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The Culturally Intelligent Leader – Part 5

Updated: Aug 6, 2018

This article is the fifth in a series on introducing cultural awareness in the work place. Several models of culture are discussed in previous posts, and may deepen the context of this particular item.


Edward T. Hall emphasised that those within a culture are often challenged to define it unless they can remove themselves and view it as an outsider.

The GLOBE Study


Building on the work of Hofstede, Hall and others, Robert J. House of the Wharton School of Business, and his team, developed what is considered the most comprehensive research database on cultural and global leadership.


Titled “The GLOBE Study”, House and his team released their findings in a 2009 book, “Culture, Leadership and Organisations. The GLOBE study of 62 Societies”.

Another publication worth looking at is the 2007 publication of “Culture and Leadership Across the World: The GLOBE Book of In-Depth Studies of 25 Societies” aimed at specifically detailing cross-cultural descriptions of leadership theory and behaviour.


These important contributions in the field of cross-cultural competence were one of the first sources of empirical data that analysed what the concept of ‘good leadership’ means across cultures.


Leadership, or effective leadership, is often misunderstood. Ironically, it is often the Western-educated MBA graduate that fails to grasp that leadership is not about being the ‘Individual Hero’ rushing in to save the day; but rather about understanding what it is that people being led want in a leader first, and then slowly, and respectfully, leveraging and challenging those underlying cultural assumptions.


The GLOBE study may be best viewed in two distinct parts. First, it provides a major update and expansion of previously identified dimensions of Culture (as highlighted in the Hofstede and Hall examples in Part 3 and Part 4 of this series). Secondly, the GLOBE study highlighted the cultural context of leadership effectiveness.


In other words, the study recognised that in order to be effective, a leader must ‘look, act and behave’ with awareness of the cultural expectations of what people want in their leaders.



Case Study for this Paper


This article will make use a large, well-known, multinational consulting firm that were growing their presence across the African continent.


Some important points to consider:

  • The strategy involved establishing regional offices in West-, East-, and Southern Africa - so Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg respectively. They also had a pre-existing presence in North Africa, along the Mediterranean coast.

  • Senior partners from the US and Europe were seconded to manage the process of hiring, establishing suppliers, developing the networks required for this type of business.

  • These regional markets often had strict local content laws (impacting the choice of suppliers for instance) and firms had to comply with Employment Equity legislation requiring demographic targets be met in order to secure business. (We are only interested in the impact on culture of this = Resulting in people from different cultures, who were largely divided across the hierarchy – senior management from the US and Western Europe, most new hires from local markets); all working within the context of a very strong, Western-centric organizational culture.

  • Government departments and State Utilities were the most important targets initially (with the resources to pay the fees required to make the strategy worthwhile). This is important because understanding the culture of one’s client makes for a far more effective engagement.


The First Meeting on Culture


I was told from the outset there was ‘no way the partners would ever accept any change to the way we do things around here. Everyone has to fit in, or f___ off!’

OK, off to good start! Clearly, these partners were from a 'masculine' culture.


That kind approach may work in a multinational’s home market and may work to a point locally. Call it good, old fashioned brute force leadership - with the emphasis on 'old-fashioned' I thought. But this immediately gave an indication of how decisions were made, where the power was concentrated, and who decided what clients and partnerships were formed to open doors in new markets.


A culture and decision-making structure that, I believe, comes back to haunt them in a big way later down the line.


I also found this ironic for a company that charges high fees to help clients operate as effectively as possible - by changing, adapting and tweaking process wouldn't even discuss the possibility of a different approach.


This was going to be a tough one.


So it is against this context – of a combination of national, macro culture, and a strong, espoused organizational culture, the GLOBE Model of Culture and Leadership is outlined.





Dimension: Power Distance


The degree to which members of a group expect authority to be distributed equally.


In meetings meant to generate ideas and solutions for clients, senior partners would speak first, often, and loudest. They would interrupt associates and wonder why associates would often remain silent or not challenge an idea publicly. It was not that they did not have an opinion – they did - it’s just that it is culturally inappropriate for some to challenge people in authority in that manner. This left many bright, well-educated young people feeling disengaged.


Simply, if a well-discussed, reasoned position is desired, a simple tactic like reversing the order in which ideas are introduced and criticised can yield results. Senior partners must wait until the end before making any comments.


In another example - many consulting firms speak of ‘Power Matching’. This essentially means the most senior partners are responsible for engaging the most senior executives at the client. So CEO speaks to CEO....


But, once the initial engagement is signed, the order at the client comes from the top – “Welcome the consultants into the business” - and all parties are well received. After several weeks, things begin to feel tense. The young, junior associates tasked with carrying out the project at the client’s offices end up questioning older, middle-management bureaucrats from high-power distant, hierarchical cultures. You get the picture….


Think about how Power is distributed in your personal culture, in your workplace. Some family cultures have firm hierarchies – “the father is the head of the house”; or do you feel everyone can meaningfully contribute to family matters, or strategy meetings at work?


There’s no right or wrong way, there’s only your way.

Dimension: Uncertainty Avoidance


Is the extent to which a society, organisation or group relies on social norms, rules and procedures to alleviate unpredictability of future events.


Why would some countries spend relatively more than others on insurance?


It’s probably got a lot to do with the environment – but isn’t that exactly how cultural attitudes to risk come about? As a social response to the challenges of the environment over time?


This is an interesting dimension as it often manifests in different ways, even within the same macro-culture. For instance, many stereotypes abound – certain groups, faiths or tribes tend to be good entrepreneurs, or we've all heard that 'Asian kids are good at maths' – these are expressions; perhaps related to general reactions to perceived risk. Education is a kind of insurance policy on future earnings. On the other hand, often corporate culture can be extremely risk averse, even when the organisation operates within society that scores low on uncertainty avoidance generally.


Banks in the UK tend to value following procedure over outcome.

Is this cultural? Of all industries, few have as deeply entrenched attitudes to 'following procedures' as banks. Termed, 'Procedural Utility’ – it describes a cultural phenomenon in which following procedure is more important to the individual in the group than questioning the instrumental outcome of the procedure.


“No one ever got fired for following procedure” or “Keep your head down and remember you won’t get fired for saying ‘No’…”, are sadly all too common; not to mention indicative a culture of fear (regardless what senior managers may say at the start of a culture change programme).


If this is how the rank-and-file speak in the workplace, that is far more reflective of the real employee experience than what senior management may say.


These examples illustrate how power is distributed, but they also highlight the institutional response to an uncertain environment.


Consider how the organisation for which you work handles uncertainty? If you work for a start up? Or a large organisation?

How do you think large bank’s will be able to change their cultures in the face of massive digital disruption?

When a large bank says 'it wants to be a tech company with a balance sheet', then it isn't simply about going out and acquiring the tech. The bank must have the culture of a tech company too....and that's where the rubber will meet the road. It's not the tech. It's the people. Even Google will tell you that.

Dimension: Humane Orientation


The degree to which a collective encourages and rewards individuals for being fair, altruistic, generous, caring and empathetic. Importantly, for many corporate cultures, it also captures a group’s tolerance for mistakes by members.


This dimension is similar to Hofstede’s ‘Femininity’ index in some respects.


Ever wonder why some cultures are seemingly very unforgiving of mistakes or minor transgressions compared to others?

So, a multinational company from a country that tends to score low on the Humane Orientation scale, may want to ensure their organizational culture, policies and procedures – especially those that deal with people – reflect the orientation of the local workforce.


In our multinational consulting firm example, the senior partners would not even discuss anything but a dogmatic ‘cut-and-paste’ roll out of tried and tested policy in their new markets. It had worked in the US and Germany, so surely it would work out in Africa?


Dimension: Institutional Collectivism


The degree to which organisational and societal institutional practices reward collective distribution of resources and collective action.


This is an interesting dimension, as several cultural commentators admit they struggle to clearly define this. I think using the English may explain things – they tend to score high on Hofstede’s Individualism scale, yet slightly higher than average on the GLOBE Institutional Collectivism index. In other words, they appreciate, that while being individuals, standing in orderly queues, taking part in lots of charity events, and standing up for the rights of minorities, generally benefits them too. There is value in being a good citizen, and everyone can play their part in bringing that about.


With perhaps the exception of some of their football fans.


In a workplace context, employees tend to work in an interdependent fashion – such as is often the case in project management teams. Critical decisions are often made by groups – but this often leads to excessive consensus building and a lack of candour between colleagues.


Low-scoring Institutional Collectivism organisations typically have employees that see themselves as separate from their work, largely acting in a highly self-interested manner. Decisions tend to be taken by individuals, and if things go wrong, it is the individual that is blamed. Investment banks generally fit this mould.


The undeniable truth about management consultants is that they owe much their existence to a culture of fear; at least as much as the strength of their ideas.
Think of it as a 'who-gets-the-blame' option. If things go well, the senior executive gets all the credit. If they don’t, we can always blame the consultant. Regardless of who actually messed up.

Dimension: In-Group Collectivism


The degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty and cohesiveness in their organisations or families.


If one is going to lead a team in a different culture, then this is one of the more important dimensions to be aware of.


A culture high in In-Group Collectivism place an emphasis on concepts like duty, loyalty and obligation (think military, or cultures that value conformity over individuality). These groups frequently highlight the ‘difference between 'us-and-them’, while individuals frequently refer to their group membership, and often feel slighted if anyone outside the group comments on their culture - An insult to one is an insult to all! (Culture commentators beware!)


Many people truly believe that we should only marry for love; and find it inconceivable that people from high-scoring In-Group Collectivism cultures might think that other factors are just as, if not, more important.


People from a lower-scoring In-Group Collective culture tend to take conscious steps to express their individuality. They value the rights of the individual, and actively express contempt for the those that make distinctions between people. Since the individual determines their destiny, not the group, they value self-control and emotional restraint.


This dimension is important because it speaks to the heart of self-identity. If you think this ‘personal stuff’ doesn’t matter when leading a team that is different from you, you risk coming across as disrespectful.

Dimension: Assertiveness


The degree to which individuals are assertive, confrontational and aggressive in their relationships with others (both in-group and with those of other cultures).


Again, another dimension close to Hofstede’s Masculinity, cultures high scoring in assertiveness value competition, candour and ambition. The language a leader uses in the workplace, or a sales pitch, is a crucial element in connecting with people in these cultures.


For instance, the GLOBE data shows us that assertive, masculine (Hofstede’s term not mine) leadership is likely to work well in Nigeria (far higher than the global average); but not so much in Sweden or Argentina (both of which score lower than the global average).


Dimension: Gender Egalitarianism


The degree to which a group attempts to minimise gender inequality.


This important dimension clearly relates to concepts of fairness and justice. Or do they? My personal culture screams, "Yes, obviously", but a person from a more patriarchal culture may argue, fairly strongly (see: In-Group Collectivism above), that their culture ‘values and takes care of women’; albeit in a different way.


As one would expect, societies are rapidly changing with respect to attitudes and behaviours around gender. Some rapidly, others not so much. Occupational segregation, gender mix in positions of authority – in both formal and informal community settings are further examples of this dimension in practice.


A key indicator of gender egalitarianism is whether a culture values similar levels of education attainment by males and females.

Even in our large consulting firm example, while gender egalitarianism was a clearly espoused value – senior partners occupying leadership, operations, I.T. and finance positions were all men. It was when one went downstairs to the HR department, or public relations functions, that one saw more women in senior positions. Why's that?


Dimension: Future Orientation


The extent to which individuals engage in future-oriented behaviours such as delaying gratification, planning and investing for the future.


Does senior management value long-term success? Is the organisation flexible around personal development? Do they encourage you to save?


How does the organisation handle a changing environment? A future-oriented business tends to be more flexible, more adaptive; important with today’s digital disruption.

Toyota is famous for producing 50-year strategic plans and then working back. They value effort at realising these long-term goals over quarterly stock price targets and pressure from investors at the annual AGM.


Other cultures celebrate consumption, a propensity to ‘enjoy’ life and immediate gratification. Managers that are able to measure this can design more effective employee engagement strategies; redesign marketing messages and use material, public incentives for motivation.


Dimension: Performance Orientation


The degree to which a collective recognises, encourages and rewards group members for performance improvement, individual excellence and personal accountability.


This dimension is obviously influential in the workplace but consider sports performance – to be a good runner in Kenya, or a wrestler in Iran, or a baseball player in Cuba – you need to be world class. What is it about these micro-cultures that produce world class sportsmen? A culture of excellence? A high degree of ‘Performance Orientation’?


A high-performance workplace culture values training and development; formal, regular feedback; direct communication; action; achievement and a prevailing competitiveness. (Think sports?)


A low-score on Performance Orientation describes societies that value social harmony, that prefer subtle, indirect communication. Formal feedback is often unwanted and viewed as judgemental – especially the kind of performance appraisal that measures an individual in isolation, and especially if it ends in some kind of score.


We must be careful not to load the description of high- vs. low- performance orientation with one’s own personal cultural framework. ‘Low’ and ‘high’ do not imply ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - just different.


A really good thought experiment is understanding the cultural gap between espoused values and actual experience. For instance, many bank executives (especially in HR) tend to be adamant that they score high on ‘Performance Orientation’ - that organization is a ‘Performance Culture’ that rewards performance.

  • · How does this square with gender-pay gaps?

  • · Can one really speak openly, assertively and receive feedback without it feeling like you’re being judged?

  • · Are the words, ‘Optics’ and ‘Career Limiting Move’ part of the employee narrative – the experienced culture?

  • · Does your organization spend excessive time and resources on producing internal management reports?

  • · What if you don’t follow procedure and something goes wrong?

OK…. now tell me, does the bank you work for really have a ‘high-performance oriented’ culture?

GLOBE & Leadership


The GLOBE Study is interesting because it measures what type of leadership style is likely to be effective in a particular cultural setting.


Leadership can only be viewed through societal and organisational norms, values and the expectations of those being led.


Look at successful leaders in different cultures, try understanding why they were successful. What was it about them that people responded to? We’re not talking about their inventions or entrepreneurial success, rather what kind of leadership style they used to create the successful cultures around them.


The benchmark for good leadership is highly cultural and provides a mental framework that allows people to determine whether a leader is worth following.


Leadership is the ability to ‘motivate, influence and enable others to contribute to the success of the organisation or task’.


The GLOBE research team has distilled their cross-cultural data into six distinct leadership styles. Some cultures view a particular style as effective, while other cultures respond differently.


The key is understanding what cultural benchmarks work in your team; what kind of cultural attitudes and behaviours lead to status and respect in your organization?


Leadership Style: Charismatic / Value-based Style


Stresses the value of high standards, decisiveness and innovation. This leader seeks to inspire teams around a vision, invests time and energy in creating a passion for achievement and rewards commitment to core values even at the expense of short-term profit opportunities.


Leadership Style: Team-Orientation Style


Instils pride, loyalty and collaboration in organisational teams. This leader highly values team cohesiveness and common purpose.


Strives to create strong ‘In-Group’ identity and narrative – new comers are treated at a distance until they show loyalty; often use exclusionary language such a jargon to create a unique narrative.


Leadership Style: Participative Style


Encourages input from team members, values buy-in and emphasises delegation and team equality.


Concepts such ‘collaboration’, ‘servant-leadership’ and ‘mentorship; feature strongly in this leader’s self-concept.


Leadership Style: Humane Style


Stresses compassion and generosity. This leader is patient, supportive and empathetic; understanding of how their management decisions impact the teams that work for them.


They tend to make considered decisions rather than changing decisions at the last minute.


Leadership Style: Self-Protective Style


This leader emphasises procedural, status-conscious and ‘face-saving’ behaviours. Their leadership decisions are both an expression of their perceived power, and often may appear self-interested as any decision or action is first considered from the perspective of how they are likely to appear rather than on the impact such a decision will have on their team.


Leadership Style: Autonomous Style


Is concerned with maintaining a dictatorial, self-centric atmosphere. This leader tends to change plans on a whim, with little regard for the impact on team members. They tend to use the organisational structure to enforce their authority, rather than rely on their personal leadership disposition.





As this is merely an introduction to the GLOBE Leadership project, readers wishing for greater detail (methodologies, data, correlations with other model dimensions) are encouraged to access the following useful resources:

Look up the resources under the ‘Publications’ tab

  • Strategic Leadership Across Cultures: The GLOBE Study of CEO Leadership Behaviour and Effectiveness in 24 Countries. (2014)


  • Culture and Leadership, Across the World: The GLOBE BOOK of In-depth Studies of 25 Societies (2007)


  • Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (2004)



In the next instalment of this series, Part 6, we will introduce the concepts of Cultural Intelligence.


It is simply impossible for an individual to master the sheer volume of cultural nuance out there.


That’s why we need a model of Cultural Intelligence – a structured way in which we can approach any culture with the awareness and adaptability to maximise our effectiveness.

© 2018 by GIG Culture.

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