Anyone who has worked with me, or has crossed my path, will immediately experience my energy, drive and passion for getting the job done- on time. No, this is not a self- promotion piece. It is fact. The reason I share this is because my roots are Caribbean however British born and have worked in North America for over 30 years…. and have a perspective on “time”.
I made my first trip to Trinidad in my 20s. I walked, talked and did nearly everything faster than everyone else on this Island. I have a tendency to run my life by the “C” word.
Punctuality and time is very much part of what I do, how I live and is part of what defines me. Now dare I say it; these characteristics are not so much a priority in the Caribbean.
I was a totally anomaly to my extended relations on the Islands where time is an indicator, not a means to plan one’s day or even week. In my experience, the pace is much slower; people put more emphasis on the journey versus the destination. Not a cliché – they really do. A trip to the market would take all day. Why? Well how can you possibly walk to the market and not say hello to every person along the way? And when you arrive at the market , the appointment you made may no-longer be important and the produce you had ventured to get -is now sold out. No problem. You can just repeat the entire process and journey the next day. Perplexing to someone like myself; Normal to my related Islanders.
So what has all this got to do with leadership? Well, culture has a lot to do with how we see and relate to time. Let me expand.
In many cultures, timeliness is not of great concern and in others, being late could be internalized as being disrespectful. In Germany and North America, for example, one normally schedules a meeting for a specific time. Arriving late would not go down well in these countries. But in some countries such as in Central and South America, Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere, some delay is to be expected.
In some cultures, time is to be managed as if it was a limited resource. In others, not so much~ it is a limitless resource, a constant that is always there where managing it, would be thought of as on the borderline of being futile. Why manage something, where you have no control and is infinitely there?
So what does that mean? In cultures where time is seen as a limited resource, punctuality becomes a virtue and so it is seen as disrespectful to waste someone’s time. These countries are often referred to having a monochron culture ( sequential tasks, on time, a ridge and structured time-sense). In cultures where time is seen as limitless such as in the Caribbean, India and parts of South America, making people wait is a way of life. The journey is far more important. These countries are referred to having a polychron culture (multiple tasks at any given time – time is an indicator not a dictator – a very flexible and a more relaxed-view point of time).
Polychron cultures tend to rely on trust to do business. Monochron cultures, where time is seen as limited, don’t have time to develop trust and so create other methods to replace trust ( or at least they think) such as long contracts and meticulous laws. Because of the way polychrons see time, they are often late as they don’t see exact times and dates as being really meaningful or important. Whereas monochron cultures, time is everything. Time is money.
Of course these are extreme definitions. However, with this knowledge, you can immediately seen potential conflict with these two very different values as it relates to time. I have attached two interesting posts by Harley Hanh (Time Sense. Polychronicity and Monchronicity) and Hans Bool (Time Sence and Culture) that describes scenarios in the workplace and at home where the two views can easily be at odds at each other.
Now, I believe we are somewhat products of our environment. I personally can relate to both cultures. I tend to juggle many, many interesting tasks at any given time ( polychonic) however driven by the clock which is dictated by my birth country and having lived in North America for 30 years (monochronic). As I reflect on my first visit to Trinidad, I totally understand why I presented such a curiosity to my relations and vice versa! LOL!
So perhaps it is not punctuality that is a leadership characteristic. Perhaps it is more what you do within the time, that reflects leadership qualities that counts?
What do you think?
Let me know.
Thanks for stopping by!
- Global Leadership Means You Understand The Global Village (williampearl.wordpress.com)