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.

Preparation

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.

Discussion

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Submitted by WiolettaB on Mon, 18/03/2024 - 17:49

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On my opinion the perfect leader is your mentor. I like to work with bosses which are detemined and make decision but in friendly way. I want to learn something from them.

Submitted by AnnLaporte on Tue, 20/02/2024 - 07:50

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In my experience, usually in jobs that are not so complex is more easy just to follow the orders of the leader. However, I think is good for the people to have initiative and be able to solve problems by themselves, not matter the circumstances

Submitted by oisoueuatina on Mon, 19/02/2024 - 14:15

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I'm from Brasil and I personally think the middle way would be the best. I hate the way maganers thinks they're our owners here in Brasil but I also think that having someone with more power to take decisions and getting everything in order is important. Pretty nice to know that in Sweden the roles are closer

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Submitted by Mujahid on Tue, 19/12/2023 - 09:04

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In my opinion, i suggest that all members of company management have to set up a meeting and discuss about which better role of manager is going to work well with their staff because every business has different role of manager often.

Submitted by betelf on Tue, 24/10/2023 - 14:43

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I agree with a low power distance culture. Team members should have initiative and make decisions about how things work, so a team manager should be there to support their team members, encourage them, and be a mentor for them.

Submitted by cavokub on Thu, 14/09/2023 - 23:31

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In my opinion, the role of manager should be in agreement with the team´s level of experience. The manager should keep a high-power distance culture for new employee because he or she has not the knowledge to make decisions, while for a well experienced team or employee should be the opposite.

Submitted by Safa.ahmed311 on Thu, 14/09/2023 - 19:46

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I loved those terms of management, the High power distance, and low power distance. I think that the low one will be better, suborDINATES WILL think in more creative ways.

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Submitted by Mahmoud Elkheshen on Sun, 10/09/2023 - 23:06

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From my point of view, a mix of the two styles will work as a charm.

Submitted by rtch_sf on Tue, 15/08/2023 - 15:10

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I think that a leader is as a friend as a manager for team members. So it`s very cool when team leader is friendly and polite while communicating with his/her workers but also leader can be strict and determined. And in both cases the leader gets respect. In my opinion, subordination is one of the main part of any relations, so work distance is fully justified.

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Submitted by Ramiro Solana on Fri, 11/08/2023 - 21:23

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From my point of view, the leader's role is to set the main goals and rules of the team and then support and help his team. But as the article points out, you also need to take into account the cultural environment of the team. If you use a democratic style with a hierarchical team, they may feel that you are not really involved and committed as a leader (as Gabriela thought in her first contact with her boss).