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 SRKSNO01H46A390I on Tue, 27/06/2023 - 23:27


I think a manager should encourage and collaborate with them.
Being bossy can't help the team to grow professionally as well.

Submitted by BrendaMa on Sat, 10/06/2023 - 20:09


I think the role of the manager should be a mix of the high and lower power distance, to guide the teamwork wisely and also have good communication with the team and have better ideas and different perspectives to solve problems or take decisions.

Submitted by jmajo on Thu, 25/05/2023 - 16:33


I think the role of a manager should be as close possible to an example to the subordinates, but it should give some room for them to think and create solutions by themselves and when they come out with a proposal or solution, the manager should listen and contemplate as if it was as good as it's own when, the solution offered got value and is viable.

Thanks for the lesson.
Great site!

Submitted by Artyev on Fri, 19/05/2023 - 02:14


As for me, manager should just help and show the right way to his team, so he haven't to control every process there. Everyone should have opportunity to take part in making decisions, which are important for their future. It names "democraty"!.

Submitted by Moophy on Thu, 11/05/2023 - 14:12


Very interesting article, as a foreigner where I live, I’ve personally experienced cultural clashes and taking into account that nowadays we are in a society where authority and respect aren’t anymore methods of management, I’d say that if I were a boss, I would have studied the culture and the way of thinking before accepting to work abroad and I would have liked to experience this method “the low power distance” it’s like working as a family, come rain or shine, facing all together whatever situation

Submitted by Miss zahra on Mon, 10/04/2023 - 08:51


I believe that it depends on the team workers and their performance. Some people are not initiative and need to conform and follow rules but some others are creative and need more space to do things their way. so leader have to know people well and manage the team to make best decision for achieving their goals.

Submitted by yeldin on Sun, 09/04/2023 - 21:40


in my view, the manager should be companionable and flexible with his/her team as the team must feel more comfortable to work. so I'm considering that the management at a low power distance is the best way to work with the team. thus, inspiring each other, the company would be successful

Submitted by dove on Sun, 09/04/2023 - 17:00


I think the role of Manager should be a helper, trainer and a team member.

Submitted by Khin Yee Win on Mon, 03/04/2023 - 09:33


I consider that a manager should be like a mentor and flexible leader who guides his/her followers in the best and most effective ways. Furthermore, the manager's role should be to facilitate and encourage the employees to be creative.

Submitted by Borda g on Wed, 22/03/2023 - 00:18


I think the role of a manager should be a mix of high and lower power distance, where the manager should show his/her workers they are free to give their approaches and show their ideas, but also remind them that leader is always necessary in a team that helps the others continue on the same path. So a good manager has to show authority but in a respecful way.