“Me encanta escuchar las opiniones de las demás”

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Photo courtesy of Michael Roberts

This post follows on from the previous posts about the Cooperative “Mujeres Mediambientalistas de Jiquilipan”. The mission of the cooperative is to produce fruit products of the highest quality, retaining the natural flavour of the fruits to please the most sophisticated palate, in order to promote respect for nature, the sustainable development of the region, and the well-being of the members of the cooperative.

The photo above is of the Presidenta of the cooperative, Miriam Tamar Osorno Torroella. Duting the time she was talking to me about the challenges she had faced as leader of the cooperative since it was formed in 2004, she said; “me encanta escuchar las opiniones de las demás”. Translated this means; “I love listening to the views of my fellow workers”.

It is very hard to imagine a typical Mexican male leader uttering this quote. Leadership in most Mexican organisations is autocratic. Mexico is one of the countries, according to Hofstede’s cross-cultural studies, with the highest power distance index, which “measures the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. This is strongly linked to measures of inequality within societies. Carlos Slim, who in July 2007 overtook Bill Gates as the richest man in the world with a net fortune of an estimated 67.8 billion USD, lives in Mexico alongside half the population living on less than 5 USD per day.

Listening to others in Mexico is likely to be seen as a sign of weakness, that the ‘jefe’ does not know all the answers. More enlightened Mexican leaders, especially those trained in western management techniques, would recognise the need to listen to others, but to say with complete authenticity that, “me encanta escuchar”, is a huge step further than, “es necesario escuchar” (it is necessary to listen).

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Hearing Tamar talk about the challenges she had faced as leader it was clear she was doing a remarkable job. Half the original members of the cooperative had left during the first two years, as the cooperative , in this stage, was not producing any income for its members, as they had to use any profits to pay off the loans they had taken out. She talked about the need to maintain motivation during this period, to continually learn about how to improve the product they were making, the importance of holding to the original environmentally-founded vision of making products that were 100% natural (even though it would have been much easier to use preservatives and other chemicals in the production process), and the need to keep innovating, to keep alive the interest and motivation of the women so that the work did not become overly routinised and boring.

I don’t think I have ever come across such a good example of “Servant Leadership”. If Tamar were to become a role model for leadership instead of Carlos Slim, then Mexico would be a very different country.

3 comments so far

  1. Tony Pearson on

    Yes, “love to listen” is very different from “important to listen”, and it is not only in Mexico that men view listening as “un-masculine”. It would be great to see quantifiable research that measures learning with the ability and the desire to listen. How do you improve unless you listen? We have seen in the US the awful results of an administration that listened only to itself. Of course being female does not automatically make a person a better listener, but in societies in which women are socialized to listen, it might behoove us to ensure that more women are in all branches of government.

  2. Tom on

    Hi Paul,

    Firstly congratulations for creating this very intriguing blog -now firmly listed in my favourites. This particular post has really caught my interest where yes, Tamar does stand as a grand example of the servant approach. She has taken up a role that would not have fit or have even been taken up by any more “macho” individual.

    Meanwhile I must comment that not all Western-trained leaders are created equal. Mexico surely needs enlightenment from further afield than their self-beleaguered neighbours to the north.

  3. Patricia Shaw on

    I am really enjoying reading this blog – I find your tales fascinating and I want to know more like here: how does Tamar do her listening? How does she invite her colleagues to talk? Does she do it all informally? Does she lead on herself or is there a group of women who sustain a conversation about how to go on withy the cooperative?


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