Cross Cultural Leadership Styles

Leaders inspire confidence by managing according to the values of the group.
Leaders inspire confidence by managing according to the values of the group. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Different styles of leadership receive varying amounts of respect depending on the cultural norms of the people who are being led. A directive model, for example, works well with people who are primed to accept a strong and benevolent leader, whereas people who favor pluralism and consensus tend to shun dictators. Knowing how to manage people, and how to adapt leadership styles to fit the situation, is the key to being an effective leader.

Leadership Styles

There are three traditional basic approaches to leadership. A laissez-faire leader adopts a hands-off approach, trusting subordinates to direct themselves. An autocratic leader tends to micromanage; he rules by decree and expects obedience. A participative leader sees himself as a "first among equals" who inspires and manages the team but lets the wisdom of the group shape decisions.

Differences in Human Culture

People react differently to leadership structures based on the traditional norms of their community. Participative approaches are popular in Western countries that have a rich tradition of democracy, whereas Russians and Chinese, after years of monarchy then communist rule, are accustomed to powerful autocrats leading the society. Some African cultures embrace a decentralized leadership structure whereby a group of elders provide guidance. In each of these cultural contexts, a formal management structure that coheres with the prevailing cultural tradition is more likely to prove successful.

Differences in Workplace Culture

Even within a single culture, different companies or organizations can value certain leadership traits. In the United States, for example, ordinary workers at Toyota plants are encouraged to stop the production line and offer observations about quality improvement, whereas employees at the Detroit automakers generally do not enjoy similar levels of empowerment. Unsurprisingly, command-and-control leadership permeated American automakers while team-based leadership reigned in Japanese-led plants, despite the plants all being located in the United States and employing American workers.

Leading Research

Anne Reilly and Tony Karounos of Loyola University concluded that emotional intelligence—that is, the ability to relate to people effectively—"is valued more highly than technical skills and cognitive skills, especially regarding social skill, and supported earlier findings that transformational/charismatic leaderships are favored across cultures."

Among business leaders, the key to cross-cultural leadership is to accurately identify the dominant culture of the group and adapt management styles accordingly.

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