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.