Cultural Dimensions of Leadership

Introduction

Leadership in organizations is dictated and determined according to a variety of reasons and factors including personality, cultural, and country and regional aspects.

Among the various factors, the cultural dimension of leadership is often not highlighted as it is taken as a given. However, with globalization and the advent of tighter integration and interconnectedness, there is a need to study how leadership is determined by cultural factors and the mediating role that cultural exchanges between the West and the East play out when determining how leaders behave.

This article discusses the cultural dimensions of leadership with specific emphasis on how the greater interactions between the leaders in the West and the East is playing out in the global arena and as far as organizational behavior is concerned. For instance, with globalization, leaders and managers in the east have learnt to adopt a more democratic style of leadership as opposed to the patriarchic and the authoritarian leadership that was hitherto practiced. Further, leaders in the west have begun to understand that the way things are done in the east is radically different from the way they are done in the east and hence, they need to be cognizant of these differing approaches to management.

Leadership in the East and the West

The pioneering work of the Dutch psychologist, Geert Hofstede is often cited and quoted to emphasize the differences in leadership between the west and the east that are determined by cultural reasons. For instance, culture plays a very important role in determining the leaders’ actions especially where the decision-making, attitudes towards diversity, and treatment of people down the hierarchies are concerned. It is the case that leaders in the east tend to be patriarchic and authoritarian in their decision-making styles as opposed to democratic and consensual in the west.

Further, leaders in the east tend to view diversity yet another aspect of business and the working culture in many organizations tends to be paternal and dictated by masculine behavior. In contrast, diversity is practiced actively in the west and the leaders in many western companies often do more than what is required by the law in these cases.

Next, the attitude towards those lower down in the hierarchy in the west is more accommodative and conciliatory whereas in the east, leaders at the top tend to view their subordinates according to strict classifications of seniority conditioned by cultural factors. These are some of the differences in leadership between the east and the west as presented by Hofstede in his work.

Globalization and Leadership: Homogeneity vs. Heterogeneity

Though most business literature talks about how leadership has become homogenous with the advent of globalization and the concomitant cultural exchange between the west and the east that has resulted in leaders in the east becoming western in their outlook, the oft neglected aspect is that some leaders in the east have turned inward as a result of their interaction with the west and have begun to become parochial and jingoistic in their approach. This is seen in the case of many manufacturing and primary sectors where leaders often rant against western values and how they corrupt the employees and hence, these leaders in the heavy manufacturing industries have instead started favoring regionalism and paternalism as well as resorting to jingoism and an attitude that is decidedly against further opening up of the economy.

Of course, this does not mean that the heterogeneity that results from globalization is the prevailing norm as many leaders in the east have modernized their companies and adopted western best practices. Indeed, the proportion of leaders who have become western is greater than those who have turned inward and this is the trend in China and India. However, as the previous paragraph pointed out, there are many exceptions to this norm and hence, any professional or student of management has to be cognizant of both trends if he or she is to navigate the corporate minefield in their careers.

Conclusion

This article has discussed the differences in leadership between the east and the west that are due to cultural reasons. This article has also discussed how globalization has made leaders adopt western values and at the same time, has resulted in some leaders turning inward. The point to be noted here is that leadership is a complex subject that is determined due to a host of reasons and the cultural aspect is a key component of how leaders behave. Therefore, it is our advice to future leaders and those starting their careers as well as those already working that one must determine one’s core values and then act accordingly.

If you are a person who is more likely to be influenced by the western paradigm, you must seek companies and organizations that are run according to western notions of management. On the contrary, if you are of a disposition where you believe that your native culture determines your actions, you must again seek employment in those organizations where the traditional values are emphasized. In other words, one must find the organization one is comfortable with instead of being in conflict with the environment arising out of a clash between inner values and the values of the organization. This is the key take away that this article leaves you with as you are entering your career or if you are working, either you are resigned to your fate or enjoying your job to the fullest.


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