Cultural Dimensions in Leadership

When working in a different country as an expatriate or even spending some week, we need to be informed about the different traits of the culture in which we are being introduced. This will ease our relationship with other co-workers and have much better results. Although this level of knowledge for other cultures commonly requires an immersion to them, it helps if you are previously informed.

In this article you will find several cultural dimensions to be taken into account.

Power Distance

This dimension speaks about  us how the members of a society view differences in power and status amongst them. A typical example is found in organizations where hierarchical superiors try to create distance to subordinates whilst subordinates try to shorten it.

Cultures with a high power distance, show high differences in power and status and accepted by their employees regardless of their rank.

In cultures with a high power distance, when having to establish relationships with professionals from other companies, managers are expecting to deal with people having the same position and consider it an offence when they are assigned a contact of a lower level. On the other hand, a culture with low power distance will have no problem in establishing contact with staff from different levels.

Power distance also affects to the wage differences between different hierarchical levels which are increased with it. This also encourages situations where staff at the base of the organizational pyramid have lower professional qualifications in cultures with a high power distance.

There is a tendency towards cooperation in cultures with lower power distance because there are less conflicts between individuals with different ranks of power in their organizations.

Despite the differences between countries, students with a business management background usually have significantly lower power distance values than those of their countries of origin, especially if they have lived among multicultural groups.

Uncertainty Avoidance

This culture dimension measures the degree of insecurity in relation to the unknown or the unexpected future.

Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance: anything new is regarded with fear and suspicion.

Cultures with low uncertainty avoidance: unexpected situations are seen as opportunities.

Cultures with a high uncertainty avoidance are conservative and try to maintain risk under control.

One of the countries with the highest uncertainty avoidance is Japan. Thus, Japanese companies commonly establish stable relationships on a long term basis with their suppliers, customers or other stakeholders.

A high uncertainty avoidance result in low ambition atmospheres. For instance, when undertaking problem solving meeting, they tend to consult with specialists on the subject than staff who have a more managerial profile. The quality of a decision is considered more important than the speed at which it is made.

Assertiveness

It is a cultural dimension that shows the way how individuals act with determination and a focused on achieving goals. An assertive attitude gives more value to power, money and other material assets.

Assertiveness is sometimes confused with belligerence, but we need to be clear on the fact that assertiveness, has to exclude violence to be considered as such.

Assertive behavior is usually associated more with masculine profiles than with feminine ones. The highest values in this dimension are considered to represent masculine cultures, while the lower values represent feminine ones. Feminine cultures place more value on quality of life, having a good working environment and sharing interests with people without seeking any reward. Less assertive cultures have a greater tendency towards cooperation and give an important value to relationships.

One feature of most masculine societies is the separation of tasks between genders. In more masculine societies, certain jobs are assigned to men and others to women, whereas in more feminine societies, we can find both genders performing the full range of activities. Luckily, the more developed countries are working hard to leverage both genders.

Collectivism versus Individualism

The individualism cultural dimension measures the degree of egocentrism of people and their interest on their own personal affairs. On the contrary, collectivism measures the relationship ratio from the individual to a larger group to which he/she is identified with.

Individualism is identified with self-interest, but this is not correct. When individualistic people plan their actions, they act independently and involve few people in their decisions. This does not mean that their actions are negative for others. In collective societies, the size of the group with which they share their opinions is bigger, so the number of people involved is also higher.

Individualism and Collectivism has important implications for organisations. The higher the index of individualism, the more responsible a person is considered to be for his or her actions. For instance, in collective societies, professional promotions are made taking into account personal merit rather than seniority.

In individualistic societies, a professional usually does not identify as much with the company (commitment is much lower) so they may take advantage of any opportunity to improve the current conditions, as the relationship between the individual and the organisation is based only on interest. Consequently, company’s HR policies in individualistic societies give emphasis on staff recruitment than on their training and development.

Short and long term orientation

In cultures with a short-term orientation (f.e. South America, México), the immediate results of our decisions are given the greatest consideration, on the contrary, in long term oriented cultures, we think about the future consequences of our actions (f.e. Japan, European Northern Countries).

In short-term oriented cultures, the reference that counts is the present, thus, the value is attached to our ability to enjoy the moment (Carpe Diem).

However, within long term oriented cultures, professionals, in general, develop higher skills and are more prepared to anticipate future events and designing their path to achieve future objectives. The handicap is that it can lead us to underestimate social and personal relations.

As a conclusion, the long term orientation will increases our capability of self-control and to improve our lives, while within the short-term orientation we will tend to simplify our life and make us more dependent..

Performance orientation

The performance orientation treats about whether a particular culture gives more importance to business rather than to people or viceversa.

In business-oriented cultures (individualistic societies) there is a clear separation and difference between the business and the personal lives of the individuals. Collectivist cultures, on the contrary, are more relationship-oriented.

In business-oriented cultures, negotiations are impersonal and no time is spent socialising before the meeting as they go straight to the point. In a relationship-oriented culture, trust is required before holding any meeting, so a good atmosphere needs to be created beforehand, in which both parties usually speak about the personal aspects of their lives (in the United Kingdom it is very common to spend 10-15 minutes speaking about your personal life before starting a business meeting; it is not the same about company’s internal meetings where everybody knows each other).

This business-oriented cultures use unambiguously direct language. This fact could result in some friction within relationship-oriented cultures, in which expressing not favourable opinions is offensive.

Consideration of time

How people manage time within cultures it is also important to explain their behavior and business relationships. Cultures in which people are watching the clock are called monochronic, in contrast to polychronic cultures where everything is more relaxed.

In monochronic cultures (f.e. United Kingdom, Germany) punctuality is within their DNA. Arriving late for a meeting can mean that it is cancelled or that it is started without us as it is considered a disrespect. In this cultures there is a correlation between punctuality and meeting deadlines.

Expressivity

Our communication style is different taking into account our expressivity. The more expressive the culture is, the more gestures are accompanied in our verbal communication. On the contrary, in reserved cultures, the tone is moderate.

In business meetings, silence together with language plays a different role in each culture. Reserved cultures accept silence as natural, and, by contrast, in expressive cultures, silence is a sign of caution.

The interpersonal distance in expressive cultures is minimal; conversations take place face to face and speakers are very close. In reserved cultures, this behaviour may be intimidating.

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