Globalization, Cultural Context and Leadership

Recently, in a classroom discussion on how cultural context affects leadership, one of my leadership students referenced research on cross cultural leadership from a Harvard handbook on leadership theory and practice. The class was specifically discussing the effect of cultural context on leadership. The concept and article intrigued me so I purchased it.

We are living in a business and social world that is more and more global. There is no escaping this fact. Anyone in leadership development is interested in how we train leaders to be global leaders! To what do we pay attention?

I had two questions when beginning to read this article. Is there any knowledge or information to help us work together more seamlessly? And can we answer the question of what effect cultural context has on global leadership in order to lead more effectively?

The article he referenced was excerpted from a handbook from a Harvard centennial colloquium and was entitled Leadership and Cultural Context by Javidan, Dorfman, Howell and Hanges. It detailed a study of cultural differences in perceptions of leadership. And the study found some common ground in leadership attributes among different cultures.

Worldwide we all have a perception of leadership that comes from the mental concepts we developed from society, culture and our own experience which itself is shaped by our perceptions. Heady stuff! So given our differences what is the commonality in how people view leadership?

All cultures studied thought of integrity as a leadership attribute. They also think both inspirational and visionary charisma (note the difference) are leadership attributes. This list is rounded out by being performance and team oriented as leadership attributes. Leaders possessing and displaying these attributes will be seen globally as leaders. If leaders are aware of the cultural differences below but focus on the strengths of common attributes, they can function with less friction and more effectively.

The cultural differences show up in areas such as saving face, being autonomous or status conscious or bureaucratic. The differences list is rounded out with being competitive within the organization to the level of creating conflict and being self-sacrificing.

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