What is considered good leadership practice in Germany may not be considered good leadership in Japan or may need some modifications when dealing with US Americans. Intercultural differences have been the subject of much study since the 1950s. I have always been fascinated by the insights derived from these studies given that I am thoroughly multicultural person myself.
As an aside – I was born in Panama, raised in Mexico, and studied in the US and Germany. My mother’s side of the family is French, my father’s US American. I have worked in Mexico, US, France, Belgium and Germany. My work as a strategy and leadership consultant over the past twenty years has taken me to – at latest count – 30 different countries. I truly think of myself as a World Citizen.
My first encounter with the intercultural literature was reading Edward T Hall – considered the founding father of intercultural communication as an academic field of study. During the 1950s he worked for the US State Department, teaching inter-cultural communications skills to foreign service personnel. He came up with the concept of low-context versus high-context cultures – a concept still much in use today. Low-context cultures such as the Germanic culture transmit information explicitly – i.e. through language and tangible information. High-context cultures such as the Japanese culture transmit messages implicitly – the context, the body language and other non-verbal clues provide the information. A spoken ‘Yes’ does not necessarily mean ‘Yes’ – it depends on the context.
The Three H’s of Intercultural Communication – Hall, Hofstede and House
Obviously leadership in these very different cultural environments needs to take on different forms. Ever since Edward T. Hall various further attempts have been made to codify the differences between cultures. As our economy has become more global, understanding how to navigate in these diverse waters and currents of culture has received increasing attention from both public and private sector leaders.
In the 1970’s Geert Hofstede significantly expanded the framework from which to look at different national and organizational cultures. Using survey data from over 100.000 individuals from over 40 countries, he developed a model composed of 5 different dimensions of culture. It was a great honor in the year 2004 to have Geert Hofstede talk at a Forum which was organized by my colleague Ted Baartmans and me in Maastricht.
This work has been continued through further studies. The most recent and comprehensive being the GLOBE Study led by Robert House, professor at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. The GLOBE study included 170 countries and established 9 cultural dimensions. I was also very fortunate to be present in London in 2011 when he received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association.
Yet despite all of this information, how can business leaders truly know how to change and adapt their style globally?
This week I had the privilege to be one of the first people to be certified in the brand new 360° instrument – Global 6 created by the Center for Creative Leadership. It is the first instrument I am aware of that provides business leaders with practical information directly from the people they work with. It gives them pragmatic advice on how they need to adapt their leadership style globally. In my next blog I will explain how this instrument works.
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.” Margaret Mead