Economist husband recently got promoted at work. He has moved from a chief specialist positiong to being a manager (mahn-AH-gyer in Russian). It’s so fun to hear him talk about how much he loves his new position. Relaxing on the couch at the end of the day with plates of food crowding our tiny Ikea coffee table, he tells me about the excitement of added responsibility, new challenges, getting to be creative, heading meetings, and being in charge of whole groups of people.
After marrying an American, and hanging out with lots of westerners from our church, he’s starting to see the effects of our foreign influence on him. It’s fascinating to me to hear him talk about the differences between Soviet and western management styles.
Soviet style, he says, is completely vertical (There’s even a term for it in Russian: vyer-ti-CALL’). The boss is in charge, makes the decisions, gives the orders. Everyone else just listens, and scurries to do his bidding. There’s not a lot of discussion, not much democracy. It’s like everyone thinks that the boss is smart, and in charge. They think he must know better what’s going on because he’s up there. Basically, Russian bosses are czars in their offices.
I know what he’s talking about. It’s kind of like the difference between the Russian and English Bible studies we attend here in Moscow. At the English Bible studies, leadership is passed around the group. Someone new leads every week, and our meetings are more of a discussion than a sermon. With westerners, the leader is a guide, not a dictator.
At the Russian Bible study, things are different. Leadership is chosen in advance, and everyone expects that person to come up with topics, make decisions, and direct the group. With Russians, it’s more like sitting in on a lecture or sermon than a collective group discussion.
It’s so interesting! Democracy is somehow deeply ingrained in the mentality of all the westerners I know. We expect to have our opinions count and to think for ourselves. Vertical’, on the other hand, is deeply ingrained in the Russian mentality. People expect leaders to make the decisions.
Another aspect of Soviet-style vertical’ in the office is that impatient, heavy-handed Russian bosses often use intimidation and shame to influence and motivate their staff. The stereotypical Russian management don’t spend much time on explanations, economist husband tells me, they just tell you to get it, or else.
In his new position, my husband has been enjoying experimenting with the two leadership approaches. He is an ardent Steve Jobs convert – watching Apple presentations on You Tube for hours at a time. Between that, his foreign friends, and American wife, the man can’t help but be influenced by western management styles.
It’s been fun, he says, to use diplomacy instead of yelling, anger and fear to influence people. He has been including his subordinates in planning, and using simple 3-step presentations at meetings instead of long, complicated, academic addresses. The results, he says, are starting to show! People trust him, respect him, and aren’t afraid of him.
It’s quite like Steve Jobs’ approach to management and communication style, my Apple-convert husband explains. Simple, direct, diplomatic. Even more, he says, it’s like Jesus’ leadership style. Jesus was not an angry, distant dictator who yelled at his followers. He didn’t keep knowledge and plans to himself, leaving His disciples to scuttle around in the dirt, racing to perform an endless number of deeds with no input, help or knowledge about what was going on. Jesus, fantastic leader that He is, lets His disciples in on the big plan, and welcomes their participation,
“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…” -Jesus (John 15:14-16)
I love comparing cultures. I especially love comparing world cultures with Biblical cultures. American culture gets it wrong sometimes, as does Russian culture. We have always found that Biblical culture, however, is right on.
I guess there’s a place for both vertical’ and democracy in good leadership styles. I’m pretty proud of my husband, though, for navigating a leadership style based not entirely on Russian or American examples, but on a Biblical one.
Cross-cultural marriage is so cool!