Podcast: The Importance of Culture

Today’s post is a podcast that I recently provided for the Lead This! organization.

Mergers and acquisitions consistently top the headlines, yet most of them fail. In this recording I explain the pivotal role that organizational culture has in mergers and acquisitions as well as how to strategically use it to foster a healthy organization. Just click the graphic below and enjoy!

 


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

 

 

24 Charts of Leadership Styles Around the World

Today’s content was originally posted by my colleague Paul Sohn. It contains a fantastic overview about global leadership styles and he graciously allowed me to recycle it for your enjoyment. 

I had only been in Lithuania for an hour when a store-clerk looked me in the eye, shook her finger under my nose and forcefully said, “No! No! No!” in broken English. This unusual experience quickly taught me that things work differently in Lithuania! From a legal perspective, I learned that you cannot buy beer at the grocery store after 10 p.m.! This brusque statement was an actually an act of someone doing her job! From a leadership perspective, I learned that blunt and forceful communication is a norm when you are working with someone who grew up in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation.

We encounter vastly different leadership situations depending which patch of earth we stand on. The following infographic provide 24 insightful ways to understand leadership differences across the globe. They were developed by Richard D. Lewis in his book When Cultures Collide.

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Interested in more about differences about global leadership? Later this week I will post part II (another infographic) which provides valuable insights about cross-cultural communication. In the meantime, you may enjoy some of my past posts about leadership differences around the word: Gender EqualityAssertivenessFuture Orientation, Power DistancePerformance Orientation, Human Orientation and Individualism

When Cultures Collide is available for purchase on Amazon. You may also be interested in Paul Sohn’s recent book, Quarter-Life Calling: How to Find Your Sweet Spot in Your Twenties.


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

4 Things Star Wars Teaches Us About Cross-Cultural Leadership

As a professor I often tell my students that we will engage in learning and teaching together.  I am consistently influenced by the work and insights of my students. Today’s guest blog is an example of some great lessons by Christina, a student in my Global Leadership class. I know you will enjoy it!

…IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY…

As more and more organizations become global, leaders are faced with an increasing need to engage followers from differing backgrounds and cultures. Culture plays a significant role in how leaders interact with those around them. Behaviors and traits that are valued in one culture may not be acceptable in another. Developing the skills needed to effectively lead individuals from multiple cultures can be challenging. Therefore, it is important for leaders to understand how to relate to their followers while still doing what is best for the organization.

Star Wars has been a pop culture phenomenon for decades, inciting internet memes, fan fiction, merchandise, costumes and theme park attractions. Although I’m no Star Wars expert, our family recently watched the movies and as we did, I began to observe connections between cross-cultural leadership and this blockbuster series. Here are the four things that Star Wars taught me about how to engage followers from different cultures.

THE CHEWIE PRINCIPLE: LOVE TRANSLATES

You might assume that I learned this lesson by watching the main love interests, Princess Leia and Han Solo, interacting on screen. However, I believe that the real romance is found between Han and his loyal sidekick Chewbacca. Despite grunts and throat gurgles that only they can understand, the audience knows exactly what they mean to each other and are privy to their heartwarming bromance. They clearly demonstrate that the power of love transcends cultural boundaries.

Love translates into any language. No matter where you are from, you just know when someone loves and respects you. Even when there is a cultural gap, followers instinctively understand when their leader loves and cares about them. Leaders who operate in the global environment must demonstrate their affection through agape love which is unselfish, self-giving, not self-seeking, and does not expect love in return [1]. In fact, love (and belonging) is one of Maslow’s basic necessities [2]. This can be attributed to our deep-rooted need to feel affirmation by those we work, live and interact with. Love is an important aspect of leadership that works as a motivator to individuals from any nation. Especially in global environments, research shows that employees who feel loved, valued and respected tend to work harder [3].

THE JAR JAR LESSON: SOFT SKILLS CAN BE LEARNED

Star Wars also taught me that the ‘softer’ skills which contribute to effective leadership can be learned (like emotional intelligence, personality and cognitive intelligence). In the newer films, supporting character Jar Jar Binks is just plain annoying! He lacks the social skills and personal discipline which often results in trouble. However, there is one scene where Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn carefully corrects Jar Jar because he believes him to be capable of changing.

I once worked on the same floor as Dave, a manager of a different department. Dave was brilliant. Technically adept at a wide variety of skills, he was often put in charge of large projects that had nothing to do with his job description just because of his extensive knowledge. The only downside to Dave was his lack of what researchers call ‘soft skills’, those skills that focus on emotional intelligence, leadership, and inspiring others. After a particularly difficult meeting with his superiors Dave was frustrated and took his anger out on his assistant (something he had done several times in the past). His behavior was noted by another manager on our floor named Louis who pulled him aside. Louis took the time to sit with him and explain why yelling at his assistant was, to quote Louis, “not nice”. The simplicity of the statement struck a chord with Dave. He was embarrassed that his actions had been seen around the office and had resulted in his reputation of being a mean boss. He went to his assistant the next day and apologized, something he would have never done in the past. He also apologized to others on the floor who had experienced his outbursts. There was a noticeable transformation in Dave over the next few months. Even though he occasionally had minor mishaps with colleagues and his personality was still a little abrasive, there was a definite change in overall behavior and attitude.

Soft skills are often learned through personal experience and reflection [4]. One-on-one coaching and mentoring are also valuable ways to further develop the leadership skillsets necessary in the global environment [5]. Leaders can sharpen their global leadership abilities by asking others for feedback and being open to constructive criticism. Vulnerability and respecting other’s opinions are keys to learning soft skills.

THE EWOK STRATEGY: OBSERVATION BEFORE ACTION

Leaders cannot charge head first into a new situation without first observing the behaviors and culture of those they are working with. It is key (especially in global leadership) to carefully scrutinize new environments before interacting. We learned this lesson when Han, Leia, and Luke battled the primitive Ewoks. When they are first sighted by their enemy, Han decided there wasn’t enough time to think up a plan and instead impulsively ran out to attack them. He believed that the Ewoks would be easily defeated due to diminutive size and lack of technology. However, the furry little creatures surprised everyone with their cunning traps and aggressive fighting style.

Research has shown that observation is a key component of learning socially accepted behaviors [6]. As we look around in nature, we learn that most behavior is learned from observation. In order to fit in with the other kids at school, a child will watch the others before acting. The same principle applied to leaders operating in other cultures. Before leading a group of individuals from different cultures, leaders should take the time to observe and learn about their values, norms, accepted practices, and behaviors.

THE YODA FACTOR: HUMILITY IS KING

The greatest example of a humble leader in the Star Wars saga is Yoda. The little green alien with strange speech patterns is beloved by fans everywhere. It’s not his venerated position or incredible fighting skills that earned him this reputation. Rather, it is the simple way that he unobtrusively serves those he teaches. With bowed head and a soft-spoken voice, this Jedi master guides those he leads with their best interests at heart.

One of the most common misconceptions about leadership is that those who lead are always attractive, strong-willed, and charismatic. However, some of the best leaders are made of the most unassuming individuals. Servant leadership is based on the theory that a leader’s primary concern should be to serve followers while helping them achieve their fullest potential [7]. This means leaders put the needs and desires of their followers before their own, and seek to encourage and promote followers instead of themselves.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

Star Wars may be a sci-fi fantasy but the lessons learned from the series are applicable in real world scenarios. Leaders who add these principles to their repertoire will be able to better interact with followers despite cultural differences. Communication will be richer because leaders are focused on the needs of their followers. This selfless abandonment of pride allows leaders to effectively guide those who live in cultures that are different from their own. Star Wars teaches us that engaging in cross-cultural leadership requires sacrifice, humility, love, respect, vulnerability, observation, and patience. Leaders who work in a global environment have the choice to focus on sharpening these skillsets in order to be more effective across cultures.

As Yoda reminds us, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”


 

Princess Leia

Christina Angelakos is a student at Regent University in the Doctor of Strategic Leadership program. She works for a church in Orlando helping people connect in Small Groups and Volunteering. Christina spends her extra time with her family, playing music and watching old movies (Star Wars when her Dad has the remote!). Twitter: @ChristinaAngel

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He has not yet pre-purchased his tickets for the new Star Wars movie. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

References

[1] Hoyle, J. (2002). Leadership and the force of love: Six keys to motivating with love. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.

[2] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.

[3] Kinyanjui, S. (2013). Innovative strategies for managing workforce diversity in kenyan leading corporations in present global scenario. International Journal of Business and Management, 8(15), 20-32.

[4] Dixon, J., Belnap, C., Albrecht, C., & Lee, K. (2010). THE IMPORTANCE OF SOFT SKILLS. Corporate Finance Review, 14(6), 35-38.

[5] Baron, L., & Morin, L. (2010). The impact of executive coaching on self-efficacy related to management soft-skills. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(1), 18-38.

[6] Almeida, F. (2011). Vicarious learning and institutional economics. Journal of Economic Issues, 45(4), 839-855.

[7] van Dierendonck, D., & Patterson, K. (2015). Compassionate love as a cornerstone of servant leadership: An integration of previous theorizing and research. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(1), 119-131.

Global Leadership: Do You Have These 3 Cultural Agility Skills?

I like to spend time with people who have lived in other cultures. They are interesting. They have great stories. And they usually possess an exemplary set of interpersonal skills. The ability to be successful in other cultures – personally or professionally – is not an accidental ability. It is something that is developed.

As we encounter different cultures, we subconsciously use one of three methods to make intercultural relationships work. Understanding these three strategies can help us be more effective in becoming culturally agile.

Strategy 1 – Cultural Minimization. You standardize or control cultural differences in order to create consistency. Your goal is to limit cultural differences.

I teach in both North America and in Europe where grading norms differ. In order to provide a consistent standard, grading is defined by a rubric. A grading rubric outlines exactly how a grade is calculated. This minimizes differences in grading standards, something that is important when you have courses taught by people from different nationalities.

Strategy 2 – Cultural Adaptation. You adjust to cultural differences and respond in a way that is expected in that culture. You adapt to the norms of others.

My friend who lived in Indonesia was driving us through the busy streets of Jakarta. To a North American, the driving norms resembled chaos. However, as he spoke of traffic he stated, “In Jakarta, you need to drive like you are in a river. You just have to go with the flow and the currents of traffic and you’ll be fine”. Cultural adapters learn to accept and thrive within existing cultural norms.

Strategy 3 – Cultural Integration. You create a new set of norms and respond with collaboration to find solutions acceptable to all cultures affected (Caligiuri).

A friend of mine is a North American Expat living in the Middle East. In this prevailing Muslim culture, women are expected to wear abayas to cover themselves completely when in public. However, inside their expatriate camp women are theoretically free to dress as they please (they could wear their athletic workout gear at the commissary!) In practice, most women wear clothing that isn’t revealing and is deemed acceptable. Long dresses or loose clothing is worn to provide some cover yet not offend. Discretion and discernment result in an integration strategy that finds acceptable middle ground. 

An easy way to understand these skills is with the following continuum:

Cultural Competency Strategies

When you minimize, you seek to make differences insignificant. Conversely, when you adapt, you decide to let the prevailing culture dictate your behaviors. An integration approach combines the two and seeks to find a middle ground or a new norm.

However, knowing these three strategies is only the first step in being culturally effective. The key is knowing when to use each one at the appropriate time (Caligiuri). There are times when minimizing will be effective and times when it will be offensive. Similarly, integrating or adapting are not always the right solutions.

Therefore, effective leaders must first equip themselves with knowledge about these three unique skills. Secondly, they must develop know-how that helps them know when each is most effective (or inappropriate). Research shows that these three skills are not optional for global workers. They are of utmost importance if you seek to be effective.


 

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Dr. Jeff Suderman is a global apprentice, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Reference

Paula Caliguriuri (2012). Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals.

How to Predict Successful Business Mergers & Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) are an important part of our business landscape. In America, about 10,000 of them occur each year. While organizations celebrate these acquisitions, their excitement may be short-lived as statistics reveal that most are doomed to fail. So is there a way for organizations to ensure success as they merge with another?

The Big Picture

Globally, there were about 30,000 M&A’s in 2011. In the United States alone, the volume of M&A activity was 9,923 transactions (2011). These acquisitions were valued at $1.59 trillion (Weber, Oberg & Tarba). This data demonstrates that the ability to predict M&A success is a significant issue.

However, while M&A’s are a popular strategy, they are often unsuccessful. Research studies show that 50% of M&A’s fail (Weber, Oberg & Tarba) and some believe that the failure rate is as high as 70%-90% (Christenson, Alton, Rising & Waldeck). This means that organizations need to become adept at recognizing the key issues which will foster M&A success.M&A Success

Figure 1 outlines 12 factors which have been found to influence M&A success or failure.  However, one of the factors on this list predict M&A success with an accuracy of 96%! What is this key factor?

The answer is culture.

Organizational culture compatibility is a huge determinant in the success of an M&A. This supports Peter Druckers famous statement that “culture eats strategy for lunch”. The greatest strategy can be derailed by a team that is not aligned.

Research by Cameron and Quinn reveals that 96 percent of the time, successful mergers and acquisitions can be accurately predicted based solely on cultural match As the old adage notes, a house divided cannot stand.

I utilize Cameron & Quinn’s research to conduct cultural assessments which help clients understand their cultural norms. It also provides a blueprint to develop healthy and aligned cultures. As the above research highlights, the insights from this process can also reveal whether the merging cultures are best described as a house divided or one that can be unified.

The importance of culture is a valuable insight for those involved in M&A’s. Investors, bankers, entrepreneurs and business owners can all benefit from the cultural assessment tool as it helps avoid some of the pitfalls involved in failed M&A’s. Please contact me if you would like to explore how this tool can help your organization.


 

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Dr. Jeff Suderman is an organizational culture specialist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Reference

Cameron, K.S,  Quinn, R.E. (2011). The Competing Values Culture Assessment.

Clayton M. Christensen, Richard Alton, Curtis Rising, and Andrew Waldeck The Big Idea: The New M&A Playbook. Harvard Business Review. (MARCH 2011 ISSUE https://hbr.org/2011/03/the-big-idea-the-new-ma-playbook

Straub, Thomas (2007). Reasons for frequent failure in Mergers and Acquisitions: A comprehensive analysis. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag (DUV), Gabler Edition Wissenschaft.

Yaakov WeberChristina ObergShlomo Tarba (YEAR).  Comprehensive Guide to Mergers & Acquisitions, A: Managing the Critical Success Factors Across Every Stage of the M&A . Published Dec 19, 2013 by FT Press. Process . http://www.ftpress.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2164982

Organizational Culture: Making the Invisible Visible

“Culture eats strategy for lunch”. Peter Drucker

Those who rub shoulders with me regularly have likely heard me quote this more than once. It’s a cornerstone concept in my organizational development work. Patrick Lencioni reframed this same idea when he stated that he would rather lead a unified team with an average strategy than a fractious team with an excellent strategy.

Most organizational leaders understand the importance of having a unified culture. However, I find there is much less clarity in how to facilitate understanding and practice of this culture. This process, something I call cultural transference, is how we help people understand and practice the norms of our organizational culture.

As I observe organizations, I find two the following two strategies dominate how we facilitate cultural tranference:

  1. The Virus Strategy: This implicit strategy is built on the idea of ‘watch me and do as I do’. This approach assumes that culture is strong enough to catch. Somewhat like the cold virus, given enough time, it will spread (and most everyone will catch it).
  2. The Immunization Strategy: This explicit strategy is built by defining culture and then intentionally communicating it. This culture is written down and prescribed to every employee – often with several booster shots.

I have seen the virus strategy work but believe it is risky. While culture can be caught, our environments are equally receptive to hosting different cultural strains. There is low certainty that the right virus will spread to all corners of your organization.

The immunization strategy is much more effective but it also takes more work. When culture is taught (and not caught), we have a higher chance of infusing the right strain into our organizational DNA. It does not guarantee cultural transference, but it creates clarity and provides a litmus test by which we can assess when people are not a cultural fit.

Culture provides us with a sense of organizational identity and generates a shared commitment to beliefs and values that are larger than themselves (Richard Daft). If this is true, culture is not a one-size-fits-all product. Different cultures have different purposes and achieve different outcomes. The goal is to develop a culture that fits your mission and strategic goals. Will you choose to accomplish this through a virus or an immunization strategy? Which of these two strategies do you most regularly encounter?

If you need to develop an organizational cultural immunization strategy please contact me.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a cultural virologist, a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

References

Richard Daft (2013). Organization theory and design.

Image Credit

Leading Globally: How Humane is Your Country?

As the world has learned about the tragic earthquake in Nepal we see a tremendous outpouring of generosity and compassion. However, not all nations respond the same to humanitarian needs. This cultural difference can be partially explained by something called our humane orientation.

The GLOBE leadership study defines humane orientation as the degree to which individuals in organizations encourage individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring and kind to others. The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between countries with high or low humane orientation 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.

Human Orientation Chart 2

The GLOBE research discovered that societies with high humane scores have citizens who experience economic, physical and psychological well-being. Conversely, countries with lower humane orientation are more economically developed, modern and urbanized. Furthermore, societies which exist in difficult conditions (physically or due to climate) have a higher humane orientation! Difficult conditions help facilitate cooperation and solidarity!

This study provides information about countries that most of us will never set foot on. However, globalization often brings these cultures to our own cities, neighborhoods and classrooms. Effective leaders must understand that we each carry bias about the ideal humane orientation. Furthermore, they learn how to identify and appropriately respond to these different views.

This blog is the final installment in a series on global leadership. You may enjoy reviewing some previous posts: Gender EqualityAssertivenessFuture Orientation, Power DistancePerformance Orientation and Individualism.


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a Human Orientation Chart 1professor and consultant in 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

Reference

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.

Psychic Salary: What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Once a year, Amazon employees get an interesting opportunity.  They are offered cash to quit working at their company. The first offer is worth $2,000. Each successive year it increases by $1,000 up to a maximum of $5,000. This creative idea began at Zappos, a company known for their innovative approach to organizational culture.

So why do organizations pay employees to leave? The premise is a simple one, “unhappy people make for unhappy companies” (Harvard Business Review). We have all worked with Poisonous Peter (or Petra). They can suck the life out of the best job. As Jeff Bezoes, CEO and founder of Amazon states, “Great companies are great precisely because they stand for something special, different, distinctive. That means, almost by definition, that they are not for everybody. It takes a certain personality type to thrive…if there isn’t the right fit, it makes perfect sense to quit” (Harvard Business Review). Paying employees to leave can serve the purpose of weeding the organizational garden.

But there may be an even more important reason. Pay-to-leave incentives make employees regularly review a very critical question – what gets you up in the morning? Because work is personal, we need to be motivated to perform our best. The pay-to-leave offer makes employees re-examine their motivation each year.

At a recent event hosted by the Coachella Valley Small Business Development Center we heard an example of this concept. Jennifer Di Francesco serves as the Spa & Sports Club Director for Toscana Country Club, a prestigious country club in our region. Each spring Jennifer has an interesting challenge. Due to a high population of seasonal residents who winter in the desert, she has to lay off almost all of her staff for five months during the slow season. Despite this challenge, she notes that almost every staff member chooses to return.

While she does not offer pay-to-leave incentives, her unique situation provides a different version of this concept. Instead of pay-to-leave, her employees are faced with a decision of pay-to-stay. Similar to the Amazon model, it makes her employees examine what is important. Jennifer believes that an employee’s decision to return is rooted in the value of their ‘psychic salary’, an idea promoted by Holly Steil in her book Neon Signs of Service. Psychic salary refers to the amount of non-financial value that an employee derives from their job. She realizes that there are more reasons than just money that keep employees happy. Similar to Amazon, Toscana Club employees must re-examine what gets them up in the morning on an annual basis.

Wise employers figure out what contributes to their employee’s psychic salary and intentionally build it. Jennifer notes that club prestige and a healthy work environment are two things which help her foster this. For your team, it may be the location of your business, the boss they work for, scheduling flexibility or organizational culture.

Research by the Gallup organization reveals that only 30% of Americans say they are engaged at work (Why We Hate Work: Issues of Engagement). This means that most of us are not creating the psychic salary that employees need to feel engaged. Peter Drucker summarized it well; “culture eats strategy for lunch”. If we fail to make our employees examine their motives, salary doesn’t matter.

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Jeff Suderman is a strategist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Bill Taylor (April 14, 2014). Why Amazon is copying Zappos and paying employees to quit. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review.

Leading Globally: Individualistic vs. Collective Cultures

Me or We?

Cultural studies reveal that one of these two biases drives how you prioritize and make decisions. Those who come from a strong collective cultures practice, encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action. In contrast, individualistic cultures reward efforts which promote individual success.

The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between individualistic or collective cultures. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.

Collectivism

These biases can be observed in both in national, organizational and family structures. At times, we learn to exhibit different practices in our different environments. A cut-throat work environment may cause you to act individualistically in the office while your South American cultural heritage may foster strong collectivism in other relationships.

While some cultural insights help explain fascinating cultural differences, I find that differences in individualistic/collective worldviews can be the cause of significant conflict. An inner bias of ‘me’ or ‘we’ is a very strong personal driver and, as a result, can fuel intense conflict! As a result, it is critical for effective leaders to be able to assess the individualistic or collective preferences of those they work with.

This blog is part 5 of an 8 part series on global leadership. You may enjoy reviewing some previous posts: Gender EqualityAssertivenessFuture Orientation and, Performance Orientation.

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works inCollectivism 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

Reference

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.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Cultures consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage

Leading Globally: Understanding Cultural Assertiveness

A lasting impression from my trip to Indonesia is the pleasant smiles and accommodating nature of the locals I interacted with. In contrast, within hours of my arrival in Lithuania, a store check-out clerk brashly told me “No, no, no!” as I unknowingly attempted to purchase something I was not supposed to.

Both of these examples represent the cultural value of assertiveness. Cultural assertiveness reflects beliefs as to whether people are or should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive, and tough or non-assertive, non-aggressive, and tender in social relationships. When you experience a cultural assertiveness that is different than your own you often feel discomfort. It is also easy to judge the behavior as inappropriate (either too passive or to aggressive). However, these are just cultural norms that define how things are done. After spending time in Lithuania, I have grown comfortable with their direct nature as I have learned that assertiveness does not mean the same thing as being uncaring or rude.

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

GLOBE Assertiveness 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This idea is supported by Howard Guttman in who specializes in workplace conflict. He believes that one of the sources of conflict is because of differences in our communication style. He labels these styles on as non-assertive, assertive or aggressive (see diagram below). When we encounter someone with a different style than our own, we often feel like a conflict is occurring rather than identifying it as a difference in our styles.

Guttman Communication Conflict

Whether in your workplace or in your travels, you have experienced differences in cultural assertiveness. As Canadians (a mid-assertiveness culture) who are living in the United States, our family has had to work to adjust to the high assertiveness of the US Culture. We cannot rely on others to ask us about ourselves and have to initiate more than we are used to. While it can be frustrating to adjust to different norms, it is a requirement of living in an increasingly global society.

As you understand differences in cultural assertiveness you can:

  1. Become self-aware: What is your cultural assertiveness norm? Where do you believe your communication style sits on Guttman’s scale?
  2. Validate your assumptions: Ask others the same question to see if your self-evaluation matches their experience.
  3. Assess your environment: How does the cultural assertiveness of your situation differ from your own. How do you need to adjust or act in this situation in order to be successful?
  4. Adjust: Learn to behave outside of your natural comfort zone.

I would love to hear examples of assertiveness differences you have experienced!

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.


 

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a GLOBE Assertivenessprofessor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Reference

Guttman, H.M (2003).When  Goliath clash.New York: Amacon

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.