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Cultural expectations and leadership

Read an article about the different cultural expectations of a leader to practise and improve your reading skills.

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Gabriela worked for a multinational company as a successful project manager in Brazil and was transferred to manage a team in Sweden. She was excited about her new role but soon realised that managing her new team would be a challenge.

Despite their friendliness, Gabriela didn't feel respected as a leader. Her new staff would question her proposals openly in meetings, and when she gave them instructions on how to carry out a task, they would often go about it in their own way without checking with her. When she announced her decisions on the project, they would continue giving their opinions as if it was still up for discussion.

After weeks of frustration, Gabriela emailed her Swedish manager about the issues she was facing with her team. Her manager simply asked her if she felt her team was still performing, and what she thought would help her better collaborate with her team members. Gabriela found her manager vague and didn't feel as if he was managing the situation satisfactorily.

What Gabriela was experiencing was a cultural clash in expectations. She was used to a more hierarchical framework where the team leader and manager took control and gave specific instructions on how things were to be done. This more directive management style worked well for her and her team in Brazil but did not transfer well to her new team in Sweden, who were more used to a flatter hierarchy where decision making was more democratic. When Gabriela took the issue to her Swedish manager, rather than stepping in with directions about what to do, her manager took on the role of coach and focused on getting her to come up with her own solutions instead.

Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede uses the concept of 'power distance' to describe how power is distributed and how hierarchy is perceived in different cultures. In her previous work environment, Gabriela was used to a high power distance culture where power and authority are respected and everyone has their rightful place. In such a culture, leaders make the big decisions and are not often challenged. Her Swedish team, however, were used to working in a low power distance culture where subordinates often work together with their bosses to find solutions and make decisions. Here, leaders act as coaches or mentors who encourage independent thought and expect to be challenged.

When Gabriela became aware of the cultural differences between her and her team, she took the initiative to have an open conversation with them about their feelings about her leadership. Pleased to be asked for their thoughts, Gabriela's team openly expressed that they were not used to being told what to do. They enjoyed having more room for initiative and creative freedom. When she told her team exactly what she needed them to do, they felt that she didn't trust them to do their job well. They realised that Gabriela was taking it personally when they tried to challenge or make changes to her decisions, and were able to explain that it was how they'd always worked.

With a better understanding of the underlying reasons behind each other's behaviour, Gabriela and her team were able to adapt their way of working. Gabriela was then able to make adjustments to her management style so as to better fit the expectations of her team and more effectively motivate her team to achieve their goals.



Language level

Upper intermediate: B2


I think the manager is very important to make a decision.
Once the manager would be vague and be not definite for the issues, the team does not work well.
As I think, the manager is same with the general or officer of the army.
If the officer is killed by the enemy, they could not win the battle.
So I think the role of manger would be strong and powerful even though the other members would be resentment.
But the management should be more friendly and respect the other`s opinion and solutions in order to make a good communication and harmonious team.

Anyway the decision of the manager should be final and powerful.

A response from a manager like that will be perceived as vague and not definite from individuals of Asian culture as they are used to being told what to do, on the other hand managers from those cultures will feel resentment from their team members if they don’t follow them literally.
,being from an arab country, high power distance is something rooted in our culture, however in some companies they don’t adopt the hierarchical system, instead they value democracy,teamwork, and involving the whole team with the decision.
In my opinion, the later approach is much better because decision bias will be decreased by benefiting from the expertise, creativity where the whole members are coming up with ideas and different viewpoints.
I also believe that it could vary among industries, some industries need the high power distance system or the hierarchy approach, other like marketing and selling for example need the team members to be creative and take initiatives. This mean that such system should not be adopted in the whole culture.

A good leaders need to be sensitive, sociable and be able to get on with a wide range of people. In my opinion it is very important that the manager acts as a guid but encourages input from the team. It is also essential that team members can take the initiative to do things their own way.

I think the management should be as take and give, the manager should have to listen to his team and foster them to make discussions to exchange ideas and thoughts, and the proposals and expectations must be mutual, if the manager want to give orders and detailed instructions then he can do that in the military sectors not in modern corporations and it's institutions.

Addressing a regulation concept as an authority figure in a company could be a struggle when the basis aren't established in advance underneath a jurisdiction framework, where when stating a formal democracy underlying in a concept of business republic is given equality of opportunity to the employees regarding to participation in decision making but with certain kind of limitations, such limitations are not, by the way, something that should be addressed when being in the work area so that the process is not affected by it, it is something that is should be discussed in a gathering previously scheduled.

I like the idea of low distance power because I think it gives space for creativity and employees will feel more engaged in the work the thing that leads to achieving goals and encouraging team work.

I find the low power distance a more productive approach in almost all cases (if not all). Therefore, the manager should act as a catalyst of the team work, while taking responsibility for the results.

The role of a manager in a company is the most important among all. I am for a low power distance culture. Because in this way team members would be able to demonstrate their own ideas, to show their creativity, initiativity and make decisions without doubts. In turn this will lead to a new wave of having solutions.
The manager is the key figure in this condition. His main goal is to direct team members to the wright way and to encourage them when they need. They must be satisfied with the result, not with the progress leading to this result.

In the workplaces i used to be, hierarchy is respected and team members should follow the instructions of their leaders without any discussion or opposition. But i prefer the low power culture cause it permits to the leaders to be supported by their team members.

The situation of Gabriela working in Brazil is similar to our country. The working culture in my country has features mentioned in the "power distance" concept about hierarchy and the way which leaders and subordinates working together. I think there are three reasons for the issue. Two first ones relating to perception of: obeying is good, a good settlement environment is better than changes from clashes; the last one is jobs are simple or don't require creativity. For example, in assembling companies the hierarchy is quite distant between the leaders and workers who just doing some simple actions. Through these, we can see the problem Gabriela has faced is not unique.
Depending on the requirement of the jobs, the management style should be more democratic or dictatorial, but generally everyone prefers democratic environment even with simple requirement jobs. In that environment, the manager should play the role as a coach or a mentor rather than a know-all leader. On the side of the manager and the company, they are able to get all the best ideas contributing from subordinates as well as good results from their work satisfaction and less resignation. Also, the manager doesn't have to be responsible for many complex duties: big decisions, specific advice or detailed instructions. From the other side, the staffs will feel as they are respected and can self make their decisions with help from their managers. They will decide how to take an initiative, how to carry out the tasks, and whether come up with a solution. Furthermore, this process give staffs practical tests of becoming a good leader in the future. So, with all the good reasons above, the democratic management style is good for all of us.