It is Saturday morning, but Vienna is still sleeping. The calm that pervades the streets is reassuring, calling for a reflection which always found the taste of freedom and naturalness inside the European cafés. Walking under the shade of historical buildings whose rooms conceal invaluable cultural and artistic treasures and reading the Kurier, my mind recalls Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, to whom this city was the birth place.
Drucker was the one who forestalled and interpreted some of the major changes writing “The New Society of Organizations” , published on the Harvard Business Review in 1992, where he emphasized the societal capacity of reshaping values, political and institutional structures, arts. Within this process of change, knowledge is the key to generate value.
Nowadays, inside the specific corporate setting, knowledge cannot remain trapped within the limits marked by financial and economic variables. It should rather dare to challenge them with the introduction of a thorough analysis of the cultural aspects. This approach is imposed by the new interconnected reality which surrounds us by requiring to continually update the awareness of different identities which define and distinguish our behaviors under the same roof of globalization. Specifically, it is important to understand some leadership styles typical for various countries, because the demarcation line between what is considered an effective or ineffective leader could reflect different cultural nuances.
In the United States of America, fatherland of capitalism, leaders are influenced by the past of struggles against armed forces and hostile lands to conquer freedom and independence. From the first community of Puritans committed to the idea of salvation through hard work, continuing with the Quakers who believed in creating the best conditions for people to express their potential, coming to the Distressed Cavaliers with a strong sense of honor and the Borderland Migrants driven by a desire of independence: These groups, even being characterized by deep contradictions, represented the first roots of the tree which, by the time, became the preferred “charismatic leadership model” in the USA. A charismatic leader inspires followers with her or his vision, integrity, assertiveness, determination, and willingness to take risks, but relevance is also given to the elaboration of future-oriented strategies shared among the group in order to overcome particular interests and to work for their implementation. The “Frontier Spirit” makes leaders confident in challenging the status quo. However, the charismatic model is often confused with the transformational model. But these two differ because, even while sharing some common elements, the transformational model can be shaped by inspiring subordinates without a personal identification with the leader.
The model presented above is not prevalent in China, where historians and anthropologists described the society as patrilineal and patriarchal. Since the time of Confucius, the family nucleus was considered key element of the socio-political order. A patrilineal descent requires the analysis of a single ancestor, a man whose life and deeds would influence future generations. In Imperial China, there was a widespread desire for families to be reunited under the guidance of the patriarch, whose directives were respected in accordance with the Five Relationships of Confucianism. The patriarch was benevolent, clever, and protector of the family’s interests, even the economic ones. While in the West the organization of the sociological unit that lives in the same house assumed traits defined by sharp separation, in China there was the desire of creating an extended reality which Fei Xiaotong described by following “circles that appear on the surface of a lake when a rock is thrown into it”. Indeed, these interrelated shapes involved a greater number of people, while remaining “loyal” to the original center, despite time. By doing so, the “renlun” was defined as the focus in human relationships which still
affects the business environment today. Chinese leaders adopt a “patriarchal leadership style”, summarized in a model where employees are “sons” who respect the vertical hierarchy and the concept of seniority. Several authors discuss the difference between “benevolent leadership” and “exploitative leadership” in this regard. Specifically, while the former is defined by a leader whose actions are oriented by justice, integrity, benevolence, wisdom; the latter is characterized by an authoritarian leader.
In Asia, the Chinese leadership style is in contrast with the “consensus leadership model” adopted in Japan, where leaders have been inspired by Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, and influenced by Western theories. Indeed, since the 19th century, merchants from America started the trade with the “Rising Sun” due to the Treaty signed in Kanagawa which ended the period characterized by Japanese isolationism. Today, the organizational structure in Japan can be compared with the Western one, while the leadership style is focused on information exchanges which take place at every level of the company, introducing the “nemawashi” -consensual decision making- as the core value. This concept finds its own application in the proposal document which employees can analyze to better understand new procedures that leaders would like to implement.
Shifting attention towards the Old Continent, various leadership approaches can be observed. France, for example, adopts the “political process model”. The history of France was the witness of political leaders, businessmen, artists, and intellectuals who changed the course of events by spreading a patriotic ideal which is absorbed within the fierce society. Leaders tend to be authoritarian and to give importance to background, family, age, education, and French language skills. Belonging to the network of the Ecole Normale Superieure gives prestige to the organizations. Nowadays, most members who shape the political and executive class come from this area of influence. Even by considering the relevance of élites, leadership aims to have a sterling reputation, expanding the horizons of the firm and addressing the external context to get consensus and influence.
Germany opts for a “technocratic model” instead. It is implemented to obtain maximum efficiency, even through the application of several control mechanisms to prevent the abuse of power. The “Ordnung”- which means order- is the main concept which is the core of the company life’s dynamics imposing written rules and procedures. In this framework, leaders have the necessary experience that allow them to be positioned at the top of the chain of command, but at the same time they promote a sense of belonging to the group by leveraging the solidarity spirit among members.
The development of a global mindset to navigate the international set-up is fundamental. As Cabrera and Unruh argue on their HBR’s bestseller, global leaders must be able to decode different contexts by overcoming challenges that curb a cross cultural collaboration. But in order to develop the intellectual, social, and psychological capital which the authors describe as necessary (but not sufficient), professionals should be made aware of the important cultural aspects. Being global is a must-have attitude that can be achieved only by using lenses that see beyond stereotypes and prejudices putting cultural identities into focus.