I am always upset when people automatically assume that I go on holiday when I say that I head to Brazil, and that they add with the usual idiotic blink of the eye: “Beach, samba and palm trees”. In my modest experience, Brazilians work harder and longer hours than any European or American but the efficiency of the system is far worse.
During a gathering of 70 Brazilian C.E.O.s at the Fundação Dom Cabral, two bright researchers, Carmen Migueles and Marco Tulio Zanini, got everybody’s attention when they presented their recent book and critical conclusion: What costs most to the Brazilian economy is a leadership cultural trait already evoked by Gert Hofstede (the “guru” of cross-cultural management): Distance to Power.
Distance to Power and its acolytes (fear to admit temporary incompetence, fear of failure, defensiveness, assumptions building, negative fantasies, attribution of bad intentions, etc.) dramatically destroy value in three ways:
Personality cult: implies that seniority is superiority; Seniors with narcissistic tendencies will prevent young talents to “run faster than them” and create a culture of passivity and obedience. It is true at the scale of a country, it is valid for an organization too.
Perception of unfairness & absence of meritocracy: Distance to Power means absence of openness, lack of feedback or transparency. Perceptions of unfairness will not be checked and people will prefer to be victims whose only revenge will flourish into negative, cynical and disabused gossips.
Issues not addressed: the last consequence of this all, will be a profound disinterest from the workers in solving issues, thinking proactively and owning the solutions. They will behave like the worse of public servants (as the stereotype often unfairly depicts)… And once again this is a warning to our own businesses.
Carmen and Marco Tulio conclude that Distance to Power will consequently give birth to the worse form of “organizational cancer”: Lack of Trust! This, in turn provokes:
Reinforced need for control & monitoring: which we all know is hugely expensive, demotivating and slows our whole processes down
Difficulty to act with autonomy: as employees, mistrusting authority will mainly seek to cover the backside and second guess what the bosses want to hear
Predominance of the short term: since people do not identify with the firm nor its values, they mainly work to ensure tomorrow is covered while their energy is longing for finding a better workplace, elsewhere
No spontaneous collaboration: the lack of trust pushes everyone back into their silo and provoked the “conditionality reflex” in everyone
This all badly affects the bottom line, of course, through high transactions costs…
I found remarkable the conclusions of Carmen and Marco Tulio as well as their suggestion that, what costs enormously to the Brazilian economy (and certainly not just the Brazilian economy!) is also potentially at play in our own organizations. I draw a parallel with Lencioni’s “five dysfunctions in a team” whose key message is that the visible part of the organizational iceberg may be the financial results (which he calls “Attention to Results”) but that it is totally dependent from the level of Trust created by us, leaders.
On my way for a two weeks long marathon between Paris-Lyon-Johanesburg-Paris again. Will do my best to publish next week’s post but will be in very taking week-end workshop in South Africa. Have a great week all,
 C. Migueles & M. T. Zanini “Liderança baseada em valores” 2010 Elsevier
 See post of 17th January 2010