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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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 Imma-1 on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 09:44


In my opinion the role of a manager is to get the best out of his employees and help them release their creativity and great powers. A good manager is a good leader who works with his employees not lets them work for him.

Submitted by Corentin on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 12:35


I think that the manager must ensure that the final goal I well complete. He has to support his team, with different strategy, to finish the objective. I think that manager should trust his team to leave them liberty and know when his team need help.

Submitted by Windy on Tue, 21/12/2021 - 13:29


I think role of the manager is to lead the team to success under different circumstances. He or she can use hierarchy way or democratic way based on his or her team members. Every way has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Submitted by Abrarhussain on Thu, 25/11/2021 - 08:00


I think role a of manager should involve the team in making decisions together and should encourage in problem solving.

Submitted by Fisherman on Mon, 01/11/2021 - 18:56


In TASK 1, question 2: "Gabriela faced a problem with her Swedish team because her management style was old-fashioned and wrong for the modern world." Why is the correct answer in this case False, and not True ?

Hi Fisherman,

I think the point is that Gabriela's management style was wrong for her new role in Sweden - not necessarily "old-fashioned and wrong for the modern world [in general]".

The text shows that her style was in fact sometimes successful: "This more directive management style worked well for her and her team in Brazil". So, the problem was more the conflict of expectations when she moved to Sweden and the failure to adapt, rather than her management style itself being incorrect more generally. Does that make sense?

The LearnEnglish Team

the reason is management style, she was working in environment with a high power distance culture not a low power...

Because she did not understand the power distance culture in new place, but not cause by old-fashioned in modern world.

Submitted by Suraj paliwal on Wed, 20/10/2021 - 18:38


I think manager should listen team members ideas. Always be polite. Not always ordering. Appreciate team members success and encourage them to doing things. Manager should give flexible time to workers.