Inclusive Leadership: Combining Eastern and Western Cultures

Inclusive Leadership: Combining Eastern & Western Cultures

As a Chinese man born in Malaysia, a multi-racial and multi-religious country, I was taught at a very young age to respect others from different backgrounds, who look different from me or who may have different beliefs. This ideology served me well in my career in manufacturing.

The migration of United States manufacturing companies into Asia began in the 1970s with big companies like HP, Intel, Motorola, and more, setting up sites throughout China and Southeast Asia. At the same time, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore began expanding their industrial footprint into the same areas. It’s at this point that many diverse groups started coming together within factory walls. 

Overtime, I think the end result of this combination of cultures was a more inclusive and understanding environment at companies because everyone now had peers who were different from them.

Throughout my career, working for US-based companies in Malaysia, China, Singapore, I saw how the aspects of Western Culture’s emphasis on mutual respect, empowerment and having an "open door" policy had combined with Eastern Culture’s focus on hardwork, respect and loyalty. This, to me, is an inclusive workplace.

However, it's a delicate balance because if this goes unchecked or not properly exemplified by leaders, the cultures could absorb a misinterpreted version of the other’s values. For example, I’ve seen how the respect and hardworking culture was taken for a “yes culture” where employees were assumed to do what they were told. Without strong leadership, this will damage the workplace culture and not give employees the space to be their true, innovative, risk-taking selves, which are strong characteristics in the next generation leaders.  

How can leaders be positive role models for this? From my experience, I learned the key elements are being humble, being active listeners, and having a compassionate leadership style.

Once during my career, a Jabil leader told me “little authority comes with greater responsibility” to guide me as a leader within the company. It’s this sense of responsibility for our teams, customers and communities that will make someone a great leader. It’s not about having authority or a craving for power. 

I’ve seen managers lose their way when growing in their career. The higher they went in their career, the more superior they felt and the less time and energy they spent on empowering their people. This silences the voices of those on their teams and can lead to good talent to leave. This is what stops a “manager” from becoming a “leader.” That’s where the strengths of an inclusive leader shine the most: empowering others and serving the best interests of their teams.

I was lucky to be brought up in a culture and family that was surrounded by diverse people, and this has helped me in my career as a Chinese man working for a US-based company, often traveling to different sites in one month. I believe that we should each bring our unique values and life experiences to create an inclusive work culture together.

Choon Yien Low
Article Contributed By:
Choon Yien Low
Vice President, Operations