The Art of Collective Leadership

An illuminating aspect of Chinese culture covered in class is how seriously guanxi, or networking, is taken in Chinese society. Building a network of business partners is central to business in China, and people within the same network often perform mutual favors for each other. In America, networks are also important to building business, but it is so ingrained inside of Chinese culture, that it extends outside the office, and many people feel they have no obligation to those outside their network. For example, we learned that it is not uncommon to see people struggling on the streets of Beijing–for example, an elderly lady struggling to carry groceries–and people walk by without offering to help her because she is not in their network. Additionally, a common apology for bumping into somebody or stepping on their shoes is roughly “I am not in your network, therefore I have no obligation to you.” This facet of Chinese business is so embedded in people’s minds that it affects social interactions even outside the business landscape.

In our class, we also covered cultural differences between the United States and China that are so deeply ingrained in our cultures that they may affect actions without even thinking about it. A similarity is that in both countries, consensus is valued—it is important to reach agreement with one’s peers. In the United States, consensus is often reached through debate. It is thought that if everybody contributes their ideas, the best conclusion is reached. However, in China, a collectivist culture, the primary focus is to maintain harmony within the group. Therefore, most people practice restraint and do not express their ideas as openly. A popular saying goes, “The nail that sticks out the most gets pounded the hardest.” Chinese citizens often will go with the flow and hold back their thoughts in a professional setting, even if they have brilliant ideas that should be shared.

I must keep this cultural aspect in mind when visiting China. I do not want to be seen as somebody who ruins social harmony and does not work for the good of the group, so in a meeting, I should remember not to offer ideas that differ from the others’ because I must practice using restraint. Additionally, doing so could cause others to lose credibility, which is very important in the Chinese business world. If I hold myself back from making these comments and questioning people in a group setting, I will be able to preserve the balanced social harmony and sense of agreement.

Liam M.

Mass, Liam

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