Gettysburg Day 2 – A Failure of Culture in Leadership and How to Overcome It

by Thomas Fox

James LongstreetToday is the 151st anniversary of Day 2 of the Battle of Gettysburg. Last year I focused on Union General Dan Sickles and how is disobeying of his commanding officer’s order, destroyed his brigade and ended his military career. Today, I want to focus on the Confederate side and how the non-use of information doomed the Confederate attack on Day 2 when it failed to dislodge the Union Army from the heights south of the town of Gettysburg.

If you have ever been to the battlefield, you were most probably struck by the rockiness of the heights to the south of town. While much of the area around the town had been cleared for farming there were some very rocky and stark ridges that ran south of Gettysburg. The Confederate plan had been to size this high ground using a road that split the rocky crags as a launching point. However, Confederate General James Longstreet’s failed to follow this order when he ordered his men to make a long, circuitous route that could not be seen by Union Army Signal Corps observers on Little Round Top. It was 4 pm by the time his two divisions reached their jumping off points, and then he and his generals were astonished to find the Union Army’s III Corps planted directly in front of them. Confederate General John Hood argued with Longstreet that this new situation demanded a change in tactics; he wanted to swing around, below and behind, Round Top and hit the Union Army in the rear. Longstreet, however, refused to consider any modifications to Lee’s order as the Confederate Army had suffered a significant defeat by not dislodging their enemy. A Confederate staff officer remarked that Lee was “not in good humor over the miscarriage of his plans and his orders.”

Longstreet’s refusal to take account of the changed conditions in implementing his orders had disastrous consequences for the Confederates on Day 2. Other than the slaughter of their troops in places like the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Big Round Top and Little Round Top; they did not accomplish any military objectives. In the compliance world the failure to take changed or different circumstances into account can have negative consequences as well. I thought about some of these concepts when reading a recent article in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “Navigating the Cultural Minefield”, by Erin Meyer, where she wrote about learning how to work more effectively with people from other countries. As all Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) or compliance practitioners who work in a company subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) work with employees outside the United States I found her insights useful when thinking about how to deal with employees from other cultures.

Myer has developed a tool she calls the Culture Map. It consists of eight scales representing the management behaviors where cultural gaps are most common. By comparing the position of one nationality relative to another on each scale, the user can decode how culture influences day-to-day collaboration. Her eight scales are “based on decades of academic research into culture from multiple perspectives. To this foundation I have added my own work, which has been validated by extensive interviews with thousands of executives who have confirmed or corrected my findings.” They are:

Communicating. Meyer compares cultures along the Communicating scale by measuring the degree to which they are high- or low-context, a metric developed by the American anthropologist Edward Hall. She believes that in “low-context cultures, good communication is precise, simple, explicit, and clear. Messages are understood at face value. Repetition is appreciated for purposes of clarification, as is putting messages in writing.” This contrasted with high-context cultures, where “communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Messages are often implied but not plainly stated. Less is put in writing, more is left open to interpretation, and understanding may depend on reading between the lines.”

Evaluating. Here Meyer “measures a preference for frank versus diplomatic negative feedback. Evaluating is often confused with Communicating, but many countries have different positions on the two scales.” She notes that the French “are high-context (implicit) communicators relative to Americans, yet they are more direct in their criticism” but “Spaniards and Mexicans are at the same context level, but the Spanish are much more frank when providing negative feedback.”

Persuading. Meyer notes that the manner “in which you persuade others and the kinds of arguments you find convincing are deeply rooted in your culture’s philosophical, religious, and educational assumptions and attitudes.” So, for instance, a senior “Western executive will break down an argument into a sequence of distinct components (specific thinking), while Asian managers tend to show how the components all fit together (holistic thinking).” But she evens delineates this scale further by finding that, “people from southern European and Germanic cultures tend to find deductive arguments (what I refer to as principles-first arguments) most persuasive, whereas American and British managers are more likely to be influenced by inductive logic (what I call applications-first logic).”

Leading. This scale measures the degree of respect and deference shown to authority figures, placing countries on a spectrum from egalitarian to hierarchical.

Deciding. Meyer articulates that this scale, measures the degree to which a culture is consensus-minded. She believes that Westerners wrongly believe that the “most egalitarian cultures will also be the most democratic, while the most hierarchical ones will allow the boss to make unilateral decisions.” She found that while “Germans are more hierarchical than Americans, but more likely than their U.S. colleagues to build group agreement before making decisions.” Further. she noted that the “Japanese are both strongly hierarchical and strongly consensus-minded.”

Trusting. Meyer splits this into the old ‘from the head’ (cognitive trust) or ‘from the heart’ (affective trust) analysis. She wrote, “In task-based cultures, trust is built cognitively through work. If we collaborate well, prove ourselves reliable, and respect one another’s contributions, we come to feel mutual trust. In a relationship-based society, trust is a result of weaving a strong affective connection. If we spend time laughing and relaxing together, get to know one another on a personal level, and feel a mutual liking, then we establish trust.”

Disagreeing. While Westerners, particularly Americans, tend to believe that a little open disagreement is healthy; other “cultures actually have very different ideas about how productive confrontation is for a team or an organization. This scale measures tolerance for open disagreement and inclination to see it as either helpful or harmful to collegial relationships.”

Scheduling. This one is my personal bane as there are some cultures that take the position that people treat scheduling, deadlines and meeting times as a mere “suggestion.” Her “scale assesses how much value is placed on operating in a structured, linear fashion versus being flexible and reactive.”

From this scale, Meyer has developed four rules to help bridge the cultural gap.

  1. Do Not Underestimate the Challenge. Most management styles have been developed over a lifetime of work. For most CCOs this includes a stint in a corporate legal department. But as Meyer notes, “Succeeding would depend on taking an entirely different approach and making ongoing adjustments over the long term.” Further, you may well need to unlearn many of the techniques that have made you successful.
  2. Apply Multiple Perspectives. More than simply recognizing the cultural perception of other employees is not enough as you will need to look “through multiple lenses.” Meyer writes that you need to understand the cultural position of one country to another, subsequently “You need to understand how the Koreans perceive the Indians, how the Indians perceive the Brazilians, and so on, and manage across the map. As you learn to look through multiple lenses, you may see that on some scales the Brazilians, for example, view the Indians in a very different way than the Koreans do.”
  3. Find the Positive in Other Approaches. Here people tend to see the negative when looking at how other cultures work but Meyer suggests that you should try and understand what it is that makes a cultural work. Further, if you have a compliance team from different cultural backgrounds this can bring strength to your overall position. Lastly, you can achieve a “complex understanding of various [cultural] strengths on the team” so that you can choose the best players for going forward.
  4. Adjust and The Readjust Your Position. Meyer believes that “More and more teams are made up of diverse and globally dispersed members. So as a leader, you’ll frequently have to tweak or adapt your own style to better mesh with your working partners. It’s not enough to shift to a new position on a single scale; you’ll need to widen your comfort zone so that you can move more fluidly back and forth along all eight.”

Meyer’s article provides some very good insight for the compliance practitioner. We all will have to deal with many cultures in a multi-national corporate compliance practice. By using the techniques that Meyer has developed you can not only come to understand how better to lead but also you can use your team members from other cultures to facilitate greater communication of compliance principles, training and issues throughout the organization.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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