The Three A’s: Developing Personality Traits to Manage Successfully Across Cultures

Last week, we discussed that managers who lead successfully across cultures often demonstrate the following qualities: empathy, flexibility, emotional stability, open-mindedness, and social initiative.

Does this describe your personality?

If your answer is ‘yes’, then great! You’ll probably make an exceptional leader, no matter what cultural environment you find yourself managing in.

But if you find you’re lacking in some (or all) of these personality traits, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon them and succeed as a leader across cultures.

To do so, consider the Three A’s.

The Three A’s

In this blog, we often discuss accepting, adapting, and adopting culture – the three A’s.

Whether or not you naturally possess personality traits that assist cross-cultural integration, abiding by these three A’s will improve your efforts. In doing so, you will avoid Monkey Moments. You’ll also more successfully manage in a foreign culture and generally improve your cross-cultural skills.

Accepting, adapting, and adopting enable you to methodically face cultural conflicts head-on, rather than just winging it and hoping for the best.

Ask Yourself…

The following statements are binary: you may lean more strongly to one side or the other. The stronger you lean toward either side, the harder it will be for you to integrate into a foreign culture.

If you find both extremes to be acceptable, then you are demonstrating cultural competence.

Finding another’s values/norms acceptable doesn’t mean you must find them “right”; it just means you are willing to override your own cultural ethnocentricity, boundaries, education, and convictions, in order to properly accept, adapt, and maybe even adopt another’s.

As with last week’s self-assessment, note to what degree you agree with the following statements:

  • Everyone is responsible for their own actions.” / “Fate determines the outcome of events.”
  • “Asking direct questions is the best method to attain information.” / “It is rude/intrusive to ask direct questions.”
  • “Being vague in your responses is dishonest.” / “Avoiding answering directly/honestly prevents hurt and embarrassment.”
  • “Punctuality and efficiency are virtues demonstrated by intelligent people.” / “Spending time with the people you love is more important than punctuality.”
  • “Being on a first-name basis shows friendliness and familiarity.” / “Addressing people by their first name is disrespectful.”
  • “It is important to maintain eye contact with people who are speaking.” / “Direct eye contact with those of higher status is impolite.”

After reading through these binary statements, do you find either side completely unacceptable? Or is the opposite extreme something you’d not only be willing to accept but to adapt to?

If you’re leaning toward the latter, tune in next week as we discuss more in depth how to accept and adapt to another culture.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Cross-Cultural Management: Unite

Imagine someone from another country was brought in to manage your office.

This manager, instead of adapting to your culture, tries to impose his own.

He enforces rules in the office that make no sense to you; rules which go against your values and norms.

How would you respond to this management style? Would you conform or rebel against it?

Last week, we talked about how social control is exercised through relationships in relationship-based cultures and how rule-based cultures believe in individual autonomy.

This week, we’ll discuss how a little understanding about these cultural intricacies goes a long way in business management.

Rules of Engagement

Successful cross-cultural managers know the do’s and don’ts of cross-cultural environments. Below are the basics.

Do:

Don’t:

  • Divide
  • Try to alter cultural values/norms
  • Be inconsiderate about cultural differences
  • Confront colleagues about these differences
  • Press upon touchy subjects

As with the scenario mentioned in the intro, when you are the monkey, you’re entering a culture as an outsider. Your focus shouldn’t be on magnifying your differences, but rather, trying to understand them. 

Uniting, not dividing.

Just as in the intro scenario, place yourself in the shoes of the worker being managed.

When confronted with a culturally insensitive manager, you wouldn’t appreciate some outsider coming in to change things that have been done a certain way for many years.

Maybe even hundreds or thousands of years.

Step 1 of Uniting: Win Over the Leaders

In a relationship-based society, you manage groups, not individuals.

But that does not mean there aren’t important individuals amongst these groups.

To win over the group, you must win over the leader.

So, the first step is to identify the leader(s).

Next, you must build up your relationships with that leader.

By zeroing in on the important person(s), establishing a relationship with him/her, and cultivating that relationship, you’re essentially doing the same with the entire group in a relationship-based culture. The person(s) at the top of the hierarchy is the most respected and influential.

It’s pretty simple: win over the leaders, and you win the followers.

You can do this by:

  1. Winning their trust
  2. Winning their respect
  3. Motivating them
  4. Inspiring them

We’ll talk more about dealing cross-culturally in relationship-based cultures next week.

Paternal Leadership in Collectivist Cultures: Care in Exchange for Obedience

We talked about directive and supportive leadership styles and behaviors in last week’s blog.

Research has shown that collectivist cultures respond to a hybrid of both these styles called paternal leadership.

What does paternal leadership look like?

Paternal Leadership

Paternal leaders are dominant authority figures (think patriarchs/matriarchs) who exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Treat employees like family members
  • Expect trust, loyalty, and obedience from employees
  • Listen to employees but makes the final decision
  • Promote social skills and education
  • Provide employee training for business and interpersonal skills

Leadership and Team Cohesiveness

A study by Hein Wendt, Martin C. Euwema, and I.J. Hetty van Emmerik, entitled “Leadership and team cohesiveness across cultures” and published in The Leadership Quarterly, asserts that paternal leadership appeals to collectivist cultures.

“The present findings offer interesting insights and support the idea that indeed in collectivistic cultures, compared with individualistic cultures, leaders do behave more directive and more supportive at the same time. This reflects a typical paternalistic way of managing, in which the leader takes care of his employees, and in return demands obedience, which can be seen as representative for many collectivistic cultures.”

The study, which observed 140,000 employees across 615 worldwide companies, also found that directive leadership had a more negative impact on team cohesiveness in individualist cultures than it did in collectivist cultures. Moreover, supportive leadership had a positive moderating effect on team cohesiveness, no matter the culture.

This suggests that while some leadership behaviors are universally appealing, others are influenced by culture.

National Culture & Team Cohesiveness

One surprising result of this study is that team cohesion was not as influenced by national culture as had been hypothesized. Researchers assumed that collectivist cultures would be much more team-oriented than individualist cultures, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.

This may be because collectivist cultures don’t view the work group as a strong social identity when compared to individualist cultures. Work groups are usually composed of various levels of education, ages, statuses, and social backgrounds, making collectivist societies less prone to loyalty to “the group“.

The study concluded:

“In this group, traditional values of sacrificing for the sake of a group are less applicable compared to other types of referent groups.”

This means that, in a collectivist society, the conditions of loyalty to the group must develop over time before team cohesiveness is established.

On the other hand, individualist cultures saw high group cohesiveness, likely related to the level of importance of work, achievement, and job affiliation in individualist cultures. This made Western employees become more collectivist oriented in terms of teamwork.

Directive vs. Supportive Leadership: Which Style Works in Your Culture?

Say, you believe that the success of the team is more important than personal goals, ambition, and achievements.

If that were the case, what type of management style do you think you’d prefer?

Would you want a supportive, inclusive leader offering you relative autonomy? A work environment where everyone can freely voice their opinions and concerns and stand out from the crowd?

Or would you want a directive, authoritarian leader within a company culture where harmony is more important than self-expression?

We’ve talked about how collectivist cultures view the “group” as more important than self. We’ve also discussed that thegroup” differs across cultures.

The group one most values often directs its workplace norms and preferences, including what motivational factors are effective and what type of leadership is preferred.

As to the latter, two styles of leadership are applied in varying degrees across cultures: directive and supportive leadership. Let’s take a look at both.

Directive Leadership

What makes a directive leader?

Here are some directive leadership behaviors:

  • Being task-oriented
  • Demonstrating control over subordinates
  • Dominating interactions
  • Personally managing the completion of tasks
  • Supervising closely
  • Pressuring employees to complete targets accurately and efficiently
  • Focusing on time management

With a directive leader, employees are placed in a role of dependency – depending on the leader to direct every aspect of their task, including how and when to move forward. Employees under directive leaders often demonstrate little personal initiative.

A number of studies have shown directive leadership often contributes to lesser satisfaction and team cohesion. Moreover, directive leadership unsurprisingly leads to less open communication.

However, directive leadership can also result in higher productivity.

Supportive Leadership

What makes a supportive leader?

Here are some supportive leadership behaviors:

  • Meeting employee needs/preferences
  • Showing concern for employee welfare, individual/group needs, and conflict within the group
  • Encouraging a supportive work environment
  • Providing positive feedback
  • Fostering team cohesion and openness
  • Inviting employees to be part of the decision-making process
  • Promoting positive morale
  • Facilitating discussions (as opposed to dominating them)

With a supportive leader, employees are provided more autonomy and encouraged to demonstrate personal initiative and to be individuals within a cohesive group dynamic.

Studies have shown supportive environments can empower and promote positive dependency among team members, despite being open to more potential conflict as a result of open communication and individual expression.

In his study on “Rights and Responsibilities of Dissent: Cooperative Conflict,” Dean Tjosvold concludes that:

“…asserting the right to self-expression contributes to establishing a conflict-positive climate in which differences and frustrations can be discussed openly.”

The hard part when managing across cultures is finding that fine line between cooperative conflict and just plain conflict.

Next week, we’ll discuss the hybrid leadership style that combines directive and supportive leadership. Stay tuned.

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.