- Global leadership challenges – managing the hierarchy
In this video Kevan Hall discusses one specific challenge faced by global leaders: how to manage differences in hierarchical relationships around the world:
Cross-cultural researchers have consistently found differences in how different cultures gain, express and manage status, and the difference in power levels between themselves and their people.
Kevan comes from the UK and in his culture, leaders are not expected to make the hierarchy too explicit. If you are in a senior position everyone knows it, but you are expected to downplay the status differences. If you appear to be putting yourself too far above your colleagues, this is likely to have a negative impact on motivation and lead to resistance to your leadership style.
As a result, contrary to what you might expect from the traditional British stereotype of the class system, British managers tend to feel uncomfortable with overt status differences. We also use very indirect communication to mask status differences – when a British manager “suggests” that you do something, this is a direct instruction.
In the USA, you might expect to find lower levels of status being expressed in the workplace as the US has traditionally had a more mobile social structure. And, indeed people expect to be treated in a similar way irrespective of status. Communication tends to be relatively more direct than in the UK.
However, one thing that Europeans often notice in the US is that people appear to us to comply more readily with leadership instructions than in Europe. Could it be that European employment protection makes us more likely to challenge our bosses?
In Asia, leaders have traditionally had a higher level of “power distance” – the perceived difference in power between them and their people. High power distance tends to lead to indirect communication upwards and a tendency to agree publicly with people who are perceived to have status. Challenge is likely to be expressed indirectly, and not in public.
So far, so straightforward. These are fairly simple differences to understand, but what should you do about this if you are a global leader?
Kevan spoke recently to a British leader recently who was managing part of his team in India. This particular leader found it difficult when he felt that people would not challenge him or say what they really felt. He often misunderstood their indirect communication as saying ‘yes’, when really they were saying ‘no’. He felt deeply uncomfortable when they stood up to show respect when he passed by their desk.
How you would respond to this situation?
We would love to hear what you think, by leaving a comment in the box below.
We have a range of books and giveaway goodies for the best answers, and the best overall answer will win a bonus $200 when we close this short, ‘just for fun’ competition at the end of August.
In Global Integration’s leadership and cross-cultural training, we help people think through their responses to challenges like these and develop an answer that fits the needs of the situation and their personal comfort levels. Knowledge of the differences helps but we need to be clear about our choices and the implications of making them.