The Cultural Anchoring Of Leadership Styles

With globalisation and related intensification of trade and commerce effective leadership has become indispensable in the business world. Where traditionally the business leader took the role of commanding “the troops” towards effectiveness and efficiency this has changed dramatically over the last decades.

The service industry rise, knowledge management trends, increased workforce diversity combined with international trading and global sourcing of talent, has considerably reshaped the role of the leader in the contemporary organisation. Numerous firms are in global alliances depending upon flexibility/adaptability to local markets, requiring their managers to possess appropriate leadership styles to cope effectively with different value systems and cultures (Fahy, 2002; Coviello et al., 1998).

Arguably, the flattening of hierarchical structures has also contributed to this reshaping process as traditional sources of authority, upon which leaders have built on for years, have been diminished. Combined with the rise of new trading powers such as the “Asian Dragon”, business leaders, especially in international MNEs do not only face domestic multiculturalism and diversity but are also increasingly expatriated.

Consequently completely new cultural pitfalls and challenges are faced requiring understanding of cultural values as well as quick cultural adaptation to transfer domestic leadership abilities into foreign markets. Combined with steadily rising competitive pressures, the contemporary business leader in a role not easily filled.

Despite leadership being a universal concept (Bass, 1990), with most literature anchored in the (individualistically oriented) US, it has been questioned to what extend western leadership styles are cross-culturally transferable (Dorfman, 2003). Resultantly, debate has sparked over how far leadership is culturally contingent, if universal leadership qualities and tactics exist and what the explanatory variables are (Scandura & Dorfman, 2004).

This assignment aims at contributing towards this debate by exploring leadership disparity and possible congruence between the UK and Japan using academic measurement of national culture; Hofstede’s framework respectively. The next section will give an overview over the concept of leadership followed by an in-depth cultural comparison and concluding section.

The term leadership incorporates some elements of controversy over its meaning and practices. Different cultural gist or terminology or in cross-cultural contexts makes a universal definition difficult (Yukl, 2002). This seems unsurprising as the understandings and expectations of authority roles differ between cultures. Nevertheless, despite cultural differences the majority of leadership definitions reflect some basic elements these manly being “group”, “influence” and “goal” (Bryman, 1992).

Keeping this in mind, leadership can be seen as the “process of influencing others towards achieving some kind of desired outcome.” (De Jong & Den Hartog, 2007, p. 44) or bluntly spoken “leadership is the ability to get [people] to do what they don’t like to do and like it” (Truman in Sadler, 2003, p. 5).

Whilst this is a very basic attempt of a definition it allows for easier application in a cross-cultural context and highlights an important point: In order to lead one needs followers (Drucker, 2007). It is here where the inseparable link to power emerges whereby the power of leaders is largely dependent upon the perception of others (Hollander & Julian, 1969; Maurer & Lord, 1991; Pfeffer, 1977) but nevertheless forms the basis of leadership authority. It appears that only effective use of this power, combined with “leading by example” (Pfeffer, 1981) will result in positive and proactive guidance fostering creativity, innovation, commitment and long term organisational development.

However, this is questionable and it seems that far too often in academic literature the terms “manager” and “leader” are merged giving a blurred picture of what each role actually entails. Readers should be reminded that leaders, unlike managers, do not have to rely on forms of power to influence subordinates, often actually relinquishing formal authoritarian control. This is due to the idea that to lead is to have followers, and following is always a voluntary activity.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that even leaders need some foundation of authority; may it only be their charisma (Weber, 1968). This has been manifested in the participative, charismatic or transformative styles of leadership (Den Hartog & Koopman, 2001) as oppose to the transactional style more related to operational, task focused managers. Especially in western economies with predominant service industries, innovation and knowledge management, the former have been the focal point in recent years as autocratic leadership styles do no longer seem sufficient to extract the full potential of an increasingly knowledgeable, highly skilled and demanding workforce.

Such, arguably “softer” approaches fostering employee involvement and participation have nevertheless been proven to result in increased organisational performance (Bass, 1996; 1997; House & Shamir, 1993) and are arguably more “ideal” forms of organisational leadership (Bass & Avolio, 1989).

This might be applicable to western societies yet a cross-cultural generalisation might be prejudiced and the influence of personal values and cultural influences upon leadership styles should not be ignored (Byrne & Bradley, 2007). Rather, culture, an essential component of which is personal values (Kroeber, 1952; Kluckhohm, 1949), is to be seen at a centre stage when analysing leadership differences (George et al., 1998; Nakata & Sivakumar, 1996; Steenkamp et al., 1999; Cadogan et al. 2001), as t is “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede, 1980, p. 260) and shape leadership preferences.

Culture hereby should not be limited to national culture but has to be extended to incorporating organisational as well as political culture (Schein, 1985), the latter two arguably being extensively shaped by the former. Democratic or authoritarian political systems, national values regarding sex differences and ethical behaviour as well as organisational attitudes towards factors such as centralisation and work attitude, undoubtedly influence leadership styles.

Not only will such factors shape leadership approaches, but with regard to cultural differences these will often even stand in conflict to each other. Consequently domestically implemented leadership approaches might not be applicable in other cultural settings and render ineffective in maintaining firm sustained competitive advantage and superior international performance (Kimber, 1997; Jackson and Aycan, 2001; Pfeffer, 2002). The next section will investigate the effect of cultural values upon leadership styles in detail using the U and Japan as
examples.

British leadership style has often been described as more casual in nature fostering teamwork and seeking group consensus (Lewis, 2001). As such, a more participative leadership style is predominant reflecting flatter hierarchical structures in UK organisations. So, hierarchical structures not primarily seem as means to establish authority structures (Laurent, 1983) but more as core administrative frameworks. This according to Hofstede (2001), is a reflection of the UK’s low association to Power Distance. Essentially, subordinates do not attribute much to position and title and leaders must “embody a collective will and take personal responsibility for it while continuing to communicate and co-operate with the team” (Mole, 1990, p. 105).

Unsurprisingly, networking capability and people management skills are highly valued in the UK (Stewart et al. 1994) as leadership qualities. Nevertheless, this (collectivist) team and people orientation is mainly seem as a path towards achieving organisational targets and innovation assuring individuals in team settings aggregate knowledge that has strategic relevance to the organisation (Miller &Morris, 1999). As such transformational leadership attitudes (Burns, 1978) can be seen where leaders are to create conditions under which subordinates devotedly contribute to the organisation yet this is done primarily through a strategic lens. (McCarthy, 2005).

Nevertheless, the Anglo-Saxon system of shareholder satisfaction drives leaders towards task orientation often combined with a short-term outlook. As such quick, short-term organisational (financial) success is often more valued than long-term organisational success and relationship building, reflecting according to Hofstede, a culture of highly short term orientation and low uncertainty avoidance. Essentially, risks are seen as part of daily business practice and leadership approaches reflect that subordinates are given opportunity to implement potentially rewarding, but high risk, strategies.

This shows that, despite team orientation and a one might say more relaxed, friendly and diplomatic leadership style, the British cannot deny their American leadership style influence, fostering structured individualism, speed and drive (Lewis, 2001). Falsely, m any authors seem to ignore this connection, even so influences of hire and fire mentality and the creating of specialist roles underlining a core individualistic attitude are undeniable reflecting British national, and interlinked to that, legal and organisational culture. Such individualistic attitude constantly resurfaces in leadership styles often portrayed through individual target setting, remuneration practices and shorter employment contracts.

Employees do not look for lifetime employment and a steady career in one company resultantly British leaders are more reluctant to invest heavily in the training and education of subordinates (Schneider & Littrell, 2003). This continues to the often actively sought after and purposely created assertive and competitive environment amongst colleagues or departments reflecting a relatively high masculine attitude as Hofstede’s culture scale clearly outlines.

While these attributes sketch general aspects of British leadership, styles will vary between organisations, industries and individuals. Service- or R&D intensive industries for example, will follow a more Theory Y (McGregor, 1960) approach fostering employee involvement and empowerment. Leadership on traditional manufacturing industries on the other hand due to their reliance on productivity and output combined with an often repetitive working atmosphere, might take a more Theory X attitude.

In contrast to the UK, Japanese leadership, like many Asian countries, is grounded in Confucian principles (Redding, 1990; Tan, 1986) and despite rising western influences, strong Confucian traits believing in moral, interpersonal relationships/loyalties, education and hard work still lurk beneath the surface (Lewis, 2001). Especially “taking the family as a model for society at large, Confucianism is basically authoritarian and stresses hierarchical and status differences” (Selmer, 2001, p. 8).

As such, through its vertically orientated hierarchies and rigid organisation (Chen, 1995) one would expect Japan to score higher than the UK in Hofstede’s power distance index, and so indeed it does. This offers leaders with traditional and legitimate power bases however, surprisingly not resulting in autocratic leadership styles as one would expect, but far more the association of assertiveness-authority and reason tactics (Schmidt & Yeh, 1992).

As such, Japanese leadership style rewards subordinate respect and obedience with highly paternalistic attitudes, expressed by mendou: “I think about your, I will take care of you” (Dorfman et al. 1997). Consequently, the Japanese leadership culture, despite placing emphasising hierarchy and status differences requiring full subordinate obedience, expects helping and caring for followers and being involved in their personal lives (Whitehall & Takezawa, 1968; Bass et al. 1979).

As a result the most powerful force of the Japanese leader is not autocracy but charisma combined with intrinsic rather than extrinsic (materialistic) reward mechanisms often predominant in the UK: bonuses, on-target-earnings, etc. (Maslow, 1943, 1954). This seems surprising considering the high masculine score, which, from a western perspective would result in autocratic, top down, assertive, tough and focused on material success (Hofstede, 1998) leadership. It is here where Hofstede’s framework seems to only partly explain the Japanese culture and low individualism but high masculinity and power distance stand in conflict with each other.

Additionally, in such an environment more focus towards ascription rather than achievement would be expected (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1997, 2000). Nevertheless, the contrary appears in the Japanese context with leaders having to possess superior, often specific, (hard) knowledge supplemented by strong educational backgrounds (Nestler, 2008). Here another disparity to UK leadership emerges, where despite educational background being important for initial work placement, greater focus upon (soft) “people skills” and strategic directive is desired and ascription of leadership positions remains (Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1994).

The collectivist principles shape Japanese leadership style dramatically, requiring group consensus and decision-making despite extremely high masculinity and higher power distance. Essentially a “bottom-up” (ringsho) process of decision-making is chosen (Wu, 2006) with the leader granting independent decision making to the group generally letting subordinates use their own approaches to achieve overall collectivist objectives (Dorfman et al. 1997). This is surprising, as in western societies strong hierarchical structures often result in a “top-down” leadership approach but can be explained through high uncertainly avoidance collecting input and consensus from all parties involved before decisions are made.

Even more so, the concepts of “wa” (maintaining social relationships) and “kao” (maintaining “face”) actually require the involvement of subordinates in the decision making process and the preservation of harmony rendering western leader contingent punishment behaviour inappropriate. It is here where Japanese leadership style diverts extensively from its UK (Anglo-Saxon) counterpart where public scrutinising is part of daily leadership practices reflecting a competitive and individualistic culture driven by short-term financial objectives with high-risk acceptance.

Due to the collectivist environment and extensive future planning, Japanese managers on the other hand, do not view themselves as risk takers, despite this characteristic often being attributed to charismatic leaders (Bass, 1985). This is reflected in Japan’s extremely high uncertainty avoidance score and is further supported by strong long-term orientation valuing prevailing face and harmony. Unsurprisingly, life-long employment is desired, supplemented b continued job rotation aimed at developing employees.

As a result leaders and subordinates enter into long and close relationships hardly ever interrupted contrasting the UK’s “burn out” environment fostering high staff turnover. Unlike in the UK, Japanese business leaders look for generalist employees capable of working in multiple levels of the organisation reflecting a society placing less value upon specialists than western cultures.

Overall, Japanese leaders focus upon collective (not individual) responsibility (Hayashi, 1988) and group harmony maintenance is usually considered more important than profitability and overall productivity (Bass, 1990). Nevertheless, also Japanese leaders have to drive performance resulting in somewhat of a trade-off situation between performance and collectivist harmony maintenance. According to the performance-maintenance theory (Misumi, 1990), Japanese leaders have to chose between goal achievement and the continuation of the group, preferably combining high levels of both (Misumi, 1995).

If this is achieved, such supportive or participative leadership styles (Ouchi, 1981) are said to result in “higher levels of motivation, delegation of decision-making, commitment, and intrinsic job satisfaction” (Keys and Miller, 1982, p. 6). This appears to be in line with the currently preferred leadership style in the UK. However, one should not forget that unlike the Japanese working environment, the UK has been subject to great inward as well as outward FDI flows resulting in a blending of many different leadership approaches. As such arguably UK leaders would find it easier to adapt to Japanese principles than Japanese leaders. This is due to the western “farce” of collectivist team working for individualistic goals and the limited respect paid to status differences.

While Hofstede’s framework helps to understand the leadership differences between the two countries if fails to explain some factors. So for examples does high Japanese power distance explain hierarchical structures and respect to superiors but the theoretical assumptions of complete centralisation of power, low emphasis on developing the workforce and autocratic top-down contact initiation (Hofstede, 1991) do not fully reflect the Japanese working environment.

On this note one should not forget that Hofstede’s framework is not free of criticism and arguably is outdated, limited in scope of methodology and measurement (Dorfman and Howell, 1988; Roberts and Boyciligiller, 1984) and only reflects a blend of organisational (IBM) culture and national cultures (Hunt, 1983; Robinson, 1983). As such it is no surprise that other studies such as the GLOBE project have found differing or even contradictory results for similar cultural dimensions.