In his book “Leadership Dubai Style”, Dr. Tommy Weir asks an important question: “I’ve never understood why it’s so easy for “outsiders” to swoop in and complain about the way things are done her [in Dubai], beginning their sentences with “Here in Dubai…”, inevitably followed by a put-down.
He argues (rightfully so) that Dubai had tremendous success for quite a long period of time now. Why then criticize the way things are done there instead of staying loyal to the local ways?
I believe that there are three main problems why this is the case.
1. The way things are done “there” are indeed wrong if the expatriate looks at them based on the standards of his or her own culture
2. The expatriate isn’t able to break free from his or her own cultural conditioning
3. The expatriate feels a sense of accountability primarily to his own culture, not to the local culture
Because the expatriate is feeling accountable to the norms and values to his own culture, he isn’t able to break free from his own cultural conditioning. And because of that, he perceives the way in which things are done in the local culture as “wrong”.
Dr. Weir argues that one of the aspects that are difficult for expatriates to comprehend about the leadership style in Dubai is the paternalistic style of decision-making. There is a mutual sense of loyalty between the leader and the followers. Followers remain loyal to the leader in return for receiving a fatherly support in all areas of life. In return, the leader gets to make the final decisions about where the tribe is heading, although followers may make decisions in terms of how to achieve this vision.
From the perspective of many western expatriates, this type of leadership is perceived negatively since it does not follow the participative leadership style which is commonly practiced and endorsed by the west. Western expatriates therefore place a much higher value on equality than people in Dubai, but a much lower value on loyalty to the tribe and paternalistic support.
Coming from more individualistic countries, the problem western expatriates face is that they are more loyal to their own values, rather than loyal to the people in their environment.
Often, in individualistic countries the assumption is that an individual’s values and beliefs are his or her own. What people tend to forget, however, is that values and beliefs are to a large degree a result of the process of socialization and one’s own experiences.
Since this process of socialization and experiential learning happens primarily within the cultural environment of his or her upbringing, he or she is likely to hold relatively similar values and beliefs compared to the other people from the same cultural background.
How to build a sense of loyalty to your host country
As I mentioned earlier, building a sense of loyalty depends on whom you feel accountable to. If you feel accountable primarily to headquarters based back “home”, then you are likely to remain loyal to ‘your own values’, which are likely to be very similar to those of headquarters. If you, on the other hand, feel primarily accountable to your followers who are primarily locals, then you are much more likely to develop a sense of loyalty to them.
Our tribal mind-sets encourage us to think in us versus them terms. In the past, we needed to belong to a group to survive. ‘Other’ groups were, by definition, treated with suspicion since they were a threat to the survival of our in-group.
That is why developing loyalty and becoming ‘one of them’ is so important for your adaptation.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to build a stronger sense of accountability to the people in your new, local environment:
- Right now, do I perceive myself as part of the local group of people? Why? Why not?
- What do I love about the new environment? What are the values that I can identify with, and for which I am willing to hold myself accountable?
- If there is any particular group of people in the new cultural environment to whom I could hold myself accountable, who would it be?
- In what situations does it make more sense for me to hold myself accountable for my host cultures values, and in which situations does it make more sense to hold myself accountable to my culture of origin’s values?
- How would it help me to be successful in the new cultural environment if I were to build a stronger sense of loyalty to the local people?
Lastly, I encourage you to let me know in the comments whether or not you were able to create a sense of loyalty to your host culture. Why? Why not? What has helped you in order to feel more attached to the new culture? I would love hearing from you.