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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Worksheet86.47 KB

Language level

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...

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.

Submitted by RuthYong on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 13:17


I have a question on task 1 true or false for no.2
2. Gabriela's team questioned her proposals and her decisions because they didn't trust or respect her.
Why is the answer false? I thought it should be true because of this paragraph that says "
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."
Please clarify, many thanks.

Hello RuthYong,

Notice that the sentence you quote says 'Gabriela didn't *feel* respected'. This is what she thought, but as the article explains, '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.'

This makes it clear that while her team had different expectations about their manager's ideas than Gabriela did, it was not because they didn't trust or respect her.

One could of course disagree with this, but from the perspective the article gives us on Gabriela's team, the answer to the question is False.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrea Valencia on Mon, 10/05/2021 - 19:21

I think the manager should encourage and motivate his team to work together.

Submitted by giuseppegualtieri on Wed, 05/05/2021 - 23:51

Despite of the differences in culture, I am for a Democratic enviroment in witch everyone can speak without fear. A manager as to be a guide. I understand the behaviour that I read in this text. If your manager want to put his control on every task that she gaves you it's because she don't trust you. I mean: in the beginning maybe it's acceptable, but after a bit you have to trust people you work with.

Submitted by marianabanonymus on Sat, 27/02/2021 - 03:26

I mainly feel that in all cultures they have to keep the same meaning for the word manager, and the team has to follow the manager's orders and thus they will get to work better than they do without following their orders.

Submitted by mohamad90 on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 17:12

I think the most important topic in management is cultural adaption. In some cultures the best style for leadership is high power distance and in some other cultures is low power distance. It depend on the style of education and upbringing. The art of a leader is discovering the culture of colleages.

Submitted by handsomeyes on Tue, 19/01/2021 - 21:41

The Manager should be a person who can unite a team. Be helpful, friendly and listen to your ideas.

Submitted by Marvin on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 07:26

The role of a manger should to make some big decisions, he has to be a good person to talk with. He has to be not a person to be allways ill and he should have some good ideas.

Submitted by Ehsan on Thu, 31/12/2020 - 08:45

I think the manager should have more experience than other people on the team. He should dominate situations and people in projects. also, he should work with people in a team parallelly.

Submitted by MAYRA LUIS on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 14:48

A manager must be a leader and create a healthy work environment

Submitted by reem mohd on Tue, 08/12/2020 - 15:35

in my opinion, a manager should take a huge part in the decision making but as well be a friend to his team. He/She should ask their team to give their opinions about the idea, to create a more collaborative and creative workplace. I think these main points what makes the manager a better person and a leader to his team and company :)

Submitted by danisep on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 21:13

At least here in Colombia the boss take decisions and the team have to receive those instructions it's really weird see a boss with a low power culture and if the boss work with that technique the crew maybe don't work properly or think that their boss is incompetent or don't have any knowledge, when I was reading the text I thought the team was wrong but now I know that exist this interesting way to manage a team.

Submitted by Monica Kenneth on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 11:05

Personally, I think the role of manager should be initiative and perceived.

Submitted by cittàutopica on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 17:10

Many investigations about management demonstrate the validity of the "democratic" management style; but this doesn't change the fact that, in all the organisations, there's a graduation of responsibility (which a remunerative distinction corrisponds with) that is essential for an optimal trend of the company or the institution.

Submitted by Denise on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 10:08

I’m Brazilian and I know how things works there and the high power decision works well for me as the manager gains more money they obviously need to have more responsabilities.

Submitted by Hennadii on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 16:58

It's hard to describe the manager's role in a few words. I have already enough experience of working with different types of managing: from heavy-handed and autocratic to democratic, more democratic, and even anarchistic. I think there isn't a simple answer to what is best. Of course, the radical ones, definitely, are not the best choice, if you ask. No one wants to work in a tough atmosphere of pressure, distrust, and despotism. On the other hand, when your manager looks like a waste of space, it doesn't motivate you to give 110% at work. So, I'm sure that the best managing style must be a balance of the boss's confidence and his readiness to listen to his team. A good manager has to be a craft professional, can motivate and hear out. Must be strong when needed and give the initiative to his subordinates when it looks more suitable. Well, it's obviously not easy to be the good in that management business but it's still worth a shot )) As for me, I used to work with many bosses, and some of them were pretty good.

Submitted by tlemos on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 21:37

There is a management model which is called Management 3.0. In this model, people feel engaged, its ideas are put into practice and then all the team is part of successful.

Submitted by Benaz on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 21:51

The role of a manger should be one the seeks to lead by example in the way that he guides his subordinates, listens to their inputs and incorporate their ideas in the final decisions.

Submitted by Roblox on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 18:50

I like working in high power cultures where is a manager is a person who is responsible. This will eliminate the confusion of who in charge of the tasks.

Submitted by Rorro01 on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 03:23

I personally believes to work in an enviroment of low power distance encourages the openness and confident of the team members . The role of the manager is to make decisions but it depends on him if the decisions goes from an hierachical way of leading or a more democratic one. The Sweden style of management promotes participation of the whole team which means opionions are taken into consideration and enrichens brainstorming of ideas that the manager should canalize in order to have the best alternatives that suit the requeriments of the project.

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 jason2295 on Fri, 12/06/2020 - 15:50

I think a manager should use a lower distance culture with its team where members can take the iniatiative to solve problem by themselves and do things their way. When he must make bigs decisions it'd be better to involve the team in. The manager just should act as a guide for his team and encourage them.

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.

Submitted by cadu on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 01:17

The manager should identify the kind of team and adjust his leadership style, in order to obtain the better of each one member

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Thu, 07/05/2020 - 01:47

The role of a manager should includes planning, organising, staffing, directing, controlling and coordinating organizations' resources in order to achieve a goal.

Submitted by jazmin marquez on Wed, 22/04/2020 - 01:11

I think that in South American countries people are used to obeying, and it is difficult for us to make decisions or an initiative without receiving orders from a superior. I think this is a mistake because the manager's role should be to let his employees develop critically and creatively to help grow the company.

Submitted by Pellmen on Sun, 19/04/2020 - 08:35

I believe that a manager should be a guide for his employees. His advises may sound as vague, but they actually have a point. A good employee is able to get a hint from manager's "vague" advise and to come up with his own solution.

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.

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 Steve Zarv on Thu, 26/09/2019 - 17:17

Addressing a regulation concept as an authority figure in a company could be a struggle when the basis aren't established in advance underneath a jurisdiction framework, where when stating a formal democracy underlying in a concept of business republic is given equality of opportunity to the employees regarding to participation in decision making but with certain kind of limitations, such limitations are not, by the way, something that should be addressed when being in the work area so that the process is not affected by it, it is something that is should be discussed in a gathering previously scheduled.

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.