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Multicultural Leadership Starts From Within

In our globalized marketplace, and ever-increasing multicultural population, it’s imperative to be aware of how different people from different cultures interact, in order to avoid potential conflict and to succeed. On a microlevel, leading effectively must include managing and understanding differences, in order to create the optimal work environment for all.

Take the case of Loren Shifrin, who runs Canada’s largest, privately-held factoring company, Revolution Capital, and more recently, Lovekind. As a successful entrepreneur, who owns several other companies as well, Shifrin came to realize that his background had laid the groundwork for how he runs his business.

His family were Russian Jews who had faced adversity during World War II, and discrimination subsequently under communist rule. Ironically, it was this hardship that instilled the principles of respect, honesty, and hard work into his work ethic.

“As immigrants to Canada, with just a few dollars in our pockets, I was living by these values that enabled my family to build a new life, one which realized their ultimate goal of freedom and independence. These are the same principles that I rely on to build my businesses.”

Not every leader calls on socio-ethnic pain to propel them forward, but this is valuable information to know. For example, situations may arise wherein employees don’t want to let the boss down because they understand that he or she strives to overcome a history of oppression. 

On the flip side, a boss might subconsciously place more pressure on employees to perform, if there are still family members who desperately need financial assistance in their home country.

While Shifrin was influenced by past, harsh political realities, there are many other cultural values (as well as cultural baggage) that may come into play. Identifying how these values arise in workplace conduct, and thought processes, can influence development and results.

Some women from Islamic cultures — more recognizably those who have religious head coverings — may not converse at length with male co-workers. A good workplace leader should be familiar with religious customs, so as to alleviate any awkwardness.

Communication — what to say and what not to say — is another example. For instance, avoid using idioms that might not be clearly understood by a first-generation immigrant, or pop culture references that they haven’t necessarily been exposed to.

Moreover, it is advisable to not pigeonhole someone, based on their multicultural background. You aren’t just your race, ethnicity or religion, but a combination of life skills and experiences that create the mosaic of any individual. You still have to treat everyone with respect.

The question is whether culture impacts the relationship of leaders and their subordinates, or bosses and their employees. One topic of analysis could be: how are people of a different cultural background inclined to take orders, criticism, or advice?

For example, those in a religious faith community may have high respect and reverence for leadership figures — imams, rabbis, and priests, those in venerated positions — and therefore may be more deferential when it comes to working for individuals who are highly regarded in their community. It might also imply, by extension, that they are reticent to offer unsolicited but constructive feedback, presuming that for the higher-ups, all decisions are sacred.

Similarly, Dr. Richard T. Alpert from Diversity Resources notes: “People from some Asian cultures are reluctant to give supervisors bad news.” Again, a good leader should recognize and address possible hurdles ahead of time, to ensure that they don’t get in the way of productivity.

Talaal Rshaidat, an entrepreneur, has faced particular challenges because of his ethnic tradition and authority figures from his homeland.

Rshaidat is the chief science officer for FUME, a cannabis extracts company based in Brantford, Ontario. He’s a 28-year-old protégé, renowned and respected for his expertise, but when he shared the news of his success with his parents in Jordan, they didn’t speak to him for months. Their response, according to Rshaidat, was, “We didn’t send you to school to become a drug dealer.”

“The stigma around cannabis may still exist here, but it’s even more real in the Middle East,” he says. So Rshaidat had to work harder to impress his family.

Despite creating the number one-selling Pax Pod in Canada (Signature Orange Cookies) and holding three degrees (in Chemistry, Economics, and an MBA), his parents  spoke to him again only after seeing the plant in Brantford and understanding the massive undertaking that was FUME.

When Rshaidat landed his first job in the cannabis industry, the executives around the table often joked with him saying, “Send in Talaal to talk to him; you know what happens when you send in Middle Eastern chemists.” They, being White men in their 50s, teased him often — but that stereotype was all too real for Rshaidat.

Rshaidat attributes these comments to “Cannabis 1.0, when the men around the table were mostly financiers; but now that Cannabis 2.0 is here, those men have left, and so too have those jokes.”

As a budding entrepreneur, you may lack awareness until it’s too late, that there are potential cultural conflicts both within your workplace (between your employees) and surrounding the business itself. Increasing your awareness of cultural and ethnic traditions may help you understand certain challenges they face as employees.

As for Rshaidat — of course he came out on top — and despite the bumps along the way, today he even helps competitors when they have an issue with equipment or have a question. 

Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer

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