As an American living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a few years, one of the things I constantly came across was the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity in the region. I was able to hear the call to prayer (adthan) five times a day while shopping in a mall that had an indoor skiing resort (in the desert); or visit the tallest building in the world, while looking out onto a view of a man-made palm-shaped island and yet never lock my doors or worried about leaving my purse in the shopping cart while walking to another grocery aisle. I encountered many conflicting occurrences while living in the UAE which made for a very educational experience; and it left me wondering how the concept of cultural synergy relates to a country where 81% of the population are foreign workers.
According to Moran, Abramson, & Moran (2014), synergy is “the belief that we can learn from others and others can learn from us and cultural synergy, specifically, builds on common ground, transcending mere awareness of difference, to form multifaced strategic alliances and partnerships” region (p. 266). This concept of working together is based in the following principles (Moran, Abramson & Moran, 2014, p. 266):
- Represents a dynamic process
- Involves adapting and learning
- Involves joint action in which the total effect is greater than the sum of effects when acting independently
- Creates an integrated solution
- Does not compromise, yet in true synergy nothing is given up or lost
- Develops the potential of members by facilitating the release of team energies
Through the research of Geert Hofstede, we understand that every country operates from their unique combination of six distinct cultural dimensions, that may or may not be aligned at certain points with other countries. The cultural dimension known a Power Distance, “indicates the extent to which a society accepts that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally” (Moran, Abramson & Moran, 2014, p. 19). This last principle of synergy, “develop the potential of members by facilitating the release of team energies”, struck me as problematic when leaders of low power distance (believe that power should be distributed equally) are faced with the need to work in partnerships with those who operate from high power distance (believe that power is not distributed equally). How does a leader in this situation create “the potential of members to develop and release team energy” if said members have not been socialized to believe that they have the power or autonomy to create this sort of reality for themselves?
If global leaders want to achieve these principles, then it becomes vital to understand the history and complexities of the particular region.
Edward Said (1979) in his groundbreaking, comprehensive critique on the historical background and subsequent relationship of the West (Occident) and the Middle East (“Orient”), explains that “the Orient is not an inert fact of nature, it is not merely there, just as the Occident itself is not just there either- they are man-made geographical entities that support and, to an extent, reflect each other” (pp 4-5). Said is speaking of the social construct that describes the geopolitical “othering” of specific groups of people (those who live in the Orient) in their relation to those who are the normative standard (those that live in the Occident) he calls this Orientalism. I highly recommend Orientalism as an important read to anyone working in a global leadership context, especially one that involves a relationship between Western and Middle Eastern partnerships.
According to Pennsylvania State University (2019), after World War I, the region was broken into countries based on geography rather than tribal boundaries, which has led to many internal conflicts within countries in the region because governments have to appease many diverse groups with various ideas of how to live life (p. 3, para 2). For the purposes of this blog post the geopolitical process of map making in the Middle East, though the Sykes-Picot agreement, is too broad of a topic to cover properly but is crucial in understanding more about how the boundary lines were drawn and subsequent conflicts were born. Please see Washington Post references for links to more information.
Synergy is a cooperative or combined action and occurs when diverse or disparate individuals or groups collaborate for a common cause; the objective is to increase effectiveness by sharing perceptions and experiences, insights and knowledge (Moran, Abramson & Moran, 2014, p. 266). Hostede’s study on cultural dimensions and a historical awareness of the region in relation to the West, gives leaders working in the Middle East insight into best practices for effective leadership that operate from a global mindset.
Danforth, N. (2016, May). How the middle east was invented. Washington Post. Retreived from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/05/19/the-modern-middle-east-is-actually-only-100-years-old/?utm_term=.7632ec18db52
Fanack. (2019). United Arab Emirates: Population of UAE. Retrieved from https://fanack.com/united-arab-emirates/population/
Moran, R.T., Abramson, N. R., & Moran, S. V. (2014). Managing cultural differences. New York, NY: Routledge.
Pennsylvania State University (2019). Leadership in a global context–OLEAD 410. Lesson 07: The Middle East: Focus on Saudi Arabia, Penn State World Campus, The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1964331/modules/items/25821705
Said, E. W. (1979). Orientalism. NY: Random House
Tharoor, I. (2017, May). The secret that became a scapegoat for all middle east problems. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/05/17/the-secret-pact-that-became-a-scapegoat-for-all-of-the-middle-easts-problems/?utm_term=.d22832e0f452