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A Reflection on Leadership in Diverse Cultures

by Manu Keung, Assistant Executive Director in Human Resources, Hamad Medical Corporation

Assalamu Alaikum لسلام عليكم

Some might view me as a Leadership NZ groupie - a participant in 2008,  then Programme Leader for 2012 & 2013. It was obvious I couldn’t get enough of the Leadership NZ fix.

Each year was unique and special given the amazing new individuals and I found this hugely rewarding and refreshing. Likewise, the opportunity to be Inspired and re-inspired by the speakers, location and themes was amazing. I felt grateful to be part of the experience again and again and again.

 Manu and a work colleague

Manu and a work colleague

Admittedly it was the perfect space for me to 'wait' while I completed post graduate studies which then propelled me towards the Middle East, here in Doha, Qatar.

I now work as an Assistant Executive Director in HR, Hamad Medical Corporation. My organisation is a public hospital healthcare corporation, spanning across 10 hospitals across Qatar, comprising of 30,000 staff, which includes 103 nationalities. My remit covers over 3,000 staff working with 5 Corporate Chiefs. The mix of diverse cultures and varying levels of staff certainly tests your ability to apply common basic principles of respect, communication, patience, and mutual understanding.

 In spite of English as the official working language, there is often lots of ‘lost in translation’ moments. For example:

 Kiwis in the health sector celebrating Iftar during Ramandan

Kiwis in the health sector celebrating Iftar during Ramandan

  • Yelling might appear to be confrontational in some countries, yet to others, this is normal practice and completely appropriate behaviour.
  • Business like gestures such extending handshakes from females to male is not advisable as it may be haram (inappropriate in some cases). I’ve learnt to hold back on this gesture until being offered a handshake from my new male acquaintance.
  • Having people answer and talk on their phones during senior executive meetings initially left me stunned. Similarly, people popping in/out to have mid-day prayers soon becomes part of the norm.
  • Being aware of modest work attire also took some adjustment.
  • Ramadan the holy month requires indirect fasting in the office, as it is illegal to publicly eat or drink.
  • Creating a team or organisational culture given the diversity is also not as straightforward as one would find in a western context.

For sanity and balance in my workplace, I strive to focus on what I can do to maintain a positive outlook. Regardless of the situation, I recognise I can control how I engage with others, and how I react in any given situation. I recall a quote from Louise in terms of ‘what joy can I bring to this process’, and to equally be aware of ‘projection' issues I might have with some individuals. It makes me query my reaction and then determine what I need to do to be more embracing and less defensive.

 Induction for 108 Nurses from the Philippines

Induction for 108 Nurses from the Philippines

Having a can-do Kiwi attitude and sense of humour is definitely a novelty in this part of the world. There are a number of Kiwis around Doha so it’s always great to have the support from home, but am also mindful of me wanting to connect and explore with different people from around the world.

Am loving my adventure in the desert and my sandcastle is always open to any intrepid travellers and explorers.

Shukran (Thank you)

Manu