Cross-Cultural Differences in Leadership Behavior

Barry Posner

Q: In your research paper, The Impact of Leadership Practices Within Cultures, you state that: "Overall, the findings from this latest research project strengthen the argument that there are some universal principles, or better yet, processes of leadership that are relatively independent of culture, albeit not necessarily independent of context." As a business student of International Business with a focus on leadership and management in cross-cultural environments, my question is this: Is it not likely that, for example, Chinese employees and expatriates working in China would value each of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® differently? That the appreciation of each of The Five Practices would differ, dependent on preferences influenced by one's culture? Here I refer to conventional theory which states e.g. that Asians are less likely to embrace empowerment.

A: Part of the challenge in dealing with cross-cultural issues revolves around semantics, and trying to find common meaning when looking at the same phenomenon. Indeed, we can ask "is the glass half-full or half-empty?" and both viewpoints can be correct.

Context is neither trivial nor unimportant. As you suggest, our research did reveal and did substantiate the viewpoint that leaders from several different countries did engage in particular leadership behaviors at different levels of frequency. In addition, the research also reveals that the most effective leaders use these leadership behaviors more frequently—versus their less effective counterparts—no matter from what country (or context or culture) they hail. In other words, to be an effective leader, you have to engage in these five leadership practices. However, in one context you may have to use The Five Practices more frequently than you would in another context. Likewise, consider that of the many different friends that I have I have to listen to each of them if I want them to remain my friends. With some of these friends this "listening" takes more time and energy than it does with others. And essentially, our research suggests that the same is true about leadership: there are some universal principals (like The Five Practices) that when applied in a particular setting or circumstance require a certain sensitivity.

Barry Posner is the Accolti Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, where he served as Dean for 12 years. Together with Jim Kouzes, he is author of The Leadership Challenge and over a thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development, including Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It.


 
 

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