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.


Worksheet86.47 KB

Language level

Average: 3.9 (11 votes)
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Submitted by Tania Jrz A on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 20:01

I think the low power distance is a really good way to work, the manager should always stay humble and give importance to all the members as long as they are respectful giving their opinions.

Submitted by Jackson Nicola on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 10:10

The role of a manager is to make a decision. He can distribute his power to his team but the responsibility belongs to him. In my opinion, the role of a manager is that. On the other hand, style of it can be changeable according to cultures or countries.

Submitted by Julian1999R on Tue, 28/07/2020 - 18:16

Is this an actual B2 English reading test?. I personally find it fairly easy, I even got 6 out of 6 but when I take a step up and take C1 reading test , the difficulty doesn't slightly increases but it feels like it ramps up all of a sudden and I struggle quite a lot with more formal and advanced readings. I didn't actually know the gap between B2 and C1 is so significant. The same goes for listening comprehension. As for the reading, I found it very interesting and specially the cultural clash. I didn't know scandavian countries had a such a different work ethic and don't feel comfortable to be given instructions or the authoritharian positions a leader in Hispanic countries take. However I like the swedish's way fo working better because subordinates opinions and ideas are taken into consideration rather than straight up ditch them as many leaders worldwide do which means there is more room for creativity and new ideas. Believe it or not the way our leaders act and how they treat their workers shape the way how we tackle the tasks to a greater or lesser extent depending on the person. Frankly some people's brains are more wired to simply obey and do mechanical work without putting much thought into them and others are great leaders and have better social and leadership skills overall whereas I would say most are somewhat in the middle.

Submitted by Patrice Niyonzima on Fri, 24/07/2020 - 22:26

According to me,the Manager must adopt the low power distance because that style helps the team to work openly

Submitted by kral.kat on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 20:28

I think that a manager should be somebody who helps the team to get better and that is why I prefer the Swedish style. On the other hand, I believe it is way harder to be a manager of this style because it is always easier just to give orders.

Submitted by Yihsuan on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 03:16

I prefer the Sweden leadership type. Because I think the team members would be more valued in the team. Otherwise, they could also suggest a lot of advices on any project, letting the team apply more efficient and improved. However, I think this type of leadership is harder than the former one, the type of leadership in Brazil. Since the leader needs to spend more time discussing the project with their members and collaborate the thoughts from all of them. But it’s a great opportunity to develop the qualities of the team.

Submitted by Aakash Jain on Sat, 13/06/2020 - 02:54

We all know that whether the working culture is hierarchical or democratic, it will depend on the type of field in which we work. Eg: If we talk about Army, it has to be hierarchical but if we talk about working in a cooperative, then it has to be democratic where everyone can participate in decision making. So according to me, a manager's duty is to identify in which category does their field come under - hierarchical or democratic? Then he/she should be able to set an atmosphere where either of the two can be implemented.

Submitted by Ahmadbassam on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 19:23

In my opinion, it depends. The culture of people is different from country to country and from sector to sector. But in general, the role of a manger should be mentoring the staff, sharing the ideas, and making the decision sometimes.

Submitted by Muhammad Bagir on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 05:02

I think the most important skill of manager that should have is the ability to communicate the idea to the member.