As the world shrinks and multinationals become the norm, you might find yourself learning the hard way that leadership and culture have a lot in common.
There’s never been a better time to brush up on how your counterparts in other countries operate. We know that cultural intelligence, or CQ, is important, but what’s still fuzzy is all the ways it plays out in a real business setting. However, new research shows the close link between leadership and culture.
Some leadership traits transcend geographical location, such as good judgement, integrity and people skills. But different places have beliefs about what good leadership looks like.
If you’re a straight shooter who likes to say what’s on their mind, you’ll fit in well in the Netherlands. If you’re a more diplomatic leader who likes to keep things pleasant, you’re better off in places like New Zealand or Canada.
This is according to business psychologists Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Michael Sanger. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, both men argue that successful leadership is as much about where you are as who you are. The researchers judged basic facets of leadership including communication style, decision-making ability and ‘dark-side tendencies’ to gauge how a person is influenced by the country in which they are operating.
It’s a concept they describe as “personality in the right place.” As more Australian businesses look to foreign markets, there’s a chance you’ll need to think in global terms when building teams. Here are six leadership types you might encounter when working abroad.
The synchronized leader
This type of leader is more prudent and focused on potential threats than rewards, says Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger.
These individuals need to seek consensus and get others on board in regions, and are commonly found in China, Japan, Korea, the UAE and much of Latin America.
The opportunistic leader
People who take initiative and are flexible would fit well in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as countries that still bear substantial influence from the UK such as the US, Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore.
This type of leader thrives on ambiguity, and uses times of uncertainty to showcase their knack for risk-taking and individuality. Just make sure they don’t leave their team members behind, the researchers caution.
The straight-shooting leader
If you prefer your bosses to be direct, then you’d do well in Northeast Asia. Leaders here don’t skirt around the issues – they will get to the point quickly and say it like it is.
This is thanks in part to a system of impromptu performance reviews, whereby “leaders address undesirable behaviours from team members as soon as they are observed,” say Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger.
The diplomatic leader
If upfront or confrontational behaviour isn’t your thing, then you might fare better in countries such as New Zealand, Sweden, Canada and much of Latin America. In these countries, leaders are more likely to keep business conversations polite and agreeable to fit the tastes of employees.
“Constructive confrontation needs to be handled with empathy,” the researchers say. “These types of managers adjust their messaging to keep the conversation affable, as direct communication is seen as unnecessarily harsh.”
The kiss up/kick down leader
When organisations emphasise rank, emerging leaders learn to adapt. Because their business is a dog-eat-dog world, their coping skills can quickly turn into what Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger dub a “kiss up/kick down” leadership style.
Usually this comes out as excessive defence or sudden attention to detail when reporting up, and issuing fiery directives or refusing to compromise with subordinates.
Though never a good thing, this behaviour is tolerated more in some countries than in others. You’re more likely to find this type of leader in Turkey, India, the UAE, Greece, Kenya and South Korea.
The passive-aggressive leader
Stressful times can bring out the best in some leaders, and the worst in others. Some people become cynical, mistrusting and eventually resistant. This is a case of leadership and culture clashing, and while a dose of skepticism is a good thing, this type of behaviour can also hinder progress.
Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger say this type of leader is more widely tolerated in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, where “it doesn’t seem to impede their advancement.”
Although it is possible for any individual to adjust to any relevant context, the link between leadership and culture is a strong one. If you have people from different countries working closely together, it pays to keep any differences in mind to avoid things getting lost in translation.
Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic will be a keynote speaker at the AHRI National Convention from 3-5 August 2016 in Brisbane. To check event details and to register, click here.