Relationship between leadership & culture


Leaders must adapt their style to different national cultures. What works in China, for instance, isn’t likely to work in Canada or France. Can you imagine, for instance, executives at a large Canadian department store chain, like, “The Bay�, being effective by humiliating their employees? But that works at the Asia Department Store in central China. Executives there blatantly brag about practicing “heartless� management, requiring new employees to undergo two to four weeks of military type training in order to increase their obedience, and conduct the store’s in-house training sessions in a public place where employees can openly suffer embarrassment from their mistakes.

National culture affects leadership style by way of the follower. Leaders cannot choose their styles at will. They are constrained by the cultural conditions that their followers have come to expect. For instance, Korean leaders are expected to- be paternalistic toward employees; Arab leaders who show kindness or generosity without being asked to do so by other Arabs as weak; and Japanese leaders are expected to be humble and speak infrequently.

Consistent with the contingency approach, leaders need to adjust their style to the unique cultural aspects of a country. For example, a manipulative or autocratic style is compatible with high power distance, and we find high power distance scores in Russia, Spain, Arab, Far Eastern, and most Latin countries.

Power distance ranking should also be good indicators of employee willingness to accept to accept participative leadership. Participative is likely to be most effective in low power distance cultures as exist in Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden.

The global program has gathered data on approximately 18,000 middle managers in 825 organizations, covering 62 countries. It’s the most comprehensive cross- cultural study of leadership ever undertaken. So its findings should not be quickly dismissed.

It’s illuminating that one of the results coming from the GLOBE program is that there are some universal aspects to leadership. Specifically, a number of the elements making up transformational leadership appear to be associated with effective leadership regardless of what country the leader is in. This conclusion is very important because it flies in the face of the contingency view that leadership style needs to adapt to cultural difference.

What elements of transformational leadership appear universal?
Elements of transformational leadership are vision, foresight, providing encouragement, trustworthiness, dynamism, positive aspects, and pro-activeness. The results led two members of the GLOBE team to conclude that effective business leaders in any country are expected by their subordinates to provide a powerful and pro-active vision to guide the company into the future, strong motivational skills to stimulate all employees to fulfill the vision, and excellent planning skills to assist in implementing the vision.

The inference is that pressures toward common technologies and management practices may make some aspects of leadership universally accepted as a result of global competition and multinational influences. If this is true, we may be able to select and train leaders in a universal style and thus significantly raise the quality of leadership worldwide.