Cultural expectations and leadership

Cultural expectations and leadership

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

Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises.


Reading text

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.


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Submitted by resmistan on Tue, 04/02/2020 - 13:33

The main role of the manager is to encourage team members to work and complete the projects successfully, to work in harmony with them, to make feel aware of the works and efforts and to proivde motivation with rewards in this direction.

Submitted by Oussema3ahmed on Mon, 27/01/2020 - 13:42

I think the Manager should works with team members as a team without forgetting the hierarchy of work.
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Submitted by albert9315 on Sun, 12/01/2020 - 07:19

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.

Submitted by lifelearner on Sat, 04/01/2020 - 07:33

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.

Submitted by Edna Alejandra on Thu, 28/11/2019 - 16:56

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.

Submitted by Younes86 on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 18:25

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.

Submitted by om mariam on Sun, 18/08/2019 - 10:06

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.

Submitted by isnupi on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 15:34

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.

Submitted by Assel on Wed, 31/07/2019 - 01:29

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.