Different business peopleLeadership is the process of having dominance on group activities in order to realize organizational objectives by influencing, motivating and directing those supervised. It can be problematic for transnational managers who have to create motivation in individuals with different cultures.
-Excerpt from Iranian Journal of Management Studies (IJMS),
Vol 3. No.3 January 2010 pp: 91- 111, Survey of Leadership Styles in Different Cultures.

Let’s start with an example. Last week I had the pleasure of coaching people from 4 different nationalities in one day.  In the morning, I coached a German executive and a French business owner; then the afternoon brought me a Turkish engineer and a Mexican sales manager.  “WOW” I said to myself “what a diverse group of clients.”   Though I frequently coach in German, English and Hebrew, this day I was struck with the vastly different communication styles between the US and the rest of the world.  Before I go on, I would like to tell you that my observations are never 100%; these are generalizations only.  In the end, of course, people are people – we are all individuals.

My approach to clients of different cultures is diverse.  One key to my success is that I tailor my coaching methods and approach to my audience.  Just as I coach a small group of women differently from a large diverse corporate group or present my coaching methods differently in a classroom than in a boardroom, I approach each individual client differently.  Thus, with German clients, I am usually friendly, frank and funny. Latin clients might find me more personal, passionate and patient.  And, with Middle Eastern clients, I am excited, sometimes argumentative and witty.  In each scenario, I want my communications to be impactful and meaningful.

I’ve talked before about diversity and how emotional intelligence requires cultural understanding and the acceptance of differences, relying on Chamberlain’s definition of culture as “the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave, and make judgments about their world.”  I’m sure you recall that culture applies in any group context: family, home, your workplace, a store, a concert hall.  It’s how a group and those in a group tend to behave in a particular surrounding.

While there are, in general, there are two types of leadership styles – task oriented and people oriented – these styles predominate in different countries.

Task oriented leaders:

People oriented leaders:

Looking at factors such as those I have just listed, Forbes Magazine recently reported on an interesting study concluding that emerging market leaders (India, China and other eastern countries) have a very strong focus and skill set on operational execution, meaning task execution. They are highly hierarchical, emphasizing hands-on management, operational process, and micro-management of individual performance. This leadership style makes sense in a fast-growing country where business success depends upon getting to market quickly and effectively.  Marketing strategies are important, but ultimately success and failure is often driven by their ability to hire, train, and manage individuals quickly. These organizations are less interested in long-term vision or sustainability initiatives than quick results.Leadership in Nordic countries is far more oriented toward people, focusing on planning, strategy, communication, and being a “change ambassador.”  These companies tend be older with an existing global presence, creating a need to focus on common vision, values, and long term thinking. Their processes are established and expectations are defined.  While innovation continues to thrive in these countries, their whole culture is built around a focus on the “collective good.”  Here in the U.S. and also in the U.K., the leadership style tends to be hybrid, meaning both task oriented and equalitarian.  Like leaders in Asia’s up and coming countries such as India, those in the U.S. tend to be hard drivers with a task oriented management style. According to Forbes, “The rugged individualism of US culture and our continued struggle to limit the size of government creates a leadership style that focused heavily on execution, with the weight of accountability focused on the individual.”  On the other hand, our managers are trained to interact with subordinates, ask for feedback and expect every one to perform.  While in the U.S., we may micro manage, in the sense that we watch those we supervise like a hawk, making sure no mistake is made and giving them detailed directions and objectives, we also expect them to work independently and successfully.

The next time you travel to or meet someone from another country take a moment to think about how the workplace in which they work is a reflection of their culture, just as your workplace is a reflection of ours.  Remember, a model that incorporates an egalitarian outlook with the expectation that a task must be completed, and completed correctly, will enable your leadership to be well-balanced and you to be accessible to those around you.  Moreover, despite general cultural differences in approach, one thing is very clear.  Unless the leader adapts to the employees, efficiency and success suffer.  A strong good leader is versatile and aware of those around her.

The next time you find yourself being empathetic to your employee because she doesn’t feel well or you are listening to her talk to you about all the problems she has at home or how overwhelmed she is, pull back for a moment and think, “Am I helping her because when these problems are resolved she will be more productive?  Or, am I holding her back by letting her focus on herself rather than on concentrating on the operational task at hand?”  Remember, in the workplace your first objective is to get the work done.  Your employees are not your friends.  If you can be supportive and keep the objective in mind simultaneously, then you have combined the best assets of both task and people oriented leaders.  Business success will follow.

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