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 cros