On a speaking tour a few years ago, I traveled from the United Arab Emirates to China to India to Malaysia to the Philippines to Indonesia—and it seemed to me that in each country, the audience was arriving later and later. My speech in Jakarta was scheduled for 7:00 P.M. “Just ignore that announcement,” I was advised. “We tell people to get here at seven, hoping they will arrive by eight. But just to be on the safe side, we never begin the program before nine.”
Contrast that to a recent experience in Toronto, where my session was scheduled to open a conference at 8:00 A.M. In order to check the audiovisual equipment, I arrived an hour early, only to see a line of people already standing outside the auditorium. Concerned that I had misunderstood the agenda, I grabbed the meeting planner. “Don't worry,” she assured me, “you've got plenty of time. We Canadians just have a habit of getting places early.”
Here's the question: Which was right—the Indonesian concept of “rubber time” or the Canadian view of promptness?
Your answer, of course, depends on the cultural standards you are dealing with—because different cultures relate to time very differently. And the concept of time is only one of the nonverbal variants you will need to consider in order to work effectively with colleagues and associates whose cultural norms are different from your own.
Leadership today demands wide cultural acumen—not just because you have ...