Understanding and relying on traditional Western models of leadership alone is no longer sufficient in a world where most companies operate globally. Progressive organizations need to accommodate cultural differences and approaches to leadership. It is crucial that their managers learn to understand and adapt to this and work hard to acquire the competencies needed to prosper.
Leading employees from different cultural backgrounds has become an everyday reality and challenge for managers. An understanding of cultural differences, as well as how these differences play out in interpersonal and group relationships, is no longer optional but a critical tool.
To start with, the authors look at the assumptions typically encountered when considering the essence of global leadership:
According to the authors, all three “miss the mark” in sufficiently explicating the leadership construct as it is related to global diversity. As such, they suggest that focusing more squarely on two issues would do better to advance understanding of leadership processes: (a) the meaning of leadership as a cultural construct and (b) the variations in local expectations regarding leader behaviour. In short, in their view we must move beyond traditional Western models of leadership and take a more cosmopolitan approach to the subject.
To illustrate how local cultures can influence the definition and application of successful leadership, the authors discuss doing business in China as an example. What is generally referred to as Western Civilization traces its origins to the culture, beliefs, and traditions of ancient Greece. By contrast, the concept of an ideal or archetype that would serve as a model for action and a desirable final state of affairs never developed in ancient China.
Understanding the difference between traditions and how they historically developed in on country compared to another helps explain their separate paths of social thought and practice.
The authors point to at least two important lessons for managers:
The key advice is not to try to imitate local behaviour; rather, seek to understand local conditions and then act in authentic ways that are compatible with local expectations.
They also suggest that companies avoid sponsoring leadership programs that stress a few keys to successful leadership, ignoring critical variations in local environments. However, the onus is nevertheless on managers to prepare themselves for work with people from different cultural backgrounds, something the authors highlight as potentially very rewarding.
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