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Leadership & Culture

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By Laura Phillips

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Introduction

 

            In today’s society, cultural diversity has become a fact of life, and must be recognised for effective organisational practices and leadership. The culture of an organisation refers to the “system of shared meaning held by members that distinguishes the organisation from another” (Robbins, Millett & Waters-Marsh, 2004, p.p.499) that is evident in every organisation. For a strong culture to exist, the key values and beliefs are intensely held and respected and are widely shared between employees and employers within the same organisation (Robbins, Millett & Waters-Marsh, 2004, p.p.501). Organisational culture can be affected by the national culture in which the organisation operates, as well as who it does business with. Therefore, it is important that leaders adapt their leadership style to suit the different national cultures (Robbins, Millett & Waters-Marsh, 2004, p.p383) in order to be a good leader, as “culture plays a significant role in establishing a relationship between leadership and power” (Stoeberl, Kwon, Han & Bae, 1998, p.p.209). Therefore, leaders must be able to understand and predict their followers and counterparts behaviour (Matviuk, 2007, p.p.253) in order to lead consistently with cultural conditions. The different aspects of culture and the various leadership styles and traits needed to respond to different cultures are discussed further.

 

Differences in cultures

An individual’s culture is usually “learned and acquired from an individual’s social environment” (Matviuk, 2007, p.p.254) which can be implemented into the organisations way of thinking. Schein (1985) proclaimed that to be effective and decrease the chance of conflict, leaders must take culture into consideration in order to survive universal problems due to external adaptation, and take part in internal integration to be able to stay or work together (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.429). He also asserted that other influences of organisational culture are dependant on the organisations founder’s values as well as societal norms of the firm or country (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.430). Denison et al (2004) are quoted by Xenikou & Simosi (2006, p.p.567) as identifying four major cultural traits that are associated with good organisational performance; these consist of participation, consistency, adaptability and having a mission. These traits exist, and differ, between nationalities as well as organisations, which is why leaders must be able to recognise differences and react in the appropriate way to still be effective. If a leader has the ability to adapt to cultural diversities, they have the competitive advantage due to increased success and profit, due to a lack of turnover because of an increase in satisfied workers, marketing is improved due to multinational workforce facilities and reputation is increased which will further attract customers (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.442). Likewise, by having a multicultural or heterogeneity workforce, there is increased creativity and initiative when it comes to problem solving.  

                       

For good leadership, leaders must be able to identify how the values of different people, of either their followers or other multinational organisations they are in business with, change due to varying cultural values, in order to manage a culturally diverse workforce and make good judgements. Durbin et al (2006) identified Hofstede (1980, 1999) as stating that there are seven different values that different cultures relate differently too. Firstly, is the degree of individualism and collectivism, relating to whether people feel that the individual is most significant or if the group/society and the good of the firm should be most important. The Power distance between employees and their boss is another factor that differs across cultures, as in high power distance cultures, the boss makes the majority of the discissions, whereas in low power distance cultures, no power hierarchy is recognised. There is also a difference in uncertainty avoidance. Low uncertainty cultures are characterised by risk tolerance and unconventional behaviour, whereas high uncertainty cultures consist of people who “want predictable and certain futures” (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.432). The difference in emphasis on success compared to personal relations is consistent with the different values of masculinity (occurs in United States, Japan, Italy, Australia and NZ) and femininity (occurs in Sweden, Denmark, Korea, France and Spain). There are also differences due to long term orientation which maintains a long range perspective, vs. short term orientation that is concerned with immediate results. Different countries also value formality (with importance based on rules and regulation) and informality (casual attitude) differently as well. Lastly, another value that differs is between urgent time orientation and casual time orientation (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.433). Therefore, a leader must take each of these values into consideration when trying to influence and motivate different individuals. For example, people in high uncertainty cultures will not react well to a leader who wants to take a lot of risks and make daring moves; therefore, the leader could talk to the followers about decisions and explain personal and organisational benefits to those people.

 

A leader must be a multicultural leader in order to respond well to varying cultures. To be a multicultural leader they must possess the right skills to respond to the differences in cultural values mentioned. They must be able to have the right attitude to motivate and encourage people of different gender, race, ethnicity, lifestyles and different social attitudes (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.431). They must display such things as good interpersonal skills with the ability to form good relationships and be able to maintain this contact through good linguistic ability. They must also show the motivation to live and work abroad as well as the ability to cope with uncertainty and maintain patience and respect. They have the ability to take their skills from one organisation, or from leading one set of people, to being able to be accepted by, and successfully direct and influence, a completely difference set of culturally diverse people.     

                                                            

 

Transformational leaders also demonstrate the ability to lead well within different cultures. Transformational leaders have a direct effect on the organisational culture as they influence their followers by promoting a working environment that is characterized by “high achievement of goals, self actualisation and personal development” (Xenikou & Simosi, 2006, p.p.569). They have the ability to provide individual consideration to the different cultures which is widely accepted by workers in generally. This is evident by the fact that employees rated their culture to be adaptive, involving, integrating and with a clear mission under the supervision of transformational leaders (Xenikou & Simosi, 2006, p.p.569). However, transformational leaders can also be charismatic leaders who are characterised by risk taking and unconventional behaviour, even though they are sensitive to people and the environment around them. This may not be a productive leadership style in high uncertainty cultures, and will have to be adapted slightly, but will be effective in the many differing cultural values as they have the ability to be a multicultural leader through their ability to cope with uncertainty, for example, due to changing circumstances.

 

            Situational leadership is another style that is an appropriate form of leadership to use to help conform to certain cultural differences. Situational leadership model assumes that leadership behaviour varies between different situations (Davidson & Griffin, 2003, p.p.573) and that leaders can use different types of ‘styles’ of leadership for different people or different situations (Durbin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, p.p.187). This is appropriate when being challenged by new cultures and values in order to respect the beliefs and behaviours of others for the leader to gain their own respect. To be culturally accepted by different countries, or individuals, leaders should be able to adapt their behaviour to suit the readiness of other cultures.          

 Conclusion

            In conclusion, it is important for leaders to assess the different cultural values and beliefs of different countries they may do business with, as well as the different cultures that may exist within their own organisation. Culture is important to many people and needs to be respected by leaders in order to gain acceptance by the different cultures. The types of leadership styles that are able to easily adapt and work with different cultures are transformational leadership and situational leadership, which both enable the leader to become a multicultural leader and embrace the different cultural values. By doing so, they are likely to gain increase motivation by different cultures and gain an increase in success.    

 

 

References

 

Davidson, P., & Griffin, R.W. (2003) Management: An Australian Perspective (2nd ed.) Australia, QLD: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd

 

Durbin, A.J., Daglish, C., & Miller, P. (2006) Leadership (2nd Asia-Pacific ed.)Australia, QLD: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd

 

Matvuic, S. (2007) Cross Cultural leadership behaviour expectations: A Comparison between United States managers and Mexican managers. Journal  of American Academy of Business, 11 (1) 253

 

Robbins, S.P., Millett, B., & Waters-Marsh, T. (2004) Organisational Behaviour (4th ed.) Australia, NSW: Pearson Prentice Hall, Ltd

 

Stoeberl, P.A., Kwon, I.G., Han, G., & Bae, M. (1998) Leadership and power relationships base don culture and gender. Women in Management Review, 13 (6) 208-216

 

Xenikou, A., & Simosi, M. (2006) Organisational Culture and transformational leadership as predictors of business unit performance. Journal of Managerial Psychology 21 (6) 566-579

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Phillips, Kathleen Varela and Zoe Cooper