Assessment: Can You Accept, Adapt, and Adopt Across Cultures?

Not all personalities perform well in a cross-cultural environment.

Research finds that managers with the following qualities achieve the best performance:

  • Social initiative
  • Emotional stability
  • Open-mindedness
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy

Transitioning across cultures is not easy, and often managers who are sent to work in a cross-cultural environment are chosen for their business acumen, rather than any inherent cross-cultural skills or adaptability they may possess.

While companies do require managers abroad to know their business, their cross-cultural skills are equally important.

Sometimes successful leadership in one’s home country does not necessarily transfer over to, say, Japan, Germany, or Brazil.

Each of these countries has different cultural values and norms, and if the manager doesn’t have the skills required to accept, adapt, or adopt aspects of the culture, they will fall flat as a foreign manager.

Self-Assessment

Perhaps, you’re not sure if you possess the qualities that are key to cross-cultural leadership.

To self-assess whether your personality is compatible to lead across cultures, read the hypothetical scenario and then answer honestly.

Grief Across Cultures

Grieving processes differ across cultures.

Consider your own culture’s appropriate grieving process.

Do mourners grieve openly and emotionally? Or do they grieve quietly and stoically?

Now, imagine you are from the West, and you’re organizing a relative’s funeral.

The West approaches grief in a somber and communal fashion. Funerals usually involve family and relatives joining either in a congregation or funeral hall, saying prayers, sharing memories, crying. But this is often the extent of the communal grieving process. 

Now, consider that the Middle Eastern partner of your relative invites her family to the funeral.

Middle Easterners show grief by moaning and crying out during communal services.

When they grieve this way at the funeral, do you find their actions disrespectful? As the funeral’s organizer, would you be upset that your own family was perhaps uncomfortable with this demonstrative grieving? Would you attempt to adapt the funeral to accommodate different forms of grief?

If you were to attend a funeral in the Middle East, would you adhere to your own cultural norms when mourning, or would you mirror your hosts and express your grief in a similar fashion?

If you are silent, your hosts might find your solemn behavior as disrespectful. Are you alright with this interpretation?

Do you think you could become accustomed to these behaviors if you lived in the Middle East for a time? If so, would you be open to adopting the behaviors when they became natural to you?

Now, consider other foreign funerary customs. For instance:

  • The Benguet of the Philippines blindfold the departed and seat them on a chair beside their home’s main entrance.
  • The Vaisravana Buddhists of Tibet and Mongolia perform a “sky burial,” ritually dismembering the departed and leaving the body on a mountaintop for vultures to take.
  • The Malagasy of Madagascar exhume their departed every couple of years in an event called “the turning of the bones,” in order to dance with them along to live music.

Would you be able to accept, adapt to, or adopt any of these cultural funerary customs?

The answer to this question will give you an idea about where you draw the line and how you might fair in a foreign environment.

What if the above qualities are not your strengths?

Never fear; next week, we’ll talk about developing the skillset to build these qualities.

The Six Styles of Leadership Across Cultures, PART II

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” – Jim Rohn

Sounds like a lot. But the worst part is that, when you lead across cultures, there’s even more nuance to leadership than Jim Rohn described.

Last week, we talked about the study done by GLOBE, which identified various types of leadership styles.

Universal preference went to the charismatic/value-based leader.

After all, a personable leader who can inspire and motivate his employees is someone anyone can get behind.

However, when it comes to the other styles of leadership, cultural preferences varied.

Good vs. Bad

Unsurprisingly, leadership preferences differed based on the values of the culture.

One example: ambition.

Some cultures see ambition as a good thing, while others see it as bad.

This was reflected in the study on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and in the breakdown of leadership preferences.

additional_charts_CMYK-06

While the charismatic/value-based leader was tops in the US, the UK, and Australia (Anglo-Saxon countries), the same leadership style was least preferred in the Middle East and South Asia, both of which sought self-protective leadership.

Human-oriented leadership was not favored in Nordic Europe but was favored in South Asia, while Latin America preferred team-orientated leadership.

Eastern Europe liked an autonomous leader, which rings true when you look at their history of favoring strong leaders.

The Roads Diverge

The greatest divergence in leadership preferences was between the Middle East and Western cultures.

Charismatic/value-based or team-oriented leaderships were favored least in the Middle East, in comparison to other regions.

Instead, the Middle East views self-protective leadership as less problematic.

Localized research also showed that Middle Eastern cultures preferred leadership attributes to include: humility, faithfulness, and family-orientation. This suggests that Western management styles would not be easily embraced.

Conclusion

The strong insights into how global cultures view leadership and what various populations expect from a leader are what make the GLOBE project a super useful tool for cross-cultural management.

For instance, due to these differences in favored leadership styles, GLOBE researchers remarked that mergers and acquisitions between European and Middle Eastern countries may be difficult.

Knowing the favored leadership styles of another culture allows international managers a blueprint for what sort of patterns are expected of them.

Instead of applying the management style you’ve learned in your own country, when you work internationally, you might tweak how you lead, applying tactical patterns from the local blueprint.

The bottom line is: employees from another culture likely expect a different type of leadership from their boss than you do from your own. So, prepare accordingly.

The Six Styles of Leadership Across Cultures, PART I

Do you prefer an authoritative leader or a supportive one?

Do you like a manager that allows you some autonomy or would you rather be micromanaged?

Last week, we talked about how research shows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs doesn’t stand up across cultures.

This week, we’ll discuss research that has found how management styles differ, according to a society’s values and norms.

Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership was once considered the most effective.

By the ‘90s, what makes a charismatic leader and the behaviors such leaders demonstrate had undergone thorough research.

In 1991, Professor Robert J. House at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania examined studies from the Netherlands, India, Singapore, and the United States. He found that charisma was popular in a leader but certain cultures preferred other leadership styles.

His research led to GLOBE.

GLOBE

Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness is a top cross-cultural research program.

In its formative years, interviews and focus groups of 17,300 managers from 951 organizations in 59 countries by 170 investigators were conducted and gathered for this project.

What did they find?

They found that societal cultures directly influence organizational cultures.

The Six Styles of Leadership

Leadership was defined as the capacity to influence, motivate, and enable employees to contribute toward company objectives.

Six distinct leadership styles were identified by GLOBE:

  • Charismatic/Value-based – a motivational and inspirational leadership style defined by charismatic, value-based leaders expecting high-performance outcomes from employees and colleagues, based on the company/organization’s core values.
  • Participative – a participatory leadership style in which managers often ask the involvement of others in making decisions and implementing them.
  • Team-oriented – a team-building leadership style, in which the implementation of a common goal is sought and work toward it is divided amongst team members.
  • Human-oriented – an empathetic and supportive leadership style, in which modesty, generosity, compassion, and sensitivity to others are promoted.
  • Autonomous – an individualistic and independent leadership style, never before appearing in business literature.
  • Self-protective – a face-saving leadership style, in which the security and safety of each employee or colleague is most important, with a focus on status consciousness. Also, a new dimensional term to business literature.

This outline of distinct leadership personalities allowed GLOBE to identify what type of leadership style was preferred by different cultures. We’ll talk more about that next week.

How Does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Stack Up Across Cultures

Management trainings often cut out the cross-cultural nature of leadership expectations, hierarchies, and values and norms.

So, when you’re put into a cross-cultural leadership position, you’re a fish out of water, and you don’t have much to guide you.

Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”

In Maslow’s theory, human motivation is pretty straight forward.

His “hierarchy of needs” is taught across many business administration curriculums and has been since its inception in the early ’40s.

It was in 1943 that researcher Abraham Maslow identified basic human needs and categorized them in a pyramid.

hierarchy of needs
FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

At the bottom are the most basic physiological needs:

When a person’s most basic human needs are satisfied, their more complex emotional and psychological needs rise to the top:

  • Love/belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-fulfillment/actualization

Think about these needs. Do you feel them in this order and manner?

What A Man Can Be

Maslow once wrote:

“What a man can be, he must be.”

This explains the pyramid in a nutshell: if we can achieve something greater than simply meeting our physiological needs, we will seek it out.

The hierarchy of needs may seem instinctive to the Western mind, so much so that Western managers apply this basic model to motivate their teams and incentivize success.

Self-fulfillment would then be the highest motivation, manifesting itself in power and personal career development.

However, as it turns out, this hierarchy of needs hasn’t stood the cross-cultural test.

Security, Social Needs, & Quality of Life

Let’s take a look at Greece and Japan.

Self-actualization in these countries is undercut by security needs.

According to research done within IBM World Trade Corporation:

“At the country level, higher mean stress turned out to be associated with stronger rule orientation and greater employment stability…When [the mean level of anxiety] is higher, people feel more stressed, but at the same time they try to cope with their anxiety by searching for security.”

Both Japan and Greece had high Uncertainty Avoidance Indexes, which indicate higher stress and anxiety levels.

This is why life-long job security supersedes climbing the corporate ladder or seeking out challenging work in these countries and may be another reason Japanese companies keep on workers even though they may be subpar or their positions could be made redundant.

On the other hand, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark place a lot of emphasis on quality of life, thus building a career takes a back burner to social needs.

Hofstede Disagrees

As Geert Hofstede duly notes:

“My interpretation is that this tells us more about Maslow than about the other countries’ managers. Maslow categorized and ordered his human needs according to the U.S. middle-class culture pattern in which he was embedded himself – he could not have done otherwise.”

This can be said about many studies that unintentionally (or intentionally) discount cross-cultural differences.

Cross-cultural values and norms are not much considered when identifying “human needs.”

Instead, every human is painted with one brush; the brush of whichever culture is doing the research.