The Four Cultures of Leadership

The Four Cultures of Leadership

As Trump continues to be himself and what millions around the world find distasteful, you have to agree that he is an agent of change. Whether you like or dislike his policies and his delivery, he is single-handedly spear-heading a culture change within America that is also being emulated across the world. We discovered recently how many of his fellow Americans support his style. One thing for me is certain, it puts the culture of leadership front and centre on the world stage.

Here is a more local and less controversial story of culture. The Selfridges Group is a global department store retailer, that owns the Hold Renfrew chain in Canada, the Brown Thomas Group in Ireland and the Selfridges stores in UK. To further maximize its reach and expertise in running profitable stores, it acquired de Bijenkorf, the Dutch department store retailer in 2011.

Acquiring and integrating any acquisition is a challenge, but in this case the fit with the overall group was strong. It was very clear that de Bijenkorf had more potential to grow sales and profitability, once the expertise of the wider group was integrated with it.

As the ink was drying on the contract, a Selfridges Group team started to immerse itself in the new business and was careful to not be imposing or directive. Within a few months, I was invited to delve in and get to grips with the culture, the strategy and the mechanics of how the organisation was run. This ‘discovery’ phase always entails asking lots of questions and listening.

It quickly emerged how cultural leadership can differ across countries. Despite us treading lightly, some of the old leadership team saw us as interfering. Their expectation was that they would continue to operate forever as a standalone business, with simply the occasional update on progress to group. That made for a steep learning curve.

Authority versus Decision-making

The thing is, regardless of whether it’s during an acquisition or even just with business as usual, doing business across different cultures is challenging. In our day to day activities, most of us concentrate on strategy and operational detail. We busy ourselves talking about new products, cutting costs, driving synergies and developing new markets. But we just don’t give enough airtime to the topic of culture. Considered the softer issues by many, but the crucial one in my experience.

I want to focus here on two key dimensions of leadership culture. One is authority and the other is decision-making. In some cultures, they are one and the same. But let me illustrate how they are very different. And here I will draw from excellent research done by Erin Meyer, professor at INSEAD.

Since modern management theory started to develop (mainly in the US) in the ‘60s, we have learned that being democratic is much more preferable and effective to being authoritarian. Leaders encourage their people to speak up, to use first names, and ultimately, have become more inclusive. Empowerment is also a new buzz-word and ‘management by objectives’ has become the norm. Tentative problem-solving is encouraged at ground level and then escalated to management for a decision. And it is expected that decisions are then made quickly.

And in this context, Americans see the Japanese, Germans and Dutch as very hierarchical. Yet in Japanese and German culture where positional authority is indeed still prevalent, decision-making is much more consensual and collaborative. Problems are discussed at ground level and solutions are sought. Leaders then act more as facilitators rather than decision-makers. These differences are all very confusing at first, until you take time to understand them.

It’s interesting that the different management styles I described earlier between the Selfridges and de Bijenkorf teams were within Europe, where only a few hundred miles separate us. But as I then described the differences in American, Japanese and German management styles, what can we say about culture differences from Chicago to Cork, Cologne to Cairo and further east to Cebu?

Tips on dealing with the four cultures of leadership

Consider the two dimensions that Professor Meyer refers to and imagine them intersecting on a 2×2 matrix. Then consider the team that you manage, their preferred style and then adapt accordingly.

  1. Hierarchical and top-down. I was speaking with an Irish organisation that has a joint venture with a Saudi Arabian partner. This culture of leadership is very prevalent in that country. My client needs to flip its default collaborative and democratic style and be more directive. That what they expect and need. So they should be clear on expectations and don’t make flippant or off-the-cuff remarks, as they may be taken literally.
  2. Hierarchical and collaborative. This is where teams expect the boss to make decisions but will also expect to be consulted beforehand. The leader should therefore ask lots of questions but check for quality of input and reasoning behind opinions, before making a decision. I personally use this style in Germany.
  3. Democratic and top-down. Regardless of your status in the team, speak up before the decision is made. But even if you don’t agree with the final decision, support it as if it was your own. You’ve had your say and you didn’t manage to convince the relevant person. So accept it and move on positively.
  4. Democratic and collaborative. This is where the team gets involved in making decisions and may get upset if the leader takes over. The leader’s job is to facilitate the process. Accept that decision-making will take longer but the execution of the decisions will be swift. So avoid being directive.

The Last Word

Boyle Sports recently announced its acquisition of some additional William Hill stores. It won’t have different country cultural norms to contend with, but that does not mean that it can ignore organisational cultural differences. Every organisation has a culture, even if is not defined or written down. The challenge is to take time to understand the differences.

Leaving geographic borders aside, this is intended to illustrate differences that can even exist within the same company, within the same building. After all, individuals bring different styles to the job based on their past experiences of other organisation cultures. Recognising and embracing difference is your challenge.

Alan O’Neill, author of “Premium is the New Black” is Managing Director of Kara, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business.

© Copyright. Alan O’Neill. All rights reserved. 2020

99 Comments

  1. canli

    Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the issues. It was really informative. Your website is very helpful. Thank you for sharing! Flory Raynard Hebert

  2. watch

    Thanks for leaving a comment, This is very similar to Yive without the monthly fee, its about mass video marketing hence the output. Thanks Glynis Hewet Mohr

  3. torrent

    Yes! Finally someone writes about Fat Loss Activation Pdf. Halley Sheffie Casar

  4. torrent

    You need to be a part of a contest for one of the best websites online. I most certainly will recommend this blog! Kittie Quint Janela

  5. yabanci

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying this info. Charmine Conant Sollows

  6. torrent

    Maecenas lacus purus, malesuada eu scelerisque ac, commodo sed orci. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Gabbey Mohandis Barde

  7. hindi movie

    Heya i am for the primary time here. I found this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I am hoping to give something again and help others such as you aided me. Charlot Ware Grondin

  8. erotik

    Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this information together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile! Anthea Connor Rhu

  9. 720p

    You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for more info about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website. Charleen Spense Niels

  10. turkce

    Major thankies for the blog article. Much thanks again. Much obliged. Rayshell Reed Krystalle Debby Justin Carline

  11. turkce

    Hello, constantly i used to check web site posts here in the early hours in the dawn, since i like to gain knowledge of more and more. Joellyn Sherwood McMaster

  12. erotik

    Hi there. I found your website by the use of Google whilst looking for a similar matter, your website got here up. It appears to be great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks to come back then. Fernande Luke Plotkin

  13. erotik

    A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. Jany Rand Alastair

  14. antalya haberleri

    Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me
    out a lot. I hope to give something back and aid others like you aided me.

  15. ilaçlama

    I think this is among the most significant information for me.
    And i am glad reading your article. But should observation on some common issues, The website style is wonderful, the articles is in reality excellent :
    D. Good job, cheers

  16. takipçi satın al

    I just could not leave your web site prior to suggesting that I actually
    enjoyed the standard information an individual supply in your visitors?
    Is gonna be back continuously in order to check up on new posts

  17. shell download

    My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find most of
    your post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for.
    Would you offer guest writers to write content for you personally?
    I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on some of the
    subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome blog!

  18. JasonDiasy

    viagra without a doctor prescription usa viagra cost
    viagra discount

  19. Michaelhycle

    http://zithazi.com/ – zithromax online usa no prescription
    male ed pills

  20. RichardNep

    viagra without a doctor prescription viagra over the counter
    online doctor prescription for viagra

  21. TerryinseK

    cheap ed pills from india natural ed
    cheap ed pills from india

  22. TerryinseK

    ed pills that work ed doctor
    order ed pills

  23. Michaeljen

    generic pills india: generic pills india buy prescriptions from india pharmacy

  24. Claudfiple

    amoxicillin brand name: buy amoxil – amoxicillin 825 mg

  25. Claudfiple

    where can you get diflucan: diflucan 150 price – diflucan for sale uk

  26. Claudfiple

    diflucan buy online usa: buy diflucan – diflucan tablet price

  27. jimdofreeFus

    The road seemed to stretch on endlessly before us, but Alexis assured me that our journey was near an end. We’d turn before long into thick woods and travel through narrow, winding roads until we reached her family’s cabin. I had no choice but to trust her as GPS had given out nearly 20 minutes ago.

    “There’s good wifi and okay reception at the cabin,” she’d told me, “but you can’t get there unless you know the way.”
    https://notepin.co/shared/pyqcuce
    So here I was, driving alone in the middle of god knows where with a girl who was my student just a couple of weeks ago. Her and her four best friends had been together from first grade all the way through high school and now they had graduated with very different futures ahead of them. They had decided to kick off “the best summer ever” with a week long stay at Alexis’s family cabin. Alexis and I were heading up before everyone else, the four other girls and four guys.

  28. Thomasmut

    buy valtrex cheap online: valtrex for sale – 3000mg valtrex
    tadalafil pills

  29. Thomasmut

    ventolin inhaler non prescription: ventolin inhalers for sale – ventolin pharmacy australia
    tadalafil generic india

  30. Thomasmut

    tadalafil 20mg for sale: tadalafil 20mg – tadalafil 20mg
    tadalafil

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.