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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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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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Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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 :)

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.

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

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.

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