Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking at the Foster School and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management
Recently, I traveled to Melbourne Australia for a series of lectures and short workshops on examining the total leadership system in organizations. By total leadership system, we mean examining leadership at all levels, looking down, peer to peer sideways, and where folks are leading up measuring a broad range of leadership styles (e.g., transformational, authentic, authoritarian, ethical, etc.) within and between levels and units in organizations. By examining the total leadership system, we hope to assess all of the key leadership elements that positively contribute to organizational change and transformation.
I found that before leaving the U.S., everyone who I told about the trip smiled and said something like, ‘that’s going to be a lot of fun’ or ‘what a great place to go.’ I told my Australian colleagues that we have serious Australian envy in my country. And when I said that, I didn’t realize that on this trip to Australia that my envy would only deepen as I learned that the Australians just have the best expressions.
Being in Australia also reminded me that one could be lured into a state of lacking self-awareness about cultural differences because Australians speak English and have a lot of common interests and history in line with those of us from the U.S. When I am in other cultures where the language is different, I am more keenly aware of observing and listening to make sure I understand the cultural nuances. In Australia one can get away with that for a while, until you realize that ‘conservative’ means ‘liberal’ in Australia and vice versa.
In one of the last workshops I was doing in Australia, someone said something that got me reflecting and I must admit I laughed out loud. At one point in the workshop, one of the participants said, “That guy just spit the dummy!” You can let those comments go by, and there were several such expressions, but I decided to stop on this one and ask, “What could spitting the dummy possibly be?” I learned that a dummy is what we would call a baby’s pacifier, and when you spit the dummy, all hell breaks loose. Throughout the remainder of the day, I tried to find every possible instance to use the term, spitting the dummy, or even better, you are a dummy spitter.
So, just when you think the folks you are with are familiar, they spit the dummy and all hell breaks loose!