Newsletter #447 – Leading Across Borders

Early next week, please watch for a special posting about upgrades and changes to my blog postings and web sites.


 This week I started an eight-month course at Regent University (Virginia) with the lengthy title “Global Leadership for Mental Health Professionals.”  In preparation I have been reading books with titles like Leading Across Cultures (James Plueddeman), Leading Cross-Culturally (Sherwood Lingenfelter), Leading Across Boundaries (Russell M. Linden) and Cross-Cultural Connections (Duane Elmer). I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences and assembling a team of experienced international experts to help us all think through issues relating to leading and partnering with mental health colleagues in other countries.  Most students in the class are working on PhD or PsyD degrees. Most have had international experience. All are leaders and all know that connecting across borders is a lot tougher than it appears at first. The same is true if you never leave your neighborhood but lead, coach or otherwise connect across the borders that separate you from people with experiences, religious beliefs, ages, or ethnic backgrounds that differ from yours.

It doesn’t work to take your therapeutic approaches or seminar notes, get on a plane, and think that your home-tested methods, ideas or even your teaching or coaching styles will connect with people in Romania, Argentina or Malaysia. For one thing, everybody has perspectives, ways of doing things, standards of right and wrong, attitudes toward leadership, ideas about how to treat mental illness, and beliefs that each considers the best, right and sometimes the biblical way of doing things. When leaders and others disagree on these essentials conflict can follow and leadership is ineffective – even if all the people are Christian.

Recently in Eastern Europe I tried to coach a bright young man using ICF (International Coach Federation) guidelines. I struggled because he and I (both believers) had different views about vision, goals, partnerships and other basics. Differences like these can impact leading in youth groups, political legislatures, companies and counseling centers. Communication and leadership begin with efforts to understand one’s own assumptions or values and those of others.

Do you agree? Please click on comment to give us examples or your perspective.


  1. Understanding one’s own assumptions or values requires a certain level personal maturity and openness to the factors that form one’s own “basics,” or one’s own “essentials and non-essentials.” Understanding the same for another person requires a similar same level of maturity and openness.
    I see several other important human factors. Personality, personal experience and one’s epistemology are, I believe, key. Being mature and open enough to understand ones “essentials” and those of another raises the possibility that change may be required, or at least being open to possible change. The threat of potential change in one’s deeply held “basics” or “essentials” is a critical factor bring understanding, and, if desired or wanted, unity.
    A question that comes to mind is this – is such an effort an attempt to overcome of effects of the “Babel” curse? Yes, Babel was the confusing of language, yet Babel’s purpose was to confuse people, so that mankind would not be able to accomplish all that they purpose to do. Bringing about understanding between people with “basic” differences may have limited success, if the Holy Spirit is not involved, as was the case in Acts 2.


    1. Loren, you are sure on target here. I have been reading about connecting cross-culturally all summer and despite the fact that I have been working on it all my adult life I am amazed at how difficult this is and how easily we make mistakes. You are right that there are a number of issues involved. Today I was reading about a new play about to premier here in Chicago. It involves and African girl who becomes a believer because of one of the colonial missionaries. But when there is an uprising against the colonial outsiders the young woman is torn between where she will land and what she will have to give up whichever side she takes. I couldn’t agree more. It takes a lot of maturing to look at one’s own cultural values and at the core thinking of other cultures and try to bridge the gap. Maybe the US Congress is a good example of non-cooperation because few of the politicians are willing to look at the values on both sides and try to find compromise. That is amplified cross-culturally, even among believers. Only the Holy Spirit can ultimately break does that wall of partition between us and even that doesn’t work in people who dig in, determine that their way is the right way, and refuge to budge. Sounds like some marriage counseling doesn’t it.


  2. I really enjoy your blog. I have lived in four different countries and in five metropolitan areas of the USA. We as caring professionals need to be very sensitive in how we approach, coach and teach others. Prayerfully listening to God and the other person is essential to being effective. Also, we as Americans often act as if we are superior; we want to effect change, and quickly. Even though some Christian groups may be working on that, foreigners are skeptical. A German Christian leader said to me not long ago “your people come over want us to change all our ways, but some of our ways are working very well in our culture. Listen to us, share our lives with us before making judgments.” I think this was well said.


    1. These comments blow my mind and inspire me. Recently I spend about three weeks in Russia.
      I was there to teach leadership and coaching. I did one coaching session on tape with a young man from Siberia. We got it on tape. This guy is a committed Christian, interested in coaching. When I asked him about his goals, visions for the future, of plans he had no clue. He responded that “we just don’t think in terms like this.'” I agree with so many of the above comments. My Russian friend is in a culture where things seem to be working fine in the Russian way. The more I teach coaching internationally (same with counseling) he more I realize that our methods don’t work. More that that I am convinced that well meaning but culturally insensitive speakers and mission groups often do far more harm than good. Look at Jesus and Paul. They were aware of cultural differences.

      Second story, In Russia I gave a lecture on connecting cross-culturally; I have travelled a lot so I felt on solid ground when I gave my talk. Then a sensitive member of the audience that the terms I used ” building trust, respect, caring,” for example have a different meaning in Russian than they do in Russia. Even”coaching” has a different meaning and is very difficult to translate into Russian. Your dialog has pointed out the significance of cultural sensitivity.


  3. Thanks Gary for your insights … I too (as a coach) and leader in the Christian community have struggled with some of the same issues. When coaching … I have felt that we are to be concerned about the whole person, i.e., goals, spiritual, emotional, family, physical, cultural perspective, assumptions, etc.

    Listening, seeking to understand, timing and knowing the issues that a person is concerned about is part of what I feel we do as Christian coaches.


  4. While we have Christ in common and agree on core biblical truths, cultural assumptions can be widely divergent.

    As you discovered different perspectives/assumptions, did that shut down the dialog?


  5. Thank you, Gary! What an important topic indeed for effective cross-cultural work and ministry (where i’ve been for . One needs to understand one’s own paradigms and assumptions! Knowing the meaning others attach to the words we use and how they differ from ours is critical to come to understand. Just translating a word from one language to another does not suffice. It’s therefore powerful to look at behaviors and dialogue how they reflect values, emotions, thoughts and paradigms. A coaching approach of inquiring and listening is powerful, rather than imposing our solutions! A lot of relational investment is needed to build trust. Do i see them as an equal? Do I believe that they with God can bring change? Do I believe that they have the competence to find and implement solutions that fit their context? How I feel might be irrelevant! What bias drives my agenda? How is Christ reflected in how I relate, especially in listening and responding to where they are at? I find a coaching approach powerful to come alongside others as a partner, friend… knowing i just walk a short distance of their journey and they need to continue with Christ on the journey in their context.


  6. I come from a very multicultural background and live in Australia, and yet I have my own personal culture that is unique to me (although it is a mishmash). I am very reluctant to follow a leader who attempts to force their culture down my throat, even if they are highly experienced and godly. I’m speaking from unpleasant experience and this has been valuable in helping me empathise with people I work with who are of different cultures. In fact, every one has a unique culture and so we cannot presume they will agree with our way of view. It is respectful for us to first check in with them on their view of things.


  7. Coudnt agree more having justtaught an intensive on crisis counseling at the Asia Theological centre for Evangelism and Missions in Singapore last month! Bless u friend. “Broken Windows of the Soul” is now available on Amazon,com and Kindle


  8. In my ministry to train lay people in being good listeners, before they become helpers I agree with your viewpoint and I disagree. The agreement is HOW to work out a Biblical vision, is rather hard. I give ‘pride of place’ to local initiaves.

    Where I disagree is the fact that some instructions of Jesus are multicultural in the same way able to execute: eg to bless poeple with one’s eyes,(to think and feel thoughts of blessing in Jesus name), not saying a word, IS working in total different cultures. See: FROM SHAME TO PEACE, published by Inportantia in Dordrecht, Netherlands, availble through Amazon.


  9. I definitely agree, Gary. I think you said the key word in your last sentence: values. Different cultures have differing hierarchies of values: Americans value independence; Filipinos value relationship. And, we really value our values. It takes great humility and examination to come to the conclusion that someone else’s, or some other culture’s, values are just as legitimate as our own, let alone better.


  10. Yes, but even two cultures that value relationships may have different protocols or ways of expressing that value spatially. How do we discover those in such a way that the partnership is strengthened? Will both “sides” give ample time and honesty to allow those difference to be revealed, explained and discussed?


  11. I wonder if in God’s eyes there are any more than two cultures. There is the culture of this world we live in for the time being which is fractured, chaotic, and constantly at war with itself. Confusion and disagreement reign. The other culture is the one of Jesus, our Brother and our Lord. This culture is defined by love; first for our God and then for our brother or sister. Every communication of Jesus we have recorded has some expression of love on His part. Those who learned to love Him back went on to shake every culture in this world. Maybe to simplistic?


  12. This insight is timely. I recently went to South America, in part to hang out and support our missionary friends who work with the Indigenous people in Brazil. I was asked to share from my “expertise” as a marriage therapist and teacher. The Director brilliantly suggested we do this through dialogue and story telling around a fire with only the men. No lectures, in other words. I came prepared with several strategies to recover love once the romance has died. Within the first 15 minutes I learned that many of these men were in arranged marriages and have learned to love their wives only as they wait on God on their knees. Romance was never part of the picture for many of them. I quickly realized that much of what I came prepared to share was thoroughly irrelevant for these incredible men of God. I showed up as a teacher and left as a student. And I was grateful. I would have loved to spend more time with these guys. I’m sure we have much more to learn from each other!


    1. Tim, Thanks for this message and for your earlier note. This is an excellent comment. It is so common when we go overseas. What we prepare for is not what fits, what we expected, or what is most flexible. When we try to connect across cultures – internationally or at home – the name of the game certainly is flexibility.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s