Recently, during one of the seminars I give in the United States about Latin culture, someone asked me what I saw as the single most important characteristic that would make Latin managers more effective than others. The answer was easy for me: “They know what enjoying life is all about,” I said to the inquirer. And as I was answering this question, I remembered that about a year ago someone had asked what I thought was the weakest characteristic of Latin managers, and in similar words I said it was the fact that they enjoyed life too much.
Take it Easy
While, it might sound like a contradiciton. I believe that this Latin characteristic can produce both positive and negative consequences. If one enjoys life by working less or making less of an effort, one hardly becomes a valuable person to the company. Studies of successful people show that the one single characteristic they all share is the fact that they work both efficiently (time managers) and hard (long hours).
On the other hand, in recent times we have become aware of the enormous health risks that stress produces. Other studies show that overly stressed people, on the whole, become less productive. And stress is caused by too many obligations as well as by our attitudes toward work and life.
In many cultures, productivity and efficiency are associated with seriousness. This is very true, for example, of the Japanese work environment. It is also true, but to a lesser degree, of the United States, Canada and various European countries. In fact, a few scholars have said, half jokingly, that the key difference between the developing and developed countries is their attitudes about taking rules and commitments seriously.
And we know that lack of respect for rules creates system-wide inefficiency. Those of us who live in Mexico City can see how much more traffic is caused by the fact that few drivers respect traffic rules, which results in a generally slower pace for everyone.
Likewise, respect toward rules and procedures in the office will usually yield a more efficient operation. And sometimes life is more enjoyable when we don’t have to obey every rule imposed on us throughout life.
Home of the Free
A Mexican anthropologist told me about a study that was done among Mexicans residing in the United States, which included a question asking what they missed the most about Mexico. Not surprisingly, they mentioned family and friends first, and in second place, freedom. Yes, freedom, believe it or not. But of course they were not talking about political freedom.
They simply said that in the United States there are too many rules that prohibit people from doing too many things. Most of them are rules about what you can’t do, such as smoking, speeding, parking, making noises after certain hours, etc. Obeying rules is not easy, but is, of course, necessary.
However, it is possible for managers to obey rules, respect commitments and enjoy life at the same time. In the office you might see this in people who use a lot of humor, or laugh a lot, or will take some time to enjoy life with their colleagues and friends. Reduced stress is one of the many benefits that come from this style of work. And that is why I say that people should not confuse the ability to enjoy life with the ability to work well. In this sense, sometimes Latin workers and managers are judged unfairly as “less productive” simply because they seem to enjoy life, even while working!