As chief executives continue to expand their presence, profits, networks and footprint around the world, leadership scholars are tracking global business acumen. Driving this research, Caroline Rook, Ph.D., a lecturer on leadership at the Lord Ashcroft International Business School, Cambridge, England, analyzes the extensive data collected through the Global Executive Leadership Inventory used in INSEAD’s leadership development programs to assess the characteristics and traits of global leaders and to determine whether cultural origins attribute to success.
Her findings are published in a paper she co-authored entitled “Global Leaders East and West — Do All Global Leaders Lead in the Same Way?” and in Advances in Global Leadership, a book in organizational behavior recently selected as one of 10 finalists for the 2014 Department of Leadership Studies Outstanding Leadership Book Award at the University of San Diego. YPO asked Rook to discuss the results of her comparative leadership evaluation that tracked 1,748 top managers and executives spanning 125 different countries.
How do you define a global leader?
It is generally accepted that there are global leadership behaviors that characterize successful leaders in a global context. The Global Executive Leadership Inventory, a 360-degree feedback tool developed at INSEAD by Prof. Manfred Kets de Vries and used in many of their leadership development programs, identified 12 common leadership competencies from leaders around the world. For example, successful global leaders all had a vision that was expressed with enthusiasm and confidence. They could connect to their employees with empathy and address their concerns. They created an environment with shared values, open communications, commitment and learning. And they kept the organizational structure flat. When we started our research on comparative leadership style across cultures, our hypothesis was that if these are all the common skills, then there should not be any cultural differences.
How did you divide the regions between East and West?
We followed the cultural clusters extensively used in comparative leadership studies. West includes Latin America, Latin Europe, Germanic Europe and Anglo-Nordic Europe, while East includes Eastern Europe, Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and Confucian Asia. We then added countries to clusters based on the grouping of similar and neighboring countries, and identified further regional clusters within the overall meta-clusters.
How did the leadership styles of global executives differ between East and West?
Our research confirmed that all 12 global leadership capabilities or dimensions are demonstrated by effective global leaders across the world. However, different cultures place different values on certain leadership behaviors and styles. For example, leaders from Southeast Asia are likely to be rated higher on the dimensions of visioning. Leaders from a country of the Anglo-cluster are likely to be rated lower on visioning, empowering, rewarding and feedback, and team building. Leaders from Eastern European countries are likely to be rated higher on average for empowering and tenacity, whereas Nordic European leaders are likely to be rated higher on the global mindset dimension. We found significant differences in some leadership dimensions that can be attributed to the leaders’ cultural origins.
How do you interpret these differences given that global leadership traits have been identified across all regions and cultures?
On the whole, all the leaders showed relatively high ratings with fairly similar leadership behavior across all the global traits. But some of the leadership dimensions stood out for certain cultures, and this is a reflection of what the culture considers as important, what is expected. Different cultures have different perceptions and expectations. So leaders adapt their behavior in accordance to what is expected of them or what they interpret as good leadership. As a leader, the more tenacity you show, the better leader you are in some places. More or less, better depends on the context.
Based on your research, what are the Top 3 recommendations you can share with global leaders?
- Enact the set of leadership behaviors that are commonly displayed by successful global leaders. These ideal characteristics are seen all cultures as important, although some are more endorsed in certain cultures than others.
- When encountering a global team, be aware of the influence of your own culture and the others’ culture in terms of expectations. Avoid behavior that is not highly valued. Mindfulness plays an important role. Leaders need greater self-knowledge and self-awareness in order to adapt behavior according to the context.
- Though being mindful of cultural differences is important, culture origin is only one aspect of a person’s leadership style. When leading others, it is important to take the whole individual who you are working with into account. Consider their experience, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and avoid stereotyping. Cultural sensitivity and a holistic approach to individuality are equally necessary when you want to successfully lead or engage with people.