Cultural differences in leadership styles – are you able to adapt?
Erin Meyer is a Professor at the INSEAD business school in France and an authority on trans-national leadership cultures. Her book The Culture Map is essential reading for any senior manager in an organisation working across the world. In the July-August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review Professor Meyer summarises her research and experience in a very readable article which contains some very telling case studies. Her views resonate strongly with me at present as I have projects in Germany, France, the UK and the USA and I have to be constantly aware of important differences in the way that meetings are managed and above all how decisions are made. To add to my experience my son Simon (a consulting engineer) has been working on a very complex UK-Japan project for some time. As a result he is now very aware of the importance of recognising the role that nemawashi and ringi play in decision making in Japanese organisations.
Professor Meyer assesses the cross-impacts of decision-making culture in two ways. The first is Top-Down (China, the Gulf States) and Consensual ( Scandinavia and the Netherlands) and the second is Hierarchical (Japan) and Egalitarian (USA, UK, Canada and Australia). She offers some advice for managers working with teams in all four combinations of these cultures, which are a continuum rather than specific cultural boxes, and that often makes it more difficult to work out the best common approach.
In the summary to the paper she cautions that people who have been very successful leaders in their own culture will need to be informed and flexible enough to chose a style which will work best for the organisation and individuals used to another cultural context. There is now a substantial amount of research and experience into cross-cultural management, originating with Geert Hofstede and his work at Shell and then Richard Lewis, the author of When Cultures Collide.