Western expatriates often interpret the passivity as a sign of poor leadership potential, but Huang said a deeper look at Chinese culture provides better understanding.
He said China is a collectivist, hierarchical society that values obedience. Good children, good students and good workers are obedient. “It’s a totally different model,” Huang said. “But some people go in there and see the obedience, and they say, ‘Those guys have no leadership potential.’”
Western companies that work to understand cultural differences in China can find ample leadership ability among local managers. Huang suggests a variation of the American phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
“Even if you live in Rome for 20 years, you will not be a Roman,” he said. “But you can learn from the Romans to become a better American or a better Chinese.”