In today’s global business environment, leaders are called upon to manage across countries and cultures. An effective leader has to be able to communicate effectively with people who have different attitudes and expectations, recognize when unexpected behaviors reflect cultural differences and be able to shift their frame of reference and adapt their own behavior to varying cultural contexts. But, it all starts with understanding.
Management Research Group recently completed a 10-year study of cultural differences in leadership practices, involving some 96,000 leaders in 26 countries, 8,000 organizations and 30 industries. Using the Leadership Effectiveness Analysis™, and focusing on 22 key leadership behaviors, we assessed how each manager or executive approached the role of leader. Although we expected to find differences between leaders in different countries, this study revealed some significant surprises. Here are some examples:
- Leaders in Sweden described their management approach as significantly more consensual and inclusive than leaders in the United States. U.S. leaders may find themselves both frustrated and confused by this slower-paced collectivist approach, where decisions may require the participation and consensus of many people.
- While close geographically, leaders in Denmark describe themselves as more likely to voice their opinions and challenge an organization’s assumptions and the status quo than their U.S. counterparts. Taking a decision-making approach that is less based on legacy and deference to authority can feel confrontational and threatening to many U.S. managers.
- On the other side of the world, Chinese leaders describe themselves as more traditional in their decision-making, with a focus on conservative approaches to change, careful monitoring of processes, and an orientation toward minimizing risk. U.S. leaders attempting to institute innovative change-management strategies in partnership with their Chinese counterparts may have difficulty understanding important differences in attitudes and goals.
Leaders differ, and it would be an injustice to suggest that all leaders in a country are similar. Just look at the individuals on your own team in order to see this. However, understanding potential differences in attitudes and expectations can save you from frustrating miscommunications, growing resentments, and project failure.
Being able to anticipate where different attitudes might exist and exploring them proactively is key to developing a shared understanding, mutual cooperation, and cross-national teamwork. To learn more about MRG’s cross-cultural leadership findings, and how they can be used for leadership and organizational development, visit www.mrg.com.
What cultural leadership differences do you see or would you add to this list? Does your organization need assistance with developing global and cross-cultural leaders? Contact OI Partners today.
Rob is a leading researcher and consultant in the areas of diversity and leadership, cross-cultural issues, and the development of effective leaders in a global economy. He works with organizations around the world to help identify the leadership practices most likely to lead to organizational success in a given industry, culture, and context. For the past fourteen years, he has been the Vice President of Research for Management Research Group (www.mrg.com), an international leader in creating high-quality assessment tools.