Leadership around the World
THE ARAB WORLD
Leadership in Arab societies demonstrates how history and culture can influence the traditions, practices, and expectations of leadership. Islamic religion and tribal traditions have always been strong and remain so, but Arabic countries are now touched by Western culture. Islam tends to think of leadership as a job for men. Tribal traditions oblige leaders to behave like fathers, protecting and nurturing followers (employees) as they would their children, and to take responsibility for the whole enterprise. Overlaying this system is bureaucracy, historically introduced by the Ottoman Empire and continued by Europeans in the twentieth century as a way of keeping control of their businesses and other institutions.
The resultant leadership style, which has been termed sheikhocracy,4 involves personal autocracy and conformity to rules and regulations based not on the rules’ rationality, but on respect for those who made them. This means that rules have symbolic importance but will not be implemented if they go against autocratic tribal traditions. For example, the rules may specify procedures for appointment on merit, but these are likely to be ignored in favor of appointments based on family relationships and friendships.
In Japan, a key factor influencing leadership is the cultural value of amae, meaning (loosely translated) indulgent love, the kind that parents have for their children. Whereas in some societies, children are taught to be independent of their parents, in Japan, amae affects all relationships, including manager-subordinate relationships. Japanese managers therefore tend to take a deep interest in employees’ personal lives. Subordinates often ask superiors for advice, including advice on personal matters such
as choice of a spouse. Amae in Japanese relationships also gives rise to other relevant cultural
norms. Leader behavior is embedded in a network of reciprocal obligations (on and giri). On is a debt or obligation, and giri is the moral obligation to repay the debt, and every action creates both. A leader who neglects the obligation to reciprocate will lose followers’ trust and support. A Japanese leader’s effectiveness is thus based largely on the ability to understand and attract followers.5
THE OVERSE AS CHINESE
The leadership style of ethnic Chinese living outside mainland China reflects their modern organizations but is entrenched in Chinese culture and tradition, where a leader’s legitimacy is based on loyalty to the patriarch. Similarly, the word of the founder or CEO of modern Chinese organizations is law, and his authority resembles that of a head of the household. All the key people in the organization are related to the founder, and to each other, by blood or marriage, enabling the overseas Chinese to run their modern corporations as family businesses. Mutual trust among family members—basing decisions on what is best for the clan—underlies all leaderfollower relationships.6
Leadership in France is heavily influenced by the strong societal emphasis on hierarchy. At the top of French organizations is the CEO, who will have attended the “right” university, one of the “Grandes Écoles.” The style of these top managers is often paternalistic and charismatic in the style of the great field marshals of France.7 Between the top managers and the workers is a large group of middle managers or cadres, who deal with multiple rules and regulations. While seeming bewilderingly inefficient to the outsider, these organizations operate very reliably.
The image of Russian leaders as powerful autocrats is based on the country’s long history of centralized authority and responsibility.8 In medieval Russia, village elders were entrusted to represent the common will of the people, and suggestions and criticisms were never credited to any one individual. It was the elders’ task to sort through the comments: their decisions went unchallenged and they bore full responsibility for the group’s welfare. Later, under state socialism, these same traditional
attitudes were evident in communist organizations. Although advised by workers’ councils, the heads of enterprises wielded all the power and bore all the responsibility.
This centralization of power resulted in a top-heavy bureaucracy that some suggest was the fatal flaw in the socialist system. When things went wrong, as they often did, no one would take action without authorization from a superior. As Russian firms try to find their way in their new free- market environment, managers now struggle to push responsibility down the hierarchy and to delegate routine tasks. Consider the following case:
MANAGEMENT BY OBJECTIVES IN RUSSIA Dahl Ekelund, a Norwegian with a good track record as a leader in various European engineering enterprises, has been appointed executive director of the Russian subsidiary of Motor Corporation. The directors want him to release some of the potential in a work-force that is well qualified, talented, and experienced, but knows little about modern management.
In his first week in his new job, Dahl conducts a seminar to introduce the concept of Management by Objectives (MBO)9 to his managers. He is amazed by the hostility directed not only at his message but also at himself. When he suggests that all employees should write their own objectives, his subordinates came out with comments such as: “We have lived without this kind of thing for some years and have made great strides. We don’t need a new bureaucracy.”
Dahl explains how MBO provides new opportunities for staff involvement and participation. The managers retort that others have tried to implement Western managerial methods in the company—nobody has succeeded. Irritated, Dahl answers brusquely, “Everybody working here is going to be using these modern methods. I expect a written outline from each of you of your next year’s goals within two weeks. And get the same information from your subordinates within three weeks. And for those who don’t—no bonus. That will be all.”
As he leaves, Dahl overhears the comments: “Well, now, Petrovich, you’ll be writing goals rather than
working.” “Never, let him do it himself.” “But, what about losing your bonus?”
“Yeah, we’ll see.”10
In this case, the leadership expectations of the Russians are shaped by both Russian culture and years of working in organizations still influenced by the remnants of state socialism. These Russian middle managers demonstrate an expectation for autocratic leadership and have great difficulty accepting, or trusting, their own participation or that of their subordinates in setting goals. Their reluctance is made worse by skepticism about their superior’s concern for, or control over, their futures. Under state socialism each autocratic boss was someone else’s puppet. Their beliefs persist long after the demise of the socialist policies that created them.
In seeking to help the company modernize, a higher-CQ Dahl Ekelund might have applied cultural intelligence by
• avoiding the Be Like Me approach to management that he had learned in his cultural background in Western Europe (knowledge)
• taking time to learn some of the special characteristics of the new culture that he was entering (knowledge)
• spending time observing and talking to his new subordinates for a few weeks after arrival, trying to understand their collective and individual areas of comfort and discomfort before trying to institute change (mindfulness)
• trying to understand from the Russian perspective why they might be acting the way they were (mindfulness)
• listening to what his staff is saying (and being aware of what they are not saying) rather than becoming irritated and closing the meeting abruptly (mindfulness and adaptive behavior)
• introducing a less ambitious form of MBO, for example, having leaders set goals for their subordinates, then making a gradual move toward participative methods (adaptive behavior)
These examples from different countries show the complexity of the cultural forces affecting leadership. Note the importance of historical factors and tradition, and the acceptance, under the right circumstances, of apparently autocratic leadership. Individuals with high cultural intelligence are mindfully attentive to such factors and work hard to develop the cross- cultural skills to be effective. An international manager known to one of
the authors, whose job took him into leadership roles all around the globe, would voraciously read books on the history and customs of the countries he was due to visit in order to acquire background knowledge and sensitivity to the local situation. However, such knowledge is only the starting place for becoming a culturally intelligent leader. One of the most culturally intelligent leaders in business today may be Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Ghosn was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents and was educated in France. He is credited with turning around the fortunes of Nissan in Japan, a country he knew little about before going there. He attributes his success to his multicultural background, which gave him what we would call cultural intelligence.11
Culture and Expectations of Followers Culturally intelligent leadership involves focusing on followers. In some ways the idea of leadership is an invention of those who want to be in charge or who believe that their traditional or hierarchical position entitles them to be in charge. But in a sense, everyone is in charge; everyone has the potential to exercise leadership. We have defined leadership in terms of influence, and influence may be exercised by anyone, from the highest to the lowest member of an organization. In understanding how leadership works across cultures, we need to look at all participants—how they might understand a situation, whether they might expect a leader to tell them what to do, or whether and how they might exercise influence in their own right. Thus, even lower-level members of an organization working within their own culture may offer cultural understanding in a leadership process.
The designated leader needs to think not just about how he or she might exercise influence but about how that influence might usefully interact with the influence exercised by others. For example, a culturally intelligent Dahl Ekelund could use local formal and informal cultural processes to find out and consider the views of his subordinates before setting goals for them exactly as they want him to.
Here, it is useful to recap the key values dimensions outlined in Chapter 2.
• In individualist cultures, people are concerned about themselves, prefer activities to be conducted privately, and expect decisions to be made by the individual according to his or her judgment and the anticipated rewards.
• In collectivist cultures, people view themselves as members of groups
and collectives, prefer group activities, and expect decisions to be made on a consensual or consultative basis, where the effects of the decision on everyone are taken into account.
In such cultures, two very different styles of leadership would be expected. Western countries tend to be individualist, so both leaders and followers attempt to involve themselves in influence processes to maximize their individual influence and get themselves a good result. Higher management frequently tries to utilize individualism to its advantage by offering leaders individual rewards for the accomplishments of the group or by holding the leader accountable for its performance. Collectivist societies rely more on the leader to involve the group—a shared expectation of both leader and group members.
Other cultural forces influence the expectations of leaders. Some cultures value formality and expect leaders to honor ceremonies and observances. In cultures where punctuality is important, there will be pressure on leaders to turn up on time, and in future-oriented societies, to focus on long-term strategy. Because of the special status of the position, the leader is often the most led member of the group—led, that is, by the cultural context.
In many societies, historical and cultural forces—such as high power distance, Confucianism, and feudalism—practices and expectations of leadership have developed that are best described as paternalistic.12 Paternalism (literally “being fatherly”) involves creating a family atmosphere, having close relationships with followers to the extent of getting involved in their non-work lives, and expecting both deference and loyalty. Paternalism often leads to positive employee attitudes, and some Western organizations have tried to use paternalism as a means of having a contented, compliant workforce. In the wrong culture, though, such efforts can backfire.13
Leading in Multinational Organizations Leading any culturally diverse organization or group requires cultural intelligence. But in large multinational organizations with subsidiaries in many countries, the problem is increased. Typically there are organizational requirements for central control and uniformity to ensure that the organization remains stable and that subsidiaries work toward a common goal. But when such organizations attempt to manage their own diverse communities of people in a uniform manner, major problems
emerge, as the following case shows.
THE COMMON BOND Jenny Gendall is a secretary employed by the New Zealand office of Technica, a U.S.-based multinational organization, which has offices in over seventy countries.14 In response to the cultural diversity of its multinational workforce, Technica has implemented many new policies and procedures, including a nondiscrimination policy for employment procedures.
Technica’s head office in the United States has recently developed a set of values designed to provide a framework that all Technica employees will use in their day-to-day actions. The values reflect Technica’s “critical success factors” and will offer shared values to all employees, thereby making Technica a better place to work. The statement of values is known as Our Common Bond, and a key value is respect for the individual: “We treat each other with respect and dignity, valuing individual and cultural differences. We communicate frequently and with candor, listening to each other regardless of level or position.”
Technica’s head office has disseminated an action plan for implementing Our Common Bond. To ensure conformity, each subsidiary, including New Zealand, has received directives, manuals, training programs, videos, and visits by international facilitators. To Jenny Gendall, who considers that the New Zealand office has always been a good place to work in terms of respect, valuing equity, and all the rest of it, it seems like a lot of fuss about nothing.
Indeed, Jenny notes that some of her colleagues are beginning to question the values, the language used, and the method of implementation. The values are being imposed without discussion, are in “American language,” and are inappropriate within New Zealand. According to Jenny, “The Common Bond is just about day-to-day courtesy. It doesn’t need to be spelled out. Why was it forced on the entire company? I hate that airy-fairy, warm-fuzzy stuff. I just want to get on with the job. We’re free and easy over here, and the Common Bond just doesn’t suit our Kiwi style. And we’re all different. The Common Bond says we need to ‘listen to each other regardless of level or position,’ but some of our Maori and Pacific Island employees still expect to show, and be shown,
proper respect for status.”
In this case, Technica seeks to establish a corporate culture that will encompass all its international subsidiaries. But its “universal” values cannot easily be translated across cultural boundaries, even between apparently similar cultures like the United States and New Zealand, as the values may act as a touchstone for contradiction and cultural conflict. Although Technica is genuinely international and culturally diverse, a definite “home” culture still emanates from the U.S. head office; and, notwithstanding its talk of embracing diversity, in its global leadership and recognition of other cultures, Technica is not truly “walking the walk.” The effect, at least in New Zealand, is that instead of embracing diversity, employees tend to criticize, ignore, and subvert the changes.
“Managing diversity” is a positive goal for multinationals, but the means of achieving it need to be locally specific and probably locally devised. In international organizations a useful guide for managing diversity is the simple notion of “think global and act local.”
Also important in this case is the question, who is the leader? There is a difference between formal leadership (with a formally appointed leader who has an appropriate job title) and informal leadership (in which someone has leadership status because of the respect of others). Informal leaders arise because their ideas or behavior are well received by others and because of their good communication skills. Thus, in the case above, informal leaders in New Zealand may subvert the leadership of formal bosses in the United States. Ideally, the formal and informal leaders are the same person, but in a cross-cultural situation a formal leader from another culture may not be accepted because of cultural differences, particularly in expected methods of leadership, and an informal leader from the home culture representing the ideas of local employees may exercise countervailing influence. Formal leaders may therefore have to either exercise a leadership style that fits local expectations or be able to work with the informal leader.
Different cultures also have different prototypes of what a leader should be like. A leader who is able to meet followers’ expectations of a good leader can develop better trust and relationships.
Followership From the foregoing, it is evident that anyone in a group, and not just the formal boss, has the potential to be a leader. In most groups, leadership is
at least partially shared. Further, the exercise of leadership implies a duty of followers to follow. Therefore, in multicultural groups and organizations, becoming culturally intelligent is an advantage to the follower as well as to the leader. Being able to read one’s formal leader and colleagues, taking into account their national culture, is an advantage. Cultural intelligence is for everyone!
The Common Thread: Charismatic or Transformational Leadership An idea that has dominated recent thinking about leadership is transformational leadership, which influences people to go beyond their own immediate interests and objectives and to work hard to achieve performance beyond expectations.15 To do this, the leader has to present a compelling vision of the future and inspire followers by demonstrating or modeling the behavior desired from followers. S/he must stimulate and challenge followers and show each one individual consideration. All of these tasks are easier if the leader has the cultural knowledge and mindfulness characteristic of high CQ.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand transformational leadership is to think of well-known leaders such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. However, Eastern leaders such as the Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi also meet the criteria for a transformational leader, as does the great South African leader Nelson Mandela, even though they practiced it in a very different way, one that was in tune with the expectations and cultural values of their followers. Note the cultural variety of these examples. A leader with high cultural intelligence will be able to provide a vision, engage others’ motivation, and model behavior in ways consistent with the culture and values of followers.
There is research that supports the effectiveness of transformational leadership across a range of different countries.16 Yet people from different countries expect transformational leaders to behave very differently. Having a vision and engaging others may require very different behavior in different cultures. For example, being seen to have suffered might be important in Japan, while being seen as decisive would carry more weight in the United States.