Not all people are capable of adapting their leadership styles in accordance with the demands of various cultures, whether in organizational or national contexts. In the current business environment that is fast-paced, being sensitive to other cultures and having a richer understanding of these cultures is a critical requirement for effective leadership. With the workforces across the globe increasingly becoming cross-cultural and firms expanding their operations overseas, workplaces are increasingly becoming heterogeneous. This state of affairs affirms the importance of leaders having cross-cultural leadership skills. In addition, global organizations are exploiting the economic advantages associated with having a diverse workforce. Most organizations working on international projects usually have multi-cultural teams that comprise of people from different countries. Present-day global organizations need leaders who are capable of adjusting to various business environments and are competent when working with employees and partners from different cultures. With organizations adopting a global enterprise model, from the regional business model, leadership ought to provide the link between the achievement of business goals and cultural diversity. As a result, the capability of a leader to be able to motivate cross-cultural teams and effectively manage change in a global environment is a key issue in international management. In addition, it is impractical to presume that the success of a manager in one country is likely to be replicated in another country with a completely different culture. To this end, this paper discusses how leadership can be done efficiently in a cross-cultural context. First, an overview of cross-cultural leadership is provided followed by theories related to cross-cultural leadership. Lastly, based on these theories, the paper will outline the skills and competencies needed for effective cross-cultural leadership.
Overview of Cross-Cultural Leadership
Cross-cultural psychology tries to provide an understanding of the interactions between people of different cultures. In line with this view, the concept of cross-cultural leadership seeks to come up with a way through which leaders can operate in the newly globalized environments. Cross-cultural leadership is concerned with the ability of a leader to motivate and influence the behaviors and attitudes of diverse people in the global context in order to achieve a common goal. In leadership and management literature, there is no agreement with respect to the definition of cross-cultural leadership meaning that there is no specific definition of cross-cultural leadership. Instead, two components of cross-cultural leadership are outlined, which include culture and organizational leadership. It is imperative to note that a universal definition of the concept of culture is inexistent; however, culture comprises of common identities, beliefs, values and motives, and interpretations that people attach to events resulting from collective experiences that are transmitted from one generation to another. The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research project perceive cross-cultural leadership as the ability of a leader to be able to influence behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes of people in the global community in order to work collectively towards the achievement of common goals and vision. Based on this view, GLOBE authors outlined six crucial competencies that a cross-cultural leader must-have. These are global visioning and organizing expertise, global business expertise, cognitive orientation, values and traits, and cross-cultural relationship skills. A cross-cultural leader is analogous to an international executive, who is an executive operating in a global environment. It is evident from the literature that there is no precise way of defining a cross-cultural leader. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that various definitions and descriptions of cross-cultural leadership have the same core meaning, that is, cross-cultural leadership places emphasis on being able to motivate and influence behaviors and attitudes of people in a global community in order to be able to work towards the achievement of a common goal.
Different authors utilize different terms when referring to cross-cultural leadership. Despite the fact that these terms have subtle differences, it is vital to operationalize and provide a definition of cross-cultural leadership in a manner that can facilitate the measuring of the concept. Various studies have attempted to provide discussions regarding behaviors, abilities, skills, and knowledge that effective cross-cultural leaders must exhibit. For instance, it has been reported that commitment, interpersonal skills, business knowledge, intelligence and being comfortable handling issues related to diverse cultures are the traits that a successful global leader must exhibit. Other traits for effective global leadership include language skills, flexibility, and open personality. A particular trait that is usually associated with effective cross-cultural leadership is the ability of a leader to take the viewpoint of another person in a cross-cultural context and to be able to quickly adjust when dealing with groups or individuals from cultures that the leader may not be familiar with. Cross-cultural leadership can also be perceived in the light of cross-cultural competence, which denotes a person’s effectiveness with respect to relying on personal attributes, knowledge, and skills in order to be able to effectively work with people coming from diverse national backgrounds, whether abroad or at home. The emphasis here is not on the acquisition of knowledge but on the manner in which the leader utilizes already acquired knowledge. Global business is likely to be extremely trying and tough; however, it is the degree to which the cross-cultural leader can persevere and make use of knowledge, which is at his/her disposal, that determines the effectiveness of the leader in operating in cross-cultural contexts. Cross-cultural competence has been found to be a core requirement for leaders to be able to interact with people from any culture across the globe; this is contrary to regional and language knowledge that is only needed for specific cultures. The three components of cross-cultural competence include cross-cultural cognitive complexity and schema and cultural awareness. In addition, a leader can only be effective in cross-cultural contexts if interpersonal, work and personal aspects are satisfied. According to literature, there are several behaviors and traits that can make leaders effective in cross-cultural settings; these are multicultural perspectives, cultural awareness, interpersonal skills, and cognitive ability among others. Nevertheless, it is vital to note that these relying on only one of the attributes will not make a leader effective in cross-cultural settings. The underlying inference is that an effective cross-cultural leader ought to possess well-rounded skill sets as well as understand the differences that are likely to exist between people coming from diverse cultures.
Cross-Cultural Leadership Theories
There are a number of theories related to cross-cultural leadership that can guide cross-cultural leaders. These theories include implicit leadership theory and Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. Implicit leadership theory maintains that the schemas, beliefs, stereotypes, and assumptions of people determine the degree to which they perceive an individual to be a good leader. Owing to the fact that people from different cultures are likely to have dissimilar implicit stereotypes, schemas and beliefs, a good leader in one cultural setting may not be perceived to be a good leader in another cultural setting. The underlying inference is that effective cross-cultural leaders must have the ability to adapt their leadership styles in accordance with the perceptions of their followers in different cultural settings. Hofstede`s cultural dimensions comprise of five aspects of cultures that can guide leaders on how they can adapt their styles of leadership. The cultural dimensions include long term/short term orientation, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, feminine/masculine, and individualism/collectivism. These dimensions outline the national culture orientations that cross-cultural leaders must understand. Power distance denotes the expectations of members of a particular cultural community regarding unequal distribution of power and determines how groups and individuals are stratified based on material possessions, wealth, status, prestige, authority, and power. Countries with low power distance have a preference for cooperation, participation and consultation whereas countries having high power distance prefer autocratic decision-making. Individualism/collectivism denotes the degree to which group or individual goals are valued. Collective cultures are characterized by team-orientation, conformity, and reliance on teams whereas individualistic cultures are characterized by performance, self-interest, and autonomy. Uncertainty avoidance denotes the degree to which members of a given culture perceive ambiguity and uncertainty as threats. As a result, this dimension denotes the level to which people are orderly and consistent and adhere to the established rules. Cultures with low uncertainty avoidance prefer fewer structures and are less concerned about adhering to the established procedures and rules whereas cultures with high uncertainty avoidance have a preference for structure, consistency, and expectations that are well articulated. The feminine/masculine orientation denotes the manner in which emotional roles are distributed between genders. Masculine cultures tend to be materialistic, assertive and competitive. In addition, masculine cultures emphasize power and ambition. On the other hand, feminine cultures emphasize the quality of life as well as relationships. Long term/short term orientation denotes the degree to which members of a particular culture consider the future as being important. Cultures that are long-term oriented tend to attach more significance to the future and tend to foster persistence.
Cross-Cultural Leadership Competencies
Various competencies of cross-cultural leaders have been outlined in leadership and management literature. The competencies needed for effective cross-cultural leadership include the ability to tolerate ambiguity, cultural adaptation/flexibility, and the ability to value differences between cultures (lessened ethnocentrism). There is empirical evidence indicating that these competencies are significant predictors of the performance of individuals holding cross-cultural leadership positions such as expatriates and global leaders.
The ability to tolerate ambiguity refers to a leader’s ability to manage unpredictable, different and ambiguous scenarios. Individuals having a greater capability of tolerating ambiguity are more likely to be effective in managing the stress associated with uncertain environments and tend to be more adaptive and open to change. In addition, individuals who have the capability to tolerate ambiguity work effectively when placed in positions that are typified by ambiguity, such as cross-cultural leadership contexts. Owing to the complexities and uncertainties associated with the global business environment, it is imperative for cross-cultural leaders to build their competence with regard to tolerating ambiguity.
Cultural flexibility is another key competency for cross-cultural leaders. It denotes a leader’s capability to substitute the activities that he/she enjoys in his/her home country with the existing activities of the host nation. Empirical research indicates that a positive relationship exists between cross-cultural adjustment and cultural flexibility. In addition, cultural flexibility has been established to increase self-confidence and self-esteem, which is the core requirement for any leader in any position. Moreover, cultural flexibility plays a significant role in helping executives adapt to foreign environments and subsequently facilitating their success while on foreign assignments. Cultural flexibility and competency can improve the effectiveness of a cross-cultural leader when being on an international assignment for lengthy periods. Despite the fact that not all expatriates are cross-cultural leaders, and that not all cross-cultural leaders are expatriates, cultural adaptation and flexibility are crucial for any leader operating in a cross-cultural context in the sense that cross-cultural leaders are compelled to change their approaches to doing things in a new way that is consistent with a new different culture. As a result, enhancing cultural flexibility ought to be a crucial development goal for cross-cultural leaders.
Ethnocentrism denotes the nationalistic self-centeredness of an individual based on the belief and assumption that one’s culture is superior to other cultures. People, who are ethnocentric, have a tendency of interpreting and evaluating the behavior of other people through their own biased standards and are less likely to make efforts aimed at adjusting their behavior to match the cultural values of the host country. Ethnocentric behavior has been established to be an inhibiting factor for effective coping with new social values and norms. The research has also established that a negative relationship exists between ethnocentrism and interaction adjustment as well as contextual performance. In addition, a positive relationship exists between withdrawal cognitions and ethnocentrism. The effects of ethnocentrism are likely to hamper the effectiveness of a leader in a cross-cultural context. As noted by several authors, ethnocentric attitudes tend to inhibit the building of positive cross-cultural interpersonal relationships. Ethnocentrism on the part of a cross-cultural leader will have a deleterious impact on intergroup relationships and lessen the success of activities whereby a locally-responsive method would have reported immense success. Owing to the fact that global organizations need greater coordination and collaboration between people coming from different cultures, lessening ethnocentrism should be one of the areas that leaders must address in order to be effective in cross-cultural contexts.
This paper has provided a discussion on cross-cultural leadership including the competencies that are needed for leaders to be successful in cross-cultural contexts. From the discussion, a number of traits and competencies have been outlined for leaders to be successful in cross-cultural settings. Some of the traits and competencies include global visioning, global business expertise, cognitive orientation, cross-cultural relationship skills, commitment, interpersonal skills, business knowledge, intelligence and being comfortable handling issues related to diverse cultures, ability to accept the viewpoint of another person in a cross-cultural context, ability to quickly adjust when dealing with groups or individuals from cultures that the leader may not be familiar with, cross-cultural competence and cultural awareness. Other competencies needed for effective cross-cultural leadership include the ability to tolerate ambiguity, cultural flexibility, and lessened ethnocentrism.