Ask An Expert-October 2014

Q: “How does nationality impact both how leaders behave as well as their effectiveness as leaders?” 

A: This issue was recently addressed head-on in a research study [1] sponsored by the Institute of International Education (West Coast Center), which supports the leadership development and engagement of reproductive health and population leaders in the poorest economic regions of Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The Institute’s overall goal is to build and sustain a “critical core network of well-trained emerging and established leaders with the vision, commitment, knowledge and skills to improve reproductive health outcomes in each of the countries.”  This network of reproductive health leaders includes doctors, lawyers, academics, Islamic scholars, public health professionals, community and youth leaders, government employees, and journalists.  Overall, 190 leaders and 970 observers participated in the study.  

What we found was that although the use of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® varied across these four countries, within the countries their impact was the same.  That is to say: within each country the most effective leaders, according to their constituents across the four countries, engaged more often in The Five Practices than did those reported as only moderately or seldom effective. At the same time, within each country, the level of workplace engagement by constituents was directly related to how often they reported their leaders used The Five Practices.

This study provides an understanding into how leaders behave around the globe, and documents that their leadership behaviors make a difference not only to their constituents’ engagement levels but how effective they are reported as leaders. It demonstrates that there are some “universal” leadership processes and provides guidance for those responsible for developing the global (cross-cultural) competencies of leaders.  Indeed, we assert that leadership development efforts may be better directed toward building skills common to leaders rather than targeting differences within national boundaries. 

Consider Rajeev Peshawaria’s claim that his “leadership style never changes.”  As CEO of the ICLIF Leadership and Governance Centre based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he maintains:  “The assumption that people are motivated differently around the world—especially in Asia—and that leaders must adapt their behavior accordingly is wrong. Having led and managed people in eight countries across three continents, I have found the exact opposite to be true. Regardless of geographic location or culture, what drives people to the highest level of engagement is innately human and universal. Thus, great leadership looks the same wherever you are.”  

Barry Posner is the Accolti Endowed 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—now in its fifth edition—and over a thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.


[1]  Barry Z. Posner (2013).  “It's how leaders behave that matters, not where they are from.Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol 34, No. 6: pp. 573-587. 

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