Leading Globally: The Power Distance Effect

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

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.

The Problem with the Wrong Side of The Road: Eight Lessons for Global Leaders

My trip to South-East Asia taught me a major life lesson – there is a significant difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘different’. In Indonesia, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of North America. While navigating  heavy traffic, I recall telling my wife that it was strange to drive “on the wrong side of the road”. Later that day I pondered my comment and questioned the assumptions that it carried. What makes the left side of the road ‘the wrong side’? Our cultures invisibly shape our perspective and beliefs. As we interact with people who see the world differently, we have a choice to see them as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’.

For the next two weeks I have the privilege of working with a client in Lithuania. As I prepared for my trip, I spent time reviewing the most extensive global leadership project to date, The GLOBE Leadership Study [1]. This extensive research project provides insights about how beliefs differ between 62 different countries around the world. The results summarize eight areas which are viewed very differently as we live, work and interact with different cultures.

1. Performance Orientation: This is the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, and performance improvement. Some regions have a high performance orientation (Switzerland ) while other countries do not place much emphasis on this (Greece).

2. Future Orientation: Some countries place high value on the collective encouragement and reward of future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification (Singapore) while others do not (Russia).

3, Gender Egalitarianism: This is the extent to which we seek to minimize or maximize the differences between men and women. A country such as Russia has a very high level of gender equality while South Korea has a low score in egalitarianism

4. Assertiveness: This refers to beliefs as to whether people should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive and tough, or nonassertive, nonaggressive, and tender in social relationships. The country of Nigeria has a high level of assertiveness while Switzerland has low assertiveness.

5. Individualism vs. Collectivism: Individualism pertains to ties between individuals which are loose while collectivism embraces the integration of strong, cohesive in-groups. Brazil is a highly individualistic nation while South Korea is a very collective culture.

6. Power Distance: This exemplifies the extent to which the community accepts and endorses authority, power differences and status privileges. Nigeria has a high power distance score while Denmark has a low score.

7. Humane Orientation: This category explains whether a society possesses the values of altruism, benevolence, kindness, love and generosity as motivating forces in a person’s behavior. The Philippines has a very high humane orientation while Germany scores low.

8. Uncertainty Avoidance: This is the extent to which ambiguous situations  are threatening to individuals, to which rules and orders are preferred and to which uncertainty is tolerated.  Switzerland has high uncertainty avoidance while Russia has low avoidance tendencies.

The ability to be a cultural catalyst is a skill which is increasing in demand in today’s global business world. The ability to understand and respond to major cultural differences such as the ones highlighted in the GLOBE study are essential skills for modern leaders!


[1] 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, CA: Sage Publications.