Dr. Enrique J.Zaldivar
Introduction by Laura
There are some people in the world who tend to give others deep impression, even if they might only spend a short period of time with others. And Enrique is one of them. 10 years ago, Enrique and I worked together in an UN Leadership Development Program, co-facilitating workshops in Africa, Europe, and US. During the 2 years of intensive collaboration, I was deeply impressed by the insights from his training and facilitation practice. 2 years ago I heard from him that he was working on a book. Originally, I promised to proof-read the book for him, whereas I was not able to do that due to schedule conflict. When the book was published, I discovered that I was mentioned in the section of acknowledgement, and then I thought I must do something, so I decide to conduct an interview with him, with the purpose of bringing the ideas of an excellent OD expert to other professionals in the field. I already got the book and I am going to do the exercise in the book. And I believe that readers could derive many insights from his sharing.
About Enrique J. Zaldivar
Enrique Zaldivar is founding partner, Inspired-Inc., professor of organization development at American University, and author of Your Unique Cultural Lens: A guide to cultural competence.
He is convinced that effective leaders create culturally appropriate conditions for organizational success that produce results as well as sustainable, effective and rewarding workplaces. His results-based approach to consulting and coaching (Inspired Leading) emphasizes harnessing the creative energy between being authentic and accountable.
Enrique has worked with over 10,000 leaders in 50 countries and individually coached over 1,000 executives/managers. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area, practices Qigong and meditation daily; enjoys tennis, hiking, reading and painting oil canvases. He is proud of his two mechanical engineer sons, daughter in law, and baby granddaughter.
Complete bio at http://inspired-inc.com/whoweare_enrique.html
Laura (left) and Enrique (right) in United Nations Management Development Program. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July, 2010.
(Note: “Laura” is abbreviated as “L”. “Enrique” is abbreviated as “E”.)
From Financial Expert to Organizational Development Expert
L: It is such a great pleasure for me to be able to introduce you to my community in Asia, especially the Chinese-speaking front, where we have great group of facilitators working in various fields. Especially there is a growing crowd having great emphasis on organizational development. So when I saw your book, I thought it is a wonderful opportunity to talk to you and have your insight shared with the community. Let’s start this interview by you to tell us a bit about who you are, maybe a couple of stories, so people get to know you a little bit.
E: Thank you for conducting this interview. The story began in Mexico. I was born in Mexico City. I live there the first half of my life. I am a civil engineer; that is what I studied in college. After that, I came to the US to study a master in applied mathematics. That landed me a job in an international bank. I was in financial risk management for about 15 years. After a few promotions, my job changed into creating conditions so that others can do their work; building relationship with other executives at the bank; influencing clients, colleagues, the board of directors, etc. In 2000, the bank had a leadership development program that included executive coaching, so I was a beneficiary working with one of the coaches. She coached me for over a year. I must have been a really difficult case. I realized that there are two key insights from that work. One is that I had never really explored my entrepreneurial spirit. That’s number one. And number two is I was getting a lot more joy of supporting the development of others, helping other leaders. So in 2001, I took the toughest decision in my life: I left the bank and joint forces with my wife, who became my partner. We founded Inspired Inc., and we have been doing business on under this banner for the last 19 years. In April we will celebrate the 19th anniversary.
E: Thank you! Then I went for a doctoral program in management science. I wanted to complement what I had learned from practice with knowledge. I got a certificate on leadership coaching. In addition, I have been teaching at American University in their master program in organizational development for the last 10 years, which is a great way to stay at the state of the art. And I enjoy being challenged by my fellow faculty and by the students, who are mid-career professionals. It’s a wonderful growth experience for me, and I believe it is also a growth experience for them as well. I really like to work in the space of leadership and organizational development, which is about helping others to be more effective getting results and creating working environment that are more appealing to people.
Put Authenticity and Accountability into Practice
L: Fantastic! What brought you to OD? Maybe perhaps to elaborate a bit. Can you tell us more about the type of OD work you do? I recalled our first encounter was in the UN program. I got the privilege of working with many facilitators and coaches. May I say that you are one of the most impressive partners I had.
E: Your comment makes me feel honored and humbled by those words, Laura. Thanks.
L: I still remember the time when we worked together for a workshop in Africa. While we were preparing the session, you stopped and asked me: “Besides the objective of the program, what goal do you have for your personal development?” And I stopped and thought. You said: “Let me start by sharing my goal is to focus on my sense of humor.” That actually made me think I can do my work and at the same time integrate my personal development. And you did a great job of integrating your sense of humor in that workshop as I recalled. Anyway, that’s one of my memories of working with you. Can you tell us what kind of OD work you did recently, so people know a bit more about who you are?
E: Sure. Thanks for sharing that story. It’s a sweet reminder to me of one of the huge appealing things about this field: we help our clients, and at the same time if we focus on it, it’s also an opportunity for our own growth, for our own professional development and personal growth. It’s a hugely appealing thing in this profession. I continue doing those very large-scale program, like the one which you and I met in the UN and others with a few large corporations as well, so I work with government, non-government, and private sectors. I would say that through these engagements and through teaching, over the last twenty years it has become increasingly clear to me what makes an effective leader. I am focusing a lot on leaders. The more powerful the leader, the higher responsibility the leader has, the more influence the leader has on the culture of the organization. If I can put it in a nutshell, I will argue that there are two primary characteristics that leaders need to have. One is to be authentic, really know who he or she is. If I don’t know who I am, it is impossible to be authentic. The book, Your Unique Cultural Lens, is a tool to help people increase self-awareness and therefore their authenticity. That’s the main purpose. The second element is accountability. In other words, how can I make myself accountable to others? Recognizing Peter Drucker who came up with the statement decades ago, I think it is a wise statement: How can we create a condition for accountability in our organization? It’s not all; leaders need to have all of their elements of course. Those two in my mind are the most fundamental. So to answer your question, I am more and more seeking clients who are interested in developing these two pillars that I have learned in my career, that really make them effective leaders… clients interested in exploring that. Of course exploring it within, making sure it lands appropriately in their cultures around the world wherever they are. I have the incredible privilege of having worked in over 50 countries. And I am seeing that every culture is unique, and there are some fundamentals about being human. I am moving more into organizations interested in practicing these. I get particular energy helping them to practice and explore what really being authentic and being accountable means for themselves and for their organizations.
Cultural Competence: Working with People from Different Cultural Background
L: What prompted you to write this book exploring this Unique Cultural Lens? Can you tell us like one or two stories about how you noticed the importance of this topic? And you already started talking about authenticity and accountability.
E: Sure, thank you. I have to say that it began with the students. While I was teaching at this master in OD program, I realized that the program itself was developing great authenticity in the students. They were being courageous to be reflective to explore themselves, the use of self, be mindful of being who they were. As consultants and as leaders, who we are is our tool. We have this ourselves. And I realized that when it came to teach them in something we call “international residence”, in which we take them to different countries for two weeks. During the two weeks, they actually do a short-term consulting engagement with a real client. Each team will get different clients. So here is where “the rubber meets the road”. These students for years have been learning all kinds of theory, models, practices, and tools. And here (in the International Residence) they get to practice all that, as well. “Which tool you use?” “Well, you decide which tool you use.” “Meet your client! Understand your client. Gather data. And decide how can you help them.” And we realized that maybe their accountability, their capacity for making themselves accountable to others needed work. Peter Block has a fantastic statement: “we are to the service of the client.” Whether my staff needs leadership because I am the leader, or my client needs my consulting because I am the consultant, it doesn’t matter. It is the same thing. And that is where “accountability” comes. Something came up my head: How can we develop authenticity and accountability in a structured way? This trigger the first model I shared with the students. The early cohorts were just taking notes of what I was putting down on flipchart. Then, I started to define this a little bit more. And about six years ago, in 2014, I got that idea published in an article on the Journal of Appreciative Inquiry. After the article was published, I wanted the version for clients, so I began working on the book. You and many others were kind enough to give me feedback for the book. The manuscript has much more material than the book published. However, it is not that that a lot of it is lost. It is basically a decision to turn it into two books. This one is the book that focuses on cultural competence. And I define that as how can we be effective in communicating and influencing across cultures. And “across cultures” nowadays means many things, you know. For some people it means “I have to travel abroad to find another culture.” For a lot of people, more and more around the world, “across cultures” is the person who is sitting across me on my work station or my client, my team, my supervisor. People from different cultures are more and more working together. So that is the focus of this book. For anyone who wants to develop cultural competence, whether you are a consultant or not, it doesn’t matter. The second book is intended to be published in 2021. It is a book that really focuses on leaders and these two principles, and what are the additional elements of authenticity and this whole area of accountability. And let’s not forget we need to be agile as well. The leader needs to have a plan but not necessarily follow it if it is not working, you know. It is a famous phrase by General Eisenhower, who eventually became US President Eisenhower, who is famous for saying “Planning is everything; the plan is nothing”, emphasizing that the effort of planning is what get us ready to be nimble, flexible, and agile.
L: Yes, I think this is really helpful. And I think the trigger starts with an ambitious plan and now you have two books. It is also quite miraculous.
E: That’s a good word. It’s miraculous.
Being Authentic Requires Seeing Who We Are
L: You said you were looking for who are also resonating with ideas of authenticity and accountability. How do they eventually find you. And what kind of clients nowadays who are actually really resonating with authenticity and accountability.
E: Well, there is a new client, we began working last month-January this year. The idea resonated with the person who is the CEO of this organization. It is a multilateral development organization that focuses primarily in the Latin American and Caribbean region. And they invite me to help them. What we are doing with them is starting by gathering data to understand their challenges and what is emerging is those two elements. We’re helping hopefully everybody but at least the people in the management team, so they can disseminated it down: who they really are? what are their strengths? Sometimes an organization focuses so much on what’s wrong, what’s the problem, and they completely ignore their strengths. So we start with helping them appreciate that. And at the same time, their culture made them have a tough time recognizing their accomplishments, so it is very much focus on fixing mistakes, you know, “Let’s avoid the mistake.” “Zero tolerance for mistake” is one of their expressions. In theory, probably it is good; but in reality, it creates a climate of aversion to any kind of risk, and aversion to innovation. So we are trying to help them focus on the mission, and make that accountability measurement, so how can we achieve that better. Accountability for a lot of people means “Let me find out what’s wrong with you and I am going to make you accountable.” But you know it is what I said before, to me the emphasis is more, as Drucker put it, on “How can I make myself accountable”, so “How can we invite them to do that”, which also includes recognizing other organizations doing something good. And we are just starting to do that, and we are starting with them with the leadership team doing the unique cultural lens described in the book as their first step of this deep dive into really understanding who they are, you know, what are those areas of themselves, those bias. We all have bias, or several biases. It is an illusion to think we can be free of bias. The goal is to be aware of what biases we have. Then, a lot of work can happen. Some biases are really positive; let’s celebrate and leverage them. Some other biases can be harmful, you know. Some biases can lead to discriminatory behavior, and even prejudices. We need to first become aware of them and then do something about them.
The Ten Layers: Exploring Your Unique Cultural Lens
L: Fantastic. Can you tell us more about what’s in the book if people were to explore the book with your guidance? What would you tell them? What would be in particular intriguing for people to look into? Or is there any area that could be challenging to people in thinking?
E: Thank you. That’s a great question. In very short I am talking in a couple of pages about the context, what is behind these ideas. I think for millennia human beings have realized that being able to interact with other cultures brings benefit. It was beneficial because people were trading with different cultures. Cultural competence has been called many different things, intercultural capacity, or even diplomacy; it has always been about interacting effectively with other cultures. This idea began to be taught, more broadly, probably 60-70 years ago. Suppose that you were going to start doing business in, let’s say, Japan; so, someone will come to teach you: “The Japanese do this, they like that, etc. For example, if you give your business card, be careful to be very respectful.” It became clear when this began to be studied seriously, those tricks not only don’t help but they can do harm, because it creates a false sense of effective understanding of the other culture. What really works is understanding that I come with my own biases…. that I have my own culture. We are probably not aware of it. It’s a bit like asking fish to describe water. And the fish says: “What water?” They are blind to it because they are swimming in the water. Our own culture sometimes is hard for us to describe. Many times when we travel, we start appreciating more and more our own culture because we have this difference. So that has been well-known. Other researchers have come up with that. What I am adding to the field is a very structured methodology and specific exercise to explore those biases. That’s why I call it “Your Unique Cultural Lens.” So after presenting the context of this book, I presented the why we need to be culturally competent. I took a few pages of doing that, and them I described the actual exercise. What I add and define, again combining work from other researchers, is 10 layers… that at least it seems to me every person, no matter what culture they come from, they have those layers. One layer, for example, is my ancestral layer or filter – where do I come from. That has influenced not only how I look, think, and so many things. And for a lot of people, you ask them and their first answer is… they name their Nationality… that’s what they are. Dig deeply, you know, into your parents and grandparents from which part they came, etc. And a richer picture emerges. So that’s one; a second layer is, how we speak, the language we speak, and the accent we have. Why does that happen? In my own case, for anybody, when I speak English, they know my first language is Spanish, because I have that accent. If I speak Spanish, people know, whenever I am speaking Spanish, that I am from Mexico, because they identify my Mexican nuance. If I am in Mexico, people know that I come from Mexico City, because I have the way of speaking of Mexico City. If I spent a week or more in Mexico City, my accent from where I used to live there when I grew up becomes more clearly, my way of speaking, and people can start to tell which neighborhood I came from: “Ah you come from… I come from… I grew up in that neighborhood in Mexico City.” Religion is another huge factor. It influences the way people see the world, to other world… sexual orientation, economic level, different hierarchical position we have in our lives, etc. So it’s an exercise to help us reflect deeply. And the emphasis here is do it alone. There are questions in the book. There are examples of different people who have taken it. For each layer, there are different examples of people telling their own UCL story about that layer. So do look straight to what I mean here. The emphasis in the book is please do it for yourself only… so you don’t need to worry about: “oh my god someone else is going to read this.” Just do it for yourself. Toward the end, some of the last steps of the exercise are how can you distill. How will you distill it all into something that you would be comfortable showing to someone you trust. Not to the world. It is not something to post on your blog, but to show to someone you trust. How would you distill what is the essence of your unique cultural lens… your main strengths, and your own flat sides… the areas you wish to explore for growth. That’s basically the book. It’s a tool, but it is a powerful tool. To date, between the students I teach who have done the exercise and clients… there are a few hundreds people who have done the exercise to date. I keep getting really remarkable feedback on how valuable it has been to them. There was one person who came, when hearing about the book, said to me: “I want to do the exercise again. Do you think it makes sense?” I said: “Absolutely! Do it again!” That was four years from when she did it for the first time. And she sent me the most beautiful reaction. I ask for permission to publish it, so in the book there is also an account of her experience doing it for the second time, which is very, very touching. She found a lot of value.
An Antidote for the Ideologically-divided World: Understanding Our Own Culture Lens
L: Fantastic. So putting the book in the context of the world, how does this book answer the challenges the world is facing right now?
E: I’m so glad you asked that question, because, to be very candid, my intention originally was not that this book would address the problem of the world. It was more about personal growth, organizational development, leadership development. I realize it is in the time we are living that the world seems to be getting more ideologically divided. I think this book provides an antidote for that. This book is very much about understanding deeply who I am. And what I have experienced personally, what I have heard from other people that helps me understand who we are and what they are trying to say about that. We are still understanding our own human nature and becoming very aware of the person in front of me. It doesn’t need to be 13 hours apart on the other side of the world as you are for me. It could be a next-door neighbor, but that next-door neighbor is going to have a different unique cultural lens. That’s why the word “unique” came into the title. Each one is unique… unique as a fingerprint is also unique. When I am aware of that, I become more conscious that the person in front of me is different from me; is not better or worse than I am, just different. With humility and curiosity, how can I start getting to know that person at a much more authentic level? We do that consistently and I think we’ll reveal a little bit more humanity; it is like contributing a grain of sand through interaction, away from dividing and more into uniting all of us. Uniting… it is interesting… uniting through deeper awareness of our differences, so we can celebrate our differences rather than make them feel evil or scary or dangerous or whatever. So I hope it helps in that sense.
Supporting Individuals to Grow and Supporting Groups to Harvest Diversity Bonus
L: Such beautiful words. What would you imagine to be the impact of this book? Now that it has gone out.
E: Because there is enough feedback already, it is certain that the book has impact at the personal level for anybody, anybody who just skim the book might feel it is interesting. But the impact would be bigger if a person takes the time to actually do the exercise, and that’s why I mentioned it describes each layer and it includes specific questions. At the personal level, the impact will be personal growth. It is very encouraging to me the people who have come back to me and said: “My god. It’s really worth.” From “very helpful” to “transformational”. At the organizational level, I think we’ll begin to do that when teams start getting to know each other better, or when teams start being open to cultural difference, then we can transform diversity. Diversity means people from different culture get together or are thrown to work together, irrespective of the value of doing so. That’s where the world “inclusion” comes into the picture. And that’s why now in the field of diversity, the common language is that we need diversity, equity and inclusion. How can we extract the so called “diversity bonus”? It is well researched and put together in a wonderful book called the Diversity Bonus, with solid research that shows that working across culture, or working in diversity, is harder (there’s no question about that) than when people are culturally–homogenous. They also found that when the tasks are very simple, for example digging a hole, if there is a second person from a different or same culture digging, it is just two people digging … two people with equal capacity are going to dig twice as faster as one. There is no bonus. But, when the task is complex (in our world most of the tasks that people do are becoming complex), the benefit that comes from a different point of view, from a different cultural lens, can be huge. So one person plus another person… when there is diversity, then they create something that is more than one plus one. One plus one can be three if those people collaborate… genuinely collaborate. So the impact at the group level is being mindful of “I have my unique cultural lens, and she has her unique cultural lens” and “how can we make it work and extract extra value?” Then that produces this diversity bonus. The next level of system, which you were asking before, is at world level, where it remains a one person at a time, one exchange at a time, and it would really be a function of how well these ideas are disseminated around the world. On a positive step in that direction, which is encouraging, I can report that when I got my first report on January book sales I saw that the book is selling well. I am very excited about that. And we will see if it is just a little nice splash after launching or if it is a trend that continues. We will see.
Creating A Safe Space for People to Disclose Their Own Culture
L: How do we, as OD practitioners and facilitators, help this culturally diverse group to start leveraging their strength toward a positive direction?
E: Sure. That’s an outstanding question and the one we face constantly. What I have found is the importance for people to reach awareness of who they really are, whether we call it “unique cultural lens” or “self-awareness” or whatever. As I said, what the book has is a tool that is easy to apply and it works to help you increase your self-awareness. Once that is there, what I recommend colleagues do is to create opportunities to have conversation that are safe, that are honest. And a lot of our effort is to create spaces where people with very different points of views can feel safe to say their truth, and provide questions that lead people to self-disclosure, which tend to be more powerful than questions that will lead people to start attacking the other group. I have been with many groups of people that after finishing our work tell me: “I don’t believe what happened! I’ve been working with this bunch of people for the last five years or three years or whatever, and in two hours I got to know them a heck of a lot better than I did before.” Two of the questions that I tend to start our sessions (after I have mentioned to participants: “I would like all of us to first think on the next two question and then I will give an opportunity to every person to answer those questions”) are: 1) What is the best that could happen by the end of the session? 2) What are the cultures you will claim you belong to? In other words, I don’t need you to prove it with a passport, just the cultures you “claim” to belong to. And I try to illustrate with myself: “I was born in Mexico, so I am a Mexican. I claim Mexican culture. I have been living half of my life in U.S., so I claim American culture. And if I start digging into my past, two of my grandparents came from the Basque country, the Basque country between Spain and France in the Pyrenees, so I claim Basque, although I don’t speak Basque. And my grandmother migrated from France to Mexico with her family. She imbued into me the French culture, and a bit of the language, although my French is terrible. So don’t test it, please. Also my wife of 32 years. She has a totally Irish background, so I am claiming Irish background as well.” And I invite people to start exploring at that level of detail and depth, and people sort of start doing the same thing. It can be a minute or so per person, so it is not that time-consuming, but it opens a lot of spaces for developing self-awareness. And it opens up to other people saying: “Wow! that person over there who I hate or at least don’t trust; now I see some points of connection. At least now I understand where that person comes from.” When I model how to answer that question, I stick just to nationalities. And, people immediately start entering into religion, economic status (e.g., I grew up rich, I grew up poor, etc.). People immediately start adding all the layers of their culture. It is a powerful exercise. That may be a little suggestion to anybody who wants to use it.
Understanding Our Own Cultural Lens Before Helping Clients
L: So I have gone to my last question, Enrique. With the wisdom of this book, what advices would you give to OD practitioners or facilitators?
E: Well, I start by advising any colleague considering using it, to do the exercise first. I think it will be a bit unfair, to be honest, to ask any client to do this exercise if you have not done. So step one: do the exercise. You will realize that it will not only help you to be a better consultant, but a more self-aware human being. In addition, I encourage everybody in our profession is to be really able to zoom in and zoom out constantly, perceiving at different systemic levels. It is so easy to get caught up when we are working with a particular group, client or individual. The same when coaching. When we are more effective, we can zoom out and say: What’s happening here at the cultural context level? What is happing at the organizational culture in this individual? What’s happening here in terms of the larger goal, the overarching objective, of which the engagement may be just a partial element.” It can be something that can help us to be more effective to our clients. For anybody who is a leader listening to this, it’s also valuable at becoming more effective at leading teams. Both (consulting and leading) are very similar job; I become increasingly convinced: The job of consultants is the job of the leader. This type of consultant, we call it process consultant; not the consultant sharing expertise on one technical area. Process consulting, as we know is about leading change. Just leaders do it internally with their staff, and we do it externally with our clients. I hope that helps.
L: Yes. Really truly helpful. I’ve already learned a lot from your talk. And I am so happy that we get to connect again. And I really look forward to get the book on my desk.
Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence