Wouldn't you feel more comfortable at work if you had an employer that "spoke your language?" In other words, wouldn't it be easier for an employee and an employer to communicate effectively if they were aware of each other's cultures, beliefs and morals? Some may argue that leadership skills are universal regardless of what country the leader is in. On the other side of the debate are those that say that a leader must adapt their leadership style to different national cultures. In our opinion, it is essential that a leader understand the culture of his employees. Leaders cannot choose their styles at will. They are constrained by the cultural conditions that their followers have come to expect.
The reason behind our opinion is clear. Different cultures perceive what a leader may be trying to communicate differently. For example, a Japanese employee may see what may be seen as harsh to an American employee, as normal disciplinary actions. While it is true that business is global, business organizations have a culture shaped by the business it is in and the people who run he business. Managers are products of the distinct cultures in which they have learned and conducted business.
Imagine a situation in which a manager who was trained at an American school is asked to run the Japanese manufacturing facility of his British firm. This individual needs to understand the culture within which he works and how his employees perceive leadership. Research has found that "one size does not fit all." A manager needs to modify leadership qualities, tailored to the unique culture within which he or she works (Leadership Quarterly, 1999). Communication skills are also important to the leader. But again, how these skills are perceived differs among and within cultures. What one culture views as effective communication may be seen as unclear in another.
For example, American managers are more likely to provide directions to lower level workers on a face to face basis while Japanese managers are likely to use written memos. Likewise, in the Unites States, a manager will most likely give direct negative feed back to an employee, whereas in Japan, a manager will have the information relayed by a peer of the employee (Leadership Quarterly, 1999). Charismatic leadership is thought to broaden and elevate the interest of followers, generate awareness and acceptance among the followers of the purpose and mission of the group and motivate followers to go beyond their self-interest for the good of the organization. But different cultural groups may vary in their conceptions of the most important characteristics of charismatic leadership.
For example, in some cultures, one might need to take strong, decisive action in order to be seen as a leader, while in other cultures an independent approach may be the preferred approach to executing effective leadership. Leaders are expected to have vision, but how this is displayed differs from culture to culture. Leaders are often thought to be risk takers but research found that risk taking is not universally valued as contributing to outstanding leadership (Leadership Quarterly, 1999). In conclusion, we believe that national cultures affect leadership style by the way of the follower.
Knowing the matter in which the follower perceives communication, vision, risk taking and charisma is key when a leader is developing his leadership techniques for a culture that is not his own.