by Rosamond Hutt, Formative Content World Economic Forum
We know that different cultures prefer different leadership styles.
Now new research shows how different countries favour certain character traits at work.
If you’re a straight-shooter who likes to tell it as it is, you might fit in well in the Netherlands where employees like their bosses to be direct. On the other hand, if you’re a more diplomatic leader who always wants to keep business conversations affable, you might do better running teams in New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, and much of Latin America.
This is according to business psychologists Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Michael Sanger, who argue that successful leadership is largely about “personality in the right place”.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, they discuss research showing that leaders’ decision-making, communication style and so-called “dark-side tendencies” are influenced by the countries they’re operating in.
Here’s a look at how six major leadership styles might fit with working cultures in different geographical locations:
The synchronized leader.
To get ahead in regions including Northeast Asia (e.g. Mainland China, South Korea, and Japan), Indonesia, Thailand, the UAE, and much of Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile) leaders need to seek consensus on decisions and then get others onboard.
“Synchronized leaders tend to be prudent and are more focused on potential threats than rewards,” say Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger.
The opportunistic leader.
Leaders who initiate goals themselves and are flexible about how they achieve them often fit in well in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, the UK, and Western countries on which the UK had substantial cultural influence (the US, Australia, and New Zealand), and Asian countries and territories that based their governing and economic institutions on the British model (India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong SAR).
According to the researchers, opportunistic leaders tend to be individualistic, ambitious risk takers who thrive on ambiguity.
“However, checking in frequently with team members is advised to ensure others keep up with changing plans,” they caution.
The straight-shooting leader.
In some parts of the world employees prefer their bosses to be direct with them. In Northeast Asia and countries like the Netherlands, successful leaders don’t skirt around issues, they get to the point quickly.
“Impromptu performance review meetings with direct reports occur more commonly in these locations, and leaders address undesirable behaviors from team members as soon as they are observed.”
The Dutch are so famed for their straight talking that they even have a word for it - bespreekbaarheid' (speakability).
Author Ben Coates moved there from the UK eight years ago and recently told the BBC:
“I think the Netherlands is a place where… no-one is going to pretend. When you say something in a business meeting that is not a very smart suggestion, people will always point it out.”
The diplomatic leader.
In other countries, however, leaders must fine tune their communication skills, not only to get along with colleagues but also to climb the organizational ranks. In New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, and much of Latin America, employees want their bosses to keep business conversations polite and agreeable.
“Constructive confrontation needs to be handled with empathy,” Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger say. “Leaders in these locations are expected to continuously gauge audience reactions during negotiations and meetings. These types of managers adjust their messaging to keep the discussion affable; direct communication is seen as unnecessarily harsh.”
The “kiss up/kick down” leader.
Usually seen in emerging leaders, this style is characterized by “excessive deference or sudden attention to detail when reporting up, and issuing fiery directives or refusing to compromise when commanding subordinates”.
Although never a good thing, it’s tolerated more in certain countries, such as Western Asia (Turkey, India, UAE), Serbia, Greece, Kenya, and South Korea.
The passive-aggressive leader.
Some leaders become cynical, mistrusting and covertly resistant, particularly under stress.
This often happens when they are forced to pursue a goal or carry out a task without being convinced of its merit or rationale, Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger say.
Leaders with this style are more widely accepted in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it doesn’t seem to hamper their career advancement.
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