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Tech and Innovation

How your cultural values influence your leadership style

Gaiti Rabbani

Leadership in today’s global world is a multicultural challenge laden with complexity. Whether leading across geographical borders or navigating increased diversity at home, one of the key challenges is to align people of different cultural backgrounds to work together to fulfil the same objectives.

It is fair to say, it would be impossible to master all the norms and values of the many cultures that most people encounter on a daily basis. The good news is that whether you are managing a diverse team in Australia, strategizing entry into new markets in Asia or reporting to shareholders in Europe, you don’t have to learn the intricacies of each culture.    Becoming aware of the cultural values that shape your leadership style, the variations that exist among cultures and how those differences play out is they key.

Culture is a filter people use to perceive and interpret the world around them.  This filter is mostly subconscious. By developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ) we learn to become more aware of your assumptions and how they impact your ability to motivate and influence others.

We will explore 3 cultural values that will help you uncover your leadership style and consider ways in which you may adapt to better influence, motivate and engage your stakeholders.

Context.  What is your communication style?  Is it explicit, direct, and clear or is your communication style more indirect, emphasizing harmony?  

Consider how in Australia, it is culturally acceptable, in fact expected, of individuals to express views in the workplace.  Discussion and debate and even explicit expression of disagreement are the norm.  In contrast, in India, China, South Korea, rarely would an individual openly communicate a difference of opinion where seniors are present.  A convention of hierarchy holds strong in such cultures where leaders and elders within family, community and business are held in high regard. The culture is one of promoting harmony and silence represents respect.

To obtain viewpoints from across your team, you may consider offering alternative ways for them to share information with you.  By scheduling a private conversation before or after a team meeting you can solicit their input that may otherwise not be presented if they are averse to direct conflict or staying quiet in respect of the formal or even informal hierarchy within a group.

Authority. Do you adopt a flat, egalitarian approach to leadership, or do you practice a top-down, hierarchical leadership style?

Typically, representative of the Anglo culture, a leader in the US would encourage shared decision making, actively seek contributions and ultimately work towards consensus amongst a team.  On the contrary, in the Arab culture, there is typically a hierarchical structure that emphasizes differences in status.  It is mostly expected that superiors will make decisions.  Does your team connect with your approach?  For example, you may strive to empower people but recognize that not everyone seeks to be empowered.  Some people prefer to follow a chain of command. Consider how your team members demonstrate initiative or approach decision-making and if this varies across the cultural groups with whom you interact.  Is there a need to introduce decision-making guidelines or authority matrices to consider and create clarity for those with different styles?

Achievement: Cooperative versus Competitive. Do you prefer to achieve results collaboratively or are you more competitive?

Western business is largely structured around competition with a strong task-first orientation. Communication often serves a purpose to share information, updates and check in on progress.  Collaborative cultures such as can be seen in Latin American cultures and the Arab world, value establishing and nurturing relationships before tackling the task on hand.

Do you allocate time for personal check ins at the start of a meeting or do you prefer to get down to business first and see if there’s time left?  How might you need to adapt in order to increase your influence and ability to motivate teams especially in this time of restricted travel where we reduced to less-than-ideal communication channels?

Given that few of us are exact representations of our national cultures of origin it is essential to dig below the surface to avoid the instinctive trap of stereotyping.  By understanding your cultural preferences versus those of others you interact with you can develop insights that will bridge previously obscure differences with those of different cultural backgrounds.

Written by Gaiti Rabbani. Have you read?
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Tech and Innovation - How your cultural values influence your leadership style
Gaiti Rabbani
Gaiti Rabbani is the author of Curious about Culture, a book about cultivating cross cultural understanding and. She is a Cultural Intelligence Specialist, an Executive Advisor People and Culture and founder of Rabbani Collective, a company that enables businesses to harness the potential of their people.

Gaiti is passionate about fostering self awareness and personal effectiveness amongst her clientele, helping individuals and teams reach their full potential. Her approach is personal, collaborative and bespoke to each situation, person and brand.

Books by Gaiti Rabbani: Curious about Culture: Refocus your lens on culture to cultivate cross cultural understanding (Major Street Publishing; March 1, 2021)

Gaiti Rabbani is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.