The Leadership Moment

Lessons from Shanghai

A recent trip to do some work for a client in Shanghai allowed me to tag on a weekend of sightseeing and meetings with friends and associates. The sightseeing itself was quite marvellous. Though no stranger to Shanghai, just seeing the newly renovated Bund re-opend after a couple of years of construction – was a treat. Shanghai is all about energy, money, rough and tumble of trade, past and future glories. The incredible wealth of the 1920s, as manifested in the stone period buildings, and the new dramatic architecture will make Shanghai a phenomenal host to the 2010 World Expo kicking off in May. And it’s one of those places, where people think it perfectly natural and acceptable to grab you by the shoulder and shove you aside (without so much of an ‘excuse me’) if they want to walk in front of you! My clients and associates shared some further interesting points about success in Shanghai, so here some of theirs and mine:

1) When negotiating in business, don’t put too much emphasis on racial and cultural differences. The realities are far more complex and contextual for, say an American schooled in a one-day cross-cultural seminar to grasp quickly. The chief influencer of a decision, for example, may be a foreigh-educated Chinese business graduate. And you and he/she may share more similarities than you realise, so negotiate as though this person may be fairly attuned to your proposals. The chief decision maker is a former SME leader in his 60s. Again, context is everything – so adjust your style appropriately.  The senior person will not be so transparent, or open as the influencer. Where possible, ask  if unsure .Asking shows humility  (a universally venerated virtue in Chinese societies)

2) China isn’t one market. It comprises of 33 provinces, each with their own level of market-economy, political maturity and openess. To further add to the mix, there are often 1st and 2 tier cities , referring to the size, economic freedoms and political clout. 1st tier are Beijing , Shanghai and Guangzhou for example, while leading the pack of the 2nd tier cities are Shenzhen (nearrest to HongKong) and Nanjing for example. Seek to prepare your business entry and negotiating skills appropriately. Bluntly put, there are many Chineses business people out there who are not used to foreign practices and approaches. What is unethical to you  may be seen by some as perferct business sense. Your forthrightness you consider as ‘assertiveness’ could be tolerated less well outside the more sophisticated cities and might classfiy you as arrogant.

3) Get with the programme – just get used to the fact that Mr Shover and Ms Pusher are just busy, stressed chinese people wanting to get ahead. The sooner you learn to accept that  Shanghai (and China for that matter) and its people will adapt to more common norms over time, and that the Chinese can be VERY patient – the more you’ll be a happy trooper when in China.

4) Don’t miss an opportunity to eat like a Chinese – get out to the local eateries and tuck into everything good there, from soup-filled dumplings to deep fried smelly tofu.  Chinese communities worldwide have experienced famine and hardship – so celebrations and life often revolves around food. After all, a common greeting is not ” Good Morning” but ” have you eaten?”  The more the Shanghainese feel you are making an effort to be like them and to like their ways, the better off you’ll be – Tuck in, and have a great time.

Have a great month ahead!