Leading Globally: The Power Distance Effect

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We have all felt power at work in our professional and personal relationships. Sometimes it draws us nearer to people and at times it pushes us away. At times it operates so naturally that we feel comfortable while at other times it makes us uncomfortable. There is a term for this – power distance.

By definition, power distance is the degree to which we expect and agree that power should be stratified and concentrated at higher levels. High power distance seeks more stratification while lower score minimize differences. This phenomenon is very present as we examine cultural norms. The caste system in India is a historic example of how power distance can dramatically define and affect relationships and societies.

The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between countries with high or low power distance scores. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.

Leading Globally - Power Distance





Power distance norms correlate directly to how we lead. Countries with low scores utilize Leading Globally - Power Distance3charismatic and participative leadership styles. Countries with high scores practice self-protective leadership. In addition, the GLOBE research reveals that traditionally, strong Catholic countries have a culture of strong power distance. High practices of power distance are also associated with higher levels of male domination in societies. To illustrate this point, I encourage you to look for countries which have female Presidents or Prime Minister’s. In most cases, you will find that they are nations with lower power distance scores.

This global measure provides us with helpful insights into how societies operate. Power distance is a quiet principle that affects our lives in significant ways. Effective leaders and organizations must learn to identify and adapt to variances in power distance norms as they work and relate to others.

This blog is part 6 of an 8 part series on global leadership. You may enjoy reviewing some previous posts: Gender EqualityAssertivenessFuture OrientationPerformance Orientation and Individualism.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works inLeading Globally - Power Distance 2
the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004).Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

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