“If you control expectations, you control emotions” – Conversation with Mr. Li Zhuming

Emotions are an essential aspect of management, for sure. Particularly in high level positions, such as the one held by Mr. Li Zhuming, who has performed as CEO of Huawei in Argentina for the last five years. Jim, as he is also called, led the fastest growing vendor of telecommunications in the country -and also in the world.

So, what does this leader think (and feel) of emotions when it comes to merging two apparently separate cultures –Chinese and Argentinean? Which were the main motivational challenges given the current Argentina scenario?

Jim, with a calm and thoughtful personality, shows that he thinks twice before opening his mouth. Wisely, he delivers clear messages and drops no extra words in his speech. Being a good listener is an obvious feature in his character too. Jim strongly believes emotions at work are very important.

Apart from the issues above, we talked about learning to control our emotions, making decisions, cultural differences between Chinese and Western methodologies, and even medicine and some philosophy of life.

Jim also revealed himself as a deep connoisseur of the I-Ching book, the bible of change, which also led to a wonderful off-the-record discussion about the different stages in life and the patterns of permanent mutation in nature.

Thanks, Jim, for the inspiration!


- Is there a specific emotional difference between Chinese and Argentinean people?

[Jim] – No, there’s not a difference due to nationality. It depends on the background of the person, on his/her experience and character, not on their nationality.


- Do you believe that Chinese and Argentinean people have at least a different way of expressing their emotions at work?

[Jim] – Again, it is not a nationality issue. I suggest you define it as a cultural background influence. In such a way, indeed, there are differences in how we express ourselves. Maybe beliefs are key.


- Which are the most frequent emotions you’ve felt along these years in Argentina, being Huawei such fast-growing company?

[Jim] – I’ve been angry, happy, sad… I’ve felt joy. In the 5 years I’ve been working here I’ve gone through different stages. The first 1,5 year was full of pressure, and I didn’t have a good control of the circumstances. So I felt worry. However, I later began to find my reason. I became more balanced; I learned a lot about controlling my emotions.


- Would you associate lack of control over circumstances to worry, in general?

[Jim] – Sure. You feel less confident.


- So, controlling our emotions is something we learn. What makes you good in controlling them effectively?

[Jim] – You should get familiar with the environment, accumulate experience in order to cope with the situation. You should work on insight. To discern people and things quickly. Those are main skills.


- Regarding decision making, do you take better decisions when you control your emotions?

[Jim] – Yes. You take more reasonable decisions. No decision is absolutely right or wrong. It’s, at the most, more reasonable.


- I strongly believe every decision, no matter how rational it may be, has a bit of emotion within…

[Jim] – Exactly. But sometimes you cannot detect that bit. Sometimes that bit manipulates you.


- Is it difficult to motivate employees in this contemporary Argentina, full of uncertainties (economical, social, etc.)?

[Jim] – Not with the right tools. In fact, it is easier to motivate people whenever the uncertainty is high. The calmer the environment, the harder to motivate someone. For example: when you have a challenging project and you finally get the result, you feel confident. Both in work and in life. This way you get activated. However, in calm situations the future is so predictable that you have nothing to worry about. You can sell 100 million and you know you will sell them again and again. There is no feeling.


- Well, you made me remember Jorge Wagensberg, a spanish biophysicist who holds that struggling against uncertainty is inherent in the nature of life itself. We have a lot of processes –from DNA, through cells, to our mental activity- evolutionary built to face uncertainty. And they even work better in uncertain scenarios! We get more motivated. You’ve said exactly the same!

[Jim] – I can divide –as we normally do- people in two categories. Inward and outward. When faced to an unexpected problem, inward people look inside themselves for the solution. Outward ones seek the solution among the surrounding persons (parents, friends, boss and even the organization). Different thinking leads to different behavior. We cannot say which way is better; it depends on the personal character.

Sometimes you are forced to look for the solution the other way. You get lessons from experience. I’m more inward, so I explore within myself to find a solution. But with practice, I learned to also search for the solution outside, which is not spontaneous in me.

As a conclusion, if you think in a balanced way, you’ll become more mature and you’ll fully utilize both your potential and the environment. You’ll control your emotions easily. Sometimes I see people desperate. That’s a very dangerous status. I don’t like it and I seldom tasted it.


- Emotions and motivations are intrinsically related, right?

[Jim] – You must control what you want. If you are always dissatisfied or faced with projects beyond your capability… that will turn you desperate.

What happens when you have high expectations? You may face dissatisfaction. If you control expectations, you control emotions. And that’s the way we manage customer satisfaction.


- That’s an excellent point you’ve raised. I hadn’t asked about customer satisfaction yet, but it’s essential for Huawei, since Huawei builds itself around the customer. Having the customer in its core, as the nucleus of a cell.

[Jim] – In Chinese we have a saying: If you feel satisfied you´ll be always happy.


- Now that you mention the issue of control and capabilities, it comes to my mind the theory of Flow, by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. [I draw a diagram as I speak… I can’t help it]. <<Burnout>> if you’re overdemanded beyond your abilities, <<boreout>> if you’re underchallenged. The best situation is that in which you flow with the activity.

[Jim laughs] – There! You see? Here’s a visible difference between Chinese and Western methodology! The cultural background makes Western thinking more specific, always resourcing to diagrams. Chinese approach is usually more general, tackling the matter in a more open way. Only one word is enough: a rough concept. It’s like medicine. Western medicine measures everything in your body. It analyses all the components of your blood, for instance, cells, cholesterol, pressure, proteins, units… Chinese medicine, however, is sometimes more ‘magical’ because it relies on the doctor’s expertise. He prescribes you something according to his 30 or 40 years experience, not specifically written. That’s why Chinese medicine has not been accepted in the Western culture: there’s not a direct link of the methodology with the symptoms.


- I guess both approaches have their pros and cons. The risk of measuring everything is that you may get lost in analysis…

[Jim nods] – Chinese medicine has this good thing: it does not analyze you ‘by parts’ as Western medicine does. No such thing as the hand, the finger, etc. It sees your body as a system. There’s a connection between a certain part of your hand and the stomach, and that’s why acupuncture works.


[I love the idea: the systemic approach. That’s the <<bodymind>> as a whole! It’s like emotions: where do you find them? All throughout the body is the answer, because they are systems of information and chemistry!]


[Jim continues] – Medicine is a field I’m very interested in. When I come back to China, I’ll learn some techniques.


- So, you’re also interested in learning how we work inside.

[Jim] – Yes. But there are two things we will never know. One of them is the secret of the huge outer universe. The other: explaining the human body in its finest detail. I prefer the general thinking, it contemplates emotions.  □



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