Does leadership have a nationality?

This is a speech delivered by Barry Li on the 20th of June 2018 at the China and Australia Culture Exchange Centre opening lunch.

Hello everyone. I’m invited by my colleague/friend Selena today to this lunch event, to talk about leadership and nationality. Today is also the opening day for Selena’s China and Australia Culture Exchange Centre. She also invited me to serve as the president of the club. I’m a very busy person, so I initially said no to both the president tile and the speech, but then she mentioned that she would buy me this lunch. I certainly wouldn’t say no to a free meal. So I’m here. And then she asked me for ideas for promotion of this event. To repay this free lunch, I offered to donate ten copies of my book to the China and Australia Culture Exchange Centre. That is about $300 market price. So overall I made a significant loss. That further proves the old saying – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Therefore, I highly encourage everyone to pay for their lunch today; even Selena offers otherwise.

Jokes aside, food is getting cold so let’s go straight into the topic. Does leadership have a nationality? My answer is simple. YES. That concludes my speech, thank you, everyone. Now let’s dig in.

OK, that’s another joke. I’m going to talk about the difference in leadership by nationality. I don’t think I have the qualification to speak about leadership and nationalities all around the world, but I’m happy to present my view on the difference between Australian leadership and Chinese leadership. I’m going to talk based on both my book and some of my observations that I decided not to include in my book. Because I don’t want my book to become a banned book in China. I still need to go back there from time to time for the real Chinese food.

The way I see the difference between Australian leadership and Chinese leadership is the number of choices the leader offers. Let me give you one example. This is the menu of this restaurant. There are quite a lot of options for $15 dish including drink. Good value for money. But more important than the good value for money is the diversity of dishes you can choose. You can select the butter chicken, which is relatively small portion by the way. You may not be happy with your choice when you see the actual dish, but you won’t blame anyone, because you chose it yourself. You were given the options to choose whatever you like. This has been the case in Australia for probably most of the past 100 years. But during some part of that same period in China, the only choice most people had, was either to take whatever food there is or not eat.

Now let’s move on to leadership in business because I never talk about politics. Some old-style Chinese business leaders they are used to offer one item on the menu for their followers – “Do this”. “Get this done asap”. This is the way they got used to, and they expect the young generation to follow. This is like offering only one dish on this menu and ask everyone to choose the same dish. This is unfortunately not going to work well in the 21st century, even in China.

So would an excellent Australian leader do today? Like my boss, they would go: “Barry we need to solve this problem. We used to do this, but can you think of some better options?” I was suddenly empowered with the ability to explore options! Then, of course, I would actively search and find a better way to do the same task. But the trick is, in most cases, there is still just this one only way the problem can be solved. But I was not directed to do it; instead, I explored options then “decide” to do it. In order words, I spend more time doing the same thing. Then I go to my boss and say “I think we should do this”. Then my boss can say: “Cool. Let’s do this then. I know you are busy, but the deadline is next Monday. Don’t stay late, feel free to do it anytime that suits you”. This is called flexible hours. I was given the option to work whenever suits me. Great isn’t it? The trick is, I’m not working any less, but I’m happy with the flexibility because I was given a choice to do it when the kids are asleep, or on the weekend. If I work in a petrol shop, I will get penalty rates. I’m not, but I’m still happy because I have the menu. Working on the weekend is MY choice.

Now I think you can all see the difference between the two types of leadership styles I mentioned. I’m not going to say which one is better. In many cases, not having too many choices is a good thing. When I go into a busy Westfield car park, I prefer to have this only perfect spot available just for me. When there are too many parking spots, I end up with thinking that I didn’t park at the best one. Stupid isn’t it? That was a reason that my 20s were a big failure. I spent too much time explore the options and end up not focusing enough. And that is why today, after five years, I’m still doing Audit.

In conclusion, one of the big difference between Australian and Chinese leadership style is the options the leader give to people. We all like the power to choose. But I can’t say a choice is better than no choice. Since we have all chose our dish today, let’s dish in with no complaint. And remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.