of humor. I often have to hold up a sign that says, “He is trying to be funny.”
This crowd was very reserved. Even attempts at stimulating interaction were met with polite silence. I did find when I asked them to share with the person next to them it was hard getting them to stop.
The six hours of teaching went well and in asking questions for some feedback I learned some new things. One that was shared was, “You talk like a woman.”
He went on to explain that in Rwandan culture men are raised to learn to handle ‘their stuff’ and not talk about it. They are to be brave and strong at all times. So the concept of being open and authentic, as we had been sharing was not something that they practiced in their culture. He liked it, that I would share from both strength and weakness but it was unusual for them.
Bob while sharing that day quoted James Houston’s “friendship is based on the mutual sharing of weakness.” Many do not practice this in a Rwandan culture.
My response was that we are not trying to emulate or be part of Rwandan culture, we are to model a Jesus culture and teach a new way. He smiled, said an emphatic “yes” and thanked me again.
Bob and I are experiencing a different culture every few days on this round the world trip. South African, Rwandan, Kenyan and on it goes with us learning new things every day – like I talk like a woman.