Incredible, Effective But Inefficient Leadership

My parents recently spent some time with me, about 6 months to be precise. It was great. They enjoyed spending time with their grandkids, and we both enjoyed seeing each other frequently at length for the first time in 17 years. Besides the expected frictions of such an extended stay, one thing kept bothering me with my verbal interactions with my parents.

They are both decidedly middle class from a third world country. What that means is that they run their jobs/businesses, and households as CEOs run an organization. However, to be successful at such a job in that region, they have to think for and as the CEO, CIO, COO, VP, Director, Manager, Secretary, Clerk, and Janitor of the organization. Delegation is more like thinking about a task for a subordinate, breaking down the work items and mentally walking through the process, then vocalizing that process to the subordinate; as prescriptive as possible. Incredible I know, effective, yes, but efficient, hell to the no.

So for 17 years, I’ve been conditioned to think for myself, communicate intent articulately and it’s worked out pretty good for me in a developed country, especially as a professional. My communication with my parents bothered me so, because I’ve spent an incredible amount of time perfecting this form of communication. [A little background] I came to the US at a time when I could have morphed my accent, but I didn’t. I realized having an accent is not nearly as important as having a mentality. Hence with my marginal accent, I was able to communicate effectively once I understood mentality. There are levels of discussion on which I could talk to an indigenous that others with flawless accents couldn’t attain. My investment paid of, but not without consequence. I’m now a man without country; fully developed in some areas, fully third world in others.

Yet, discussions with my parents proved frustrating on my part. They noticed. On the last day, as I was driving them to the airport, my dad, in response to my usually frowns and frumpled responses to his bothersome statements, said, ‘no need to get agitated…’ It was clear, almost every question or statement got this response from me; but why? The more I thought about it, the more it became clear. My parents are used to thinking for others (being prescriptive to get the desired result). When we discussed, they were used to discussing with people with whom conversations were not really two equals, at least mentally. I’ve argued this with countless people back home when I visit, but I realized that while I thought I was right, they have to live with subordinates and the consequences of their interactions. To effectively work, run a business or a household, they have to think for everyone and be prescriptive to the umpteenth degree on every detail.

I on the other hand argued for education. ‘Teach them how to fish, …’ I would argue. ‘We have to eat until they learn to fish,’ the counter argument would be, ‘what if they never learn? We would starve’.

It became clear, while I perfected my first world communication for 17 years, my parents and many like them have essentially mutated their communication to manage those around them intricately. For example, I would make ask what they wanted to eat and provide a range of options, and they wouldn’t respond with the food they wanted, but the actual restaurant, it’s distance from our location, how we would get there, method of payment, and hours of operation. But now that I think about it, if they sent a maid or clerk (for example) on an errand to buy or prepare some food back home and ┬ádon’t provide every detail, they would not get their food if the least consequential of those points was not clearly stated. Now, imagine that type of demand for a myriad of subordinates at home and at work? It conditions a person to constantly think on behalf of others. While it’s an incredible herculean task to be admired, it’s ultimately inefficient.

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