Ways in Which Culture Can Influence Leadership Styles and Behaviors

The relationship between culture and leadership styles and behaviors has been extensively studied and debated and the evidence appears to confirm that culture does have a small, but significant, impact on the use and effectiveness of leadership styles although a number of other factors (e.g., personality characteristics of the leader and followers, needs and expectations of the parties, age, gender, skills and expertise, type of organization and structure and type of work unit) also influence the relationship between leaders and their followers.  When considering how culture relates to the way in which they interact with their subordinates, managers should consider the following comprehensive list and explanation of ways in which culture can influence leadership styles and behaviors developed by Zagoršek:

  • Culture plays an important role in shaping the approved leadership prototype—the image of the ideal leader—of a particular society.
  • Culture has a significant—many say fundamental–influence on the personality traits and work values of leaders and their subordinates in a particular society.
  • The cultural values and norms of a society determine the attitudes of leaders and their actual pattern of leadership behaviors including the ways in which leaders and their subordinates relate to one another.
  • Just as cultural values and norms impact the attitudes and behaviors of leaders, they also influence how subordinates perceive and ultimately accept or reject the behaviors and practices of their leaders.
  • Consistent with the points discussed above, culture is an important determinant of the effectiveness of particular leadership styles and behaviors and leader behaviors that are inconsistent with societal norms and values and/or with the implicit leadership theories of subordinates in the society are likely to be ineffective and ultimately lower the morale of the subordinates and harm the productivity and performance of the organizational unit that the ineffective leader oversees.
  • Culture is important in providing leaders with guidance regarding the outcomes and results that they should try to achieve through their decisions, actions and behaviors.
  • Culture impacts how leaders are selected and accepted as “legitimate” within societies (e.g., in egalitarian, individualistic, low power distance societies the leader usually has to “earn his title” while in collectivistic and high power distance countries the leadership role is usually ascribed to an individual by the nature of his or her status (acquired by birth, kinship, gender, age, education, or connections).
  • Differences among societies have been identified with respect to the bases of power and influence tactics that leaders rely upon in order to be effective.
  • The nature of the relationship between leaders and their subordinates is also impacted by cultural factors.  In some societies, for example, the relationship is akin to a parent and child and the subordinate is dependent on the leader and the leader is expected to attend to and satisfy the needs of his or her subordinate.  In more egalitarian societies, however, there are far fewer distinctions between leaders and subordinates and the leader is often simply “first among equals”.
  • Culture provides context for the styles and behaviors of leaders and thus provides a way to identify whether a particular action will be consider appropriate or inappropriate within a society.  For example, in South East Asia attendance by a leader at a subordinate’s family celebration will be considered “supportive” as will a leader’s discussion of the personal problems of one subordinate with other subordinates in Japan; however, such behaviors by a leader in US would likely be considered annoying or offensive by the subordinate whose personal space has been intruded upon by the leader. 

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