Leadership Styles Across Cultures

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There are often two perspectives on the expectations of what it means to be a good manager or leader—as this cartoon shows. In this case, the manager is looking at how he can empower his employee. The employee, on the other hand, would prefer to be given direct orders.

There can be a huge gap in defining "a good manager," depending on who’s providing the definition. These discrepancies stem from different preferences, expectations and culturally inherited values in a particular society.

For instance, people that are used to working in more egalitarian cultures tend to have the following attitudes:

  • Prefer self-direction with minimal guidance from above
  • Like flexibility in their roles
  • Reserve the right to challenge authority
  • Make expectations, interpret rules and use "common sense"
  • Treat sexes equally

Whereas, those people operating in more hierarchical cultures are more likely to:

  • Take and expect clear guidance from superiors
  • Like clearly defined roles with boundaries and limitations
  • Respect and rarely challenge those in power
  • Enforce regulations and guidelines
  • See sexes as naturally different

There is huge potential for cultural clashes and misunderstandings if a new leader is unaware of these unspoken expectations.

But what about leadership attributes across cultures? As expectations vary, there are also contrary preferences of leadership styles across cultures.

The Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness (GLOBE) project is a longitudinal cross-cultural research study which aimed to examine leadership worldwide.

The research was started in 1991 by Robert House, a professor at the Wharton School. The study involved a team of researchers in 62 cultures. The researchers collected data from 17,200 middle managers in over 900 different organizations.

The results were as follows:


The researchers were able to define universal attitudes, which are evaluated as substantially positive or negative across cultures. Good attributes include trustworthiness, motivating and excellence oriented, whereas negative attributes were dictatorial or self-protective.

Further, the researchers defined culturally contingent attributes, which reflect the contradictory character of some attributes. Some attributes that were evaluated as positive for leaders in one country were viewed as negative in other countries.

These attributes resulted in six culturally endorsed leadership theory dimensions (CLTs), which represent "characteristics, skills, and abilities perceived to facilitate outstanding leadership." These dimensions are:

  • Charismatic/Value-Based: The ability to inspire, to motivate, and to expect high performance outcomes from others on the basis of firmly held core beliefs. These leaders are visionary, inspirational, engage in self-sacrifice, demonstrate integrity and are decisive and performance-oriented.
  • Team-Oriented: Team-oriented leadership emphasizes effective team building and implementation of a common purpose or goal among team members. Team-oriented leaders are collaborative integrators who are diplomatic, benevolent, administratively competent and procedural.
  • Participative: Participative leadership reflects the degree to which leaders involve others in making and implementing decisions. Participative leaders emphasize democratic and participative decision making.
  • Humane-Oriented: Humane-oriented leadership reflects supportive and considerate leadership, but also includes compassion, modesty, generosity and an emphasis on being humane.
  • Self-Protective: Autonomous leadership refers to independent and individualistic leadership attributes. Autonomous leaders emphasize individualism, independence and autonomy and have unique attributes.
  • Autonomous: Self-protective leadership focuses on ensuring the safety and security of the individual and group through status enhancement and face saving. Self-protective leaders are self-centerd, status conscious and conflict inducers who emphasize procedures and saving face.

Below you find an illustration of the country cluster of the 62 countries, which participated in this study. Essentially, every country has specific preferences, which are in line with, or contrary to other countries:


Being aware and understanding the practical impacts of these different interpretations and expectations of leadership provides a huge benefit when working in multi-national corporations and international organizations.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is an essential skill for business leaders today as they become more effective in navigating culturally diverse business contexts, and managing their increasingly multicultural teams.