“Order from the Boss”: Language Barriers and Leadership Challenges

As another year comes to a close, I wish to share some insights from my experience working with foreign companies. In the vibrant tapestry of Mexico’s workforce, the influx of foreign businesses has brought a diversity of processes that we, as Mexicans, can learn from, implement, and enhance. However, it has also presented unique challenges. From my perspective, one of the significant hurdles for foreign directors or managers in Mexican territories is their interaction with the staff. Despite holding leadership positions, they often face significant limitations in their mastery of the Spanish language and understanding of daily operations.

Common Approach and Its Shortcomings

The typical approach is to seek someone native to our country, familiar with the language and our work culture, to bridge the gap. Finding this “gem” can help lubricate potential friction caused by our ignorance in the workplace. Unfortunately, these sought-after positions are often filled quickly, and the individuals occupying them are frequently ignorant of the tasks they are assigned, possessing only a rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish language and little interest in improvement.

Language Barriers and Their Impact

Spanish, being a fundamental element of Mexican culture, becomes a significant obstacle when foreign leaders have limited language skills. Smooth communication is essential for any team’s effective functioning, and language barriers can affect the clarity of instructions, feedback, and ultimately, task execution. When a leader doesn’t fully grasp Spanish, important nuances can be lost, leading to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and, ultimately, inadequate task execution.

Disconnection with Daily Operations

A crucial aspect to consider is the limited understanding of daily operations, adding another layer of complexity. A manager with only basic notions of their area’s activities may lack the necessary perspective to make informed and strategic decisions. This can result in a gap between upper management’s vision and the reality of implementation on the ground.

The Emergence of the “Order from the Boss”

In Mexican culture, when we don’t understand an instruction, we seek more information. We realize how little our superior knows about the topic they are trying to explain, and we ask for clear guidance. However, many foreign bosses, feeling “cornered” and unable to respond to topics beyond their understanding, resort to closing instructions with the phrase “Order from the Boss/President/Director.” This is a strategy to avoid confrontations or detailed questions. However, this tactic can contribute to a lack of clarity and understanding between the leader and the team, leading to task execution without adequate knowledge.

Experienced employees may grasp the essence of the task and fulfill it successfully. In such cases, the boss takes credit and revels in being an excellent leader. However, more often than not, the result is negative, and the employee receives reprimands for not achieving an objective they were unaware of from the start.

Additionally, these “bosses” often misuse the “Order from the Boss/President/Director” to take actions that are far from honest or aligned with the company’s culture. I have witnessed reprehensible actions such as requesting an employee’s dismissal simply because the boss doesn’t like them, using company resources for personal gain, theft, sexual harassment, humiliations, and other actions, all shielded by the blind trust of superiors. These actions not only harm the company but also reflect a lack of human and professional quality on the part of the offender.

Strategies to Overcome Challenges

Promote Clear Communication: Foster an environment that encourages clarity and motivates employees to seek clarification when necessary. Do not assume that our compatriots are honest; they are human and can make mistakes.

Facilitate Language Training: Provide language training opportunities for foreign managers to improve communication and enhance integration. It is common for a compatriot to act as a translator, but they tend to modify translations to prevent anger or protect colleagues. If a translator is hired, make sure that is their sole role; when they take on other roles, they may exhibit biased attitudes toward their areas.

Establish Feedback Channels: Create a system where employees can provide constructive feedback on communication and instructions received. This allows us to understand our teams’ true performance.

Selecting our team wisely, overcoming language barriers, and seeking knowledge about daily operations are essential for building efficient and cohesive teams. With a proactive approach to communication and mutual understanding, we can transform these challenges into opportunities for growth and collaboration.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Popular saying –
Roger Mariano

Roger Mariano

Deputy General Manager, Manager, Consultant, Professor, lecturer, with over 20 years of experience in key roles in the Human Resources field, often serving as a change agent in both National and Multinational Companies. I aim to support my national and international colleagues, as well as anyone interested in learning about my experience in human resources management in Mexico.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!