Young Professionals Network

Intercultural Leadership in Organizations

Intercultural Leadership in Organizations

How often do you encounter misunderstandings and misperceptions due to cultural differences?

Maybe your colleagues in Japan appeared to agree with your proposal in the meeting, but then don’t act based on it. Or, the French Director of Operations just communicates with your Director but does not answer your emails. Your German colleague comes across very rude in the meeting due to his directness, and the American colleague receives the unrequested life story of the past few weeks of the Austrian colleague after introduction: “Nice to see you again, how are you doing.”

As organizations become more global and teams more diversified, the need for intercultural leadership is inevitable. Corporate culture does play a role in this, however, also requires understanding and flexing to the national culture of the team or colleague you are working with.

One helpful tool to guide you is The Culture Map from Prof. Erin Meyer (INSEAD Business School).

Prof. Erin Meyer focuses her work on how the world’s most successful managers navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a global environment and developed the culture map. It provides a framework for handling intercultural differences in business and illustrates how different cultures perceive the world. It helps us understand these differences, and in doing so improves our ability to react to certain behaviors that might have once seemed strange.

The framework focuses on 8 scales:

1. Communicating
When we say that someone is a good communicator, what do we actually mean? The responses differ wildly from society to society. Comparing cultures along the scale by measuring the degree to which they are high- or low-context (Edward Hall).

In low-context cultures, good communication is precise, simple, explicit, and clear. In high-context cultures, communication is sophisticated, nuanced and layered. Messages are often implied but not plainly stated. Less is put in writing, more is left to interpretation, and understanding may depend on reading between the lines.

2. Evaluating
All cultures believe that criticism should be given constructively, but the definition of "constructive" varies greatly. This scale measures a preference for frank versus diplomatic negative feedback.

3. Persuading
The ways in which you persuade others and the kinds of arguments you find convincing are deeply rooted in your culture's philosophical, religious, and educational assumptions and attitudes. The traditional way to compare countries along this scale is to assess how they balance holistic and specific thought patterns.

Typically, a Western executive will break down an argument into a sequence of distinct components, while Asian managers tend to show how the components all fit together holistically. People from southern European and Germanic cultures tend to find deductive arguments based on principles most persuasive, whereas American and British managers are more likely to be influenced by inductive application-based logic.

4. Leading
Leading is measured by the degree of respect and deference shown to authority figures, placing countries on a spectrum from egalitarian to hierarchical. It is mainly based on the concept of power distance.

5. Deciding
The degree to which a culture is consensus-minded. We often assume that the most egalitarian cultures will also be the most democratic, while the most hierarchical ones will allow the boss to make unilateral decisions. This isn't always the case. Germans are more hierarchical than Americans, but more likely than their U.S. colleagues to build group agreement before making decisions. The Japanese are both strongly hierarchical and strongly consensus-minded.

6. Trusting
In task-based cultures, trust is built cognitively through work. If we collaborate well, prove ourselves reliable and respect one another's contributions, we come to feel mutual trust. In a relationship-based society, trust is a result of weaving a strong affective connection. If we laugh and relax together, get to know one another personally and feel a mutual liking, then we establish trust.

7. Disagreeing
A little open disagreement is healthy, right? But different cultures have very different ideas about how productive confrontation is for a team or an organization. This scale measures tolerance for open disagreement and inclination to see it as either helpful or harmful to relationships.

8. Scheduling
All businesses follow agendas and timetables, but in some cultures people strictly adhere to the schedule, whereas in others, they treat it as a suggestion. This scale assesses how much value is placed on operating in a structured, linear fashion versus being flexible and reactive.

Click Here for an example of the cultural differences between India, USA, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and France based on this framework.

If you would like to learn more about cultural differences, have a look at this introduction video from Erin Meyer:

Let’s get started on your journey as effective leader in intercultural environments!