Are good management styles the same around the world?
Are there universal ideas about how sound leadership should be carried out everywhere in the world, or do different business cultures affect how we view sound leadership? Victoria Benner hears both sides of the story
Kevin Murray, author of The Language of Leaders and chairman of the Bell Pottinger Group
International companies employ people from different backgrounds and cultures, but all those people operate in the realm of their company culture. That is why this has to be carefully developed and maintained. If there is now a common leadership approach, it is in this area – recognising the value of values in creating value.
So I believe that global companies have more in common when it comes to leadership styles than might appear to be the case at first. When I researched my book I spoke to a multitude of leaders of different international companies and organisations, all of whom described how a shared company culture can override any cultural differences. A shared set of company values is the glue that binds people, builds trust and enables an organisation to function across cultural barriers.
That’s why leaders spend so much time concentrating on the values of the company, often saying that they devote 80% of their time to this. That’s how important it is. Increasingly, they are also talking about the need for a sense of purpose that goes beyond profit – a higher-order social purpose that inspires employees and makes them feel that what they do is important and makes a difference. Leaders now understand that giving people a sense of cause improves performance as well as wellbeing in the company. And this is something we see happening increasingly in business.
Business leaders across the globe have realised that they have to be people-focused, more inspirational and build good relationships of trust. Good relationships become the engines of success. Inspiring communication is key when it comes to producing outstanding results.
A growing body of research shows that companies that concentrate on employee engagement have a higher growth rate and deliver better results. This collective move towards developing soft skills and inspiring people through communication is the result of an increasingly transparent, challenging world, where expectations of leaders and companies have risen dramatically over the past few years. People have higher expectations and there is pressure on organisations to account for their leaders and for leaders to be accountable. It is all about integrity.
While expectations on leaders might not be the same everywhere, and may have cultural variations, there is no doubt employees have a general desire to be respected, valued and involved. This is a trend that transcends geographical and cultural barriers. Leaders must respond to this demand, wherever they are.
Professor Dave Ulrich, University of Michigan; RBL Group
Professor Chris Rowley, Cass Business School; the HEAD Foundation, Singapore
In general, studies show that about 50% of who leaders are comes from their heritage and 50% comes from their environment. This implies that leaders have predispositions that influence how they think and act. But the data also implies that leaders can think and act differently if they consciously choose to do so. Some key elements of “good” leadership – such as setting and operating a coherent and ethical strategy and organisational culture – are the same the world over, but clearly their implementation and practice is not.
Philosophical approaches underlie leadership. These philosophical differences show up in western versus eastern approaches to business in areas such as strategy, accountability, career orientation and rewards. Leaders assigned to work globally need to be aware of their biases and must adapt to relevant philosophies. Leaders who fall prey to doing things “my way or the highway” will not be able to respond to global pressures. And leaders who give in to “the other way” will lose sight of their heritage and be inattentive to their cultural uniqueness.
There are several unique cultural challenges that leaders face around the world. Using a few examples from Asia, the cultural dimension that leaders must attend to becomes clear.
Here, the concept of paternalism often runs through organisations, which tend to be hierarchical – with leaders who accept a personal responsibility for the wellbeing of employees. We have seen that they are more likely to focus on long- than short-term goals, partly because of organisational financing through debt (where leaders convince a few investors to support them) over equity (where leaders have to show profits to convince many unknown investors to invest).
There is also a culture of deference in the hierarchy and an emphasis on teamwork and conformity to shared behavioural expectations. Asian culture encourages collaboration, mutual support and banding together to achieve common goals – goals often crafted by superiors. Differences of opinion are seldom encouraged and, if they are voiced, are done so privately and with grace. Public confrontations and differences of opinion are not recommended.
As leaders recognise the business challenges and subsequent organisation cultural requirements, they will be able to determine what they have to know and do to be effective leaders and build great leadership, anywhere in the world.