NATIONAL CULTURE AND LEADERSHIP
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - NATIONAL CULTURE AND LEADERSHIP
OLOWOOKERE BABATUNDE O.
The virtues of a leader shape his or her vision of the world, and as a consequence, the way
leadership is perceived and practiced. But these virtues are not developed in a vacuum. The
impacts of a person’s culture, and cultural norms (or standards of behavior) are major
determinants of behaviors, and with the increase in global and intercultural connectivity we
cannot escape the reality that miscommunication and interpersonal conflicts will increase. This
day we live in a global world. Technology has brought the world much closer together. This
means that people of different cultures find themselves working together and communicating
more and more. As such, as the world’s economies are becoming increasingly integrated into
global trading relations, the need to understand cultural influences on leadership cannot be
overemphasized (House et al., 1999). Different nations of the world have different norms,
beliefs and customs. These norms and customs vary from boundary to boundary, there by serving
as a national identity of a nation which is often referred to as national culture.
National culture is the value system and pride associated with a nation. It refers to the set of
norms, behavior, beliefs and customs that exist within the population of a sovereign nation.
National culture has been seen as one of the most influential contingent factor, which determines
organizational phenomena. To this extent, several questions have been raised by different
researchers in an attempt to understand, and predict the impact of specific cultural variables on
leadership and organizational processes. Some of these questions relate to what cultural
attributes affect societies’ susceptibility to leadership influence? To what extent do cultural
forces influence the expectations that individuals have for leaders and their behavior? To what
extent will leadership styles vary in accordance with culturally specific values and expectations?
Fortunately, a psychologist named Dr Geert Hofstede asked himself those questions in the 1970s.
What emerged after a decade of research and thousands of interviews is a model of cultural
dimensions that has become an internationally recognized standard. With access to over 88,000
employees working for the same organization (IBM) in 72 countries of the world, Hofstede
collected cultural data and analyzed his findings. He initially identified four distinct cultural
dimensions that served to distinguish one culture from another. Later he added a fifth dimension
and that is how the model stands today. He scored each country using a scale of roughly 0 to 100
for each dimension. The higher the score, the more that dimension is exhibited in society.
HOFSTEDE’S CULTULRAL DIMENSSIONS
Power Distance: This refers to the degree of inequality of power that exists and it is
accepted among people. A high power distance score indicates that society accepts an
unequal distribution of power and people understand their place in the system. Low
power distance means that power is shared and well dispersed. It also means that society
members view themselves as equals. According to Hofstede's model, in a high power
distance country like Malaysia, you would probably send reports only to top management
and have closed door meetings where only a select few, powerful leaders were in
attendance. An organization with high power distant is usually characterized by
centralized authorities, strong hierarchies, large gaps in compensation, and respect. Quite
often, the situation of high power distant in leadership is usually unhealthy for the interest
of the organization as much as that of the entire country. A good example of this was
recorded in the Korean Air’s high incidence of plane crashes between 1970 and 2000. As
an analysis of conversations recorded in the black boxes of the crashed planes revealed,
the co-pilots and flight engineers in all Korean cockpits were too deferential to their
captains. Even in the advent of a possible crash, Korean Air co-pilots and flight engineers
rarely suggested actions that would contradict the judgments of their captains.
Challenging one’s superior in Korea was considered culturally inadequate behavior. This
cultural dimension is compatible with the military rule in Nigeria as many of the past
military leaders in Nigeria have been describe as autocratic, dictatorial and domineering.
Individualism Vs. Collectivism: According to Hofstede, individualism/collectivism is a
dimension that traces cultural tendencies to emphasize either satisfying personal needs or
looking after the needs of the group. From the viewpoint of individualism, pursuing
personal interests is seen as being more important than the pursuit of societal well-being.
The collectivist perspective emphasizes that group welfare is more important than
personal interests. Members of collectivist national cultures tend to ignore personal needs
for the sake of their groups, ensuring group welfare even if personal hardships must be
endured. A high individualism score indicates a loose connection with people. In
countries with a high individualism score there is a lack of interpersonal connection and
little sharing of responsibility, most individualistic cultures tend to value personal
achievement, individual responsibility and private wealth accumulation. Individualism is
predominant in the western cultures, America; a prime example of an individualistic
culture is often called the land of rugged individualism. On the other hand, a society with
a low individualism score would have strong group cohesion, and there would be a large
amount of loyalty and respect for members of the group. The group itself is also larger
and people take more responsibility for each other's wellbeing. Collectivist cultures tend
to value group achievements, collective responsibility and social harmony. China, a
prime example of a collectivist culture, it goes so far as to suppress personal expression
and criticisms of the government for collective stability and social control.
Since both individualism and collectivism culture contains elements that are highly
beneficial, it is not important to determine which cultural orientation is best. Rather, it is
helpful to understand that a person with an individualistic culture orientation will find
personal achievement and recognition more motivating than someone from a collectivist
culture. Likewise, a person with a collectivist culture orientation will find group
excellence and social harmony more motivating than someone from an individualistic
The leadership implication for this dimension is that an awareness of these different
cultural orientations allows leaders to design recognition and reward systems that respect
the cultural background of the cross border team while coordinating incentives to support
the objectives of the organization as a whole.
Femininity/Masculinity: Hofstede emphasizes that High masculinity may give rise to a
fairly macro type of leadership, where high femininity may lead to a more empathetic
consideration type of leadership. In masculine cultures, there is a higher emphasis on
assertiveness and the acquisition of money and other material things. In contrast,
feminine culture emphasizes the quality of life, the importance of relationships and
sensitivity/concern for the welfare of others. Without missing words, masculinity
dimension is on the high side in Nigeria, over the years many Nigeria leaders have been
accused of embezzlement and high level of corruption. A recent example of this was the
case of James Ibori, a former Governor of the Nigeria’s oil rich Delta state jailed for 13
years at the Southwark crown court in London after pleading guilty to fraud and money
laundry. Similar to this are several other example of Nigerian leaders that have been
accused in one way or the other, among these are Jolly Nyame, a former Governor of
Taraba state accused by the EFCC of defrauding his state of over N1.7billion; Also is the
former Edo state Governor, Lucky Igbinedion charged of embezzling N4.3billion.
Before moving on to the next dimension, its worthy of note that there is a significant relationship
between the above explained three dimensions. Most Nigerian leaders are individualistic and
tend to value personal achievement, individual responsibility and private wealth accumulation at
the expense of the citizens; in such situations there will be high level of acceptance of unequal
power distribution and the leaders will be motivated to acquire more wealth which will
consequently increase their power.
Uncertainty Avoidance: This dimension expresses the attitude towards anxiety over the
unknown. Some societies manifest more anxiety than others in their ways of coping with
uncertainties. Hofstede’s (2001) work hinted that the US is a lower uncertainty avoidance
society and France, a higher uncertainty avoidance country. In France, the fear of the
unknown may prompt individuals to only engage in activities whose outcome is certain.
Low uncertainty individuals, in contrast, tend to be less risk avoidant, innovative, and not
hampered by the uncertainties holding one back in engaging in novel endeavors. In
countries high in uncertainty avoidance, employees are expected to obey leaders without
questioning leaders’ motives and decisions (Hofstede, 2001). Such countries are
characterized by very formal business conduct with lots of rules and policies.
Long- versus short-term orientation: This is the fifth dimension that Hofstede added in
the 1990s. It is the extent to which a society exhibits a pragmatic future-orientated
perspective rather than a conventional historic or short-term point of view. People from a
culture with a long-term orientation have a future-oriented view of life and thus are
thrifty (managing money and resources in a cautious and sensible way so as avoid waste)
and persistent in achieving goals. Examples are of such countries with long term
orientation are most Asian Countries. A short-term orientation derives from values that
express a concern for maintaining personal happiness and living for the present.
Countries with such orientation are most European countries and United States.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HOFSTEDE’S CULTURAL DIMENSIONS AND HOUSE
AND MITCHELL’S FOUR LEADERSHIP STYLES IN PATH-GOAL THEORY OF
Hofstede research on cultural dimensions has attracted attention from several other researchers
aimed at expanding the frontiers of knowledge on the influence of national culture on leadership,
among these was Rodrigues C.A. (1990) who tried to link the four leadership styles explained by
house and Mitchell with Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. House and Mitchell (1974) described
these four styles of leadership:
Supportive Leadership: Considering the needs of the followers, showing concerns for
their welfare and creating a friendly working environment.
Directive Leadership: Telling followers what needs to be done and giving appropriate
guidance along the way.
Participative Leadership: Consulting with followers and taking their ideas into account
when making decision and taking particular actions.
Achievement-Oriented Leadership: Setting challenging goals both in work and in self-
Later, Rodrigues C.A. (1990) in his book, "the situation and national culture as contingencies for
leadership behavior” explained the possible relationships among Hofstede’s four dimensions and
House and Mitchell’s (1974) four situation-linked leadership styles, namely directive,
supportive, achievement, and participative. According to his theory, a directive leadership will be
more effective in those societies with relatively high power distance, collectivism and
uncertainty avoidance. A supportive style is suitable for societies with moderate power distance
and collectivism while an achievement style can work in societies with weak-to-moderate
uncertainty avoidance. Furthermore, a participative style can work well everywhere except in
those societies with a combination of relatively high power distance, strong collectivism and
high uncertainty avoidance.
LIMITATIONS OF HOFSTEDE’S CULTURAL FRAMEWORK
Although Hofstede’s framework remains the most widely used approach to classify and compare
national cultures, it is not without limitations. Despite the importance of understanding the
model, it has also received some criticisms:
First, some have argued that Hofstede’s model is too simplistic and that cultures cannot
be reduced to a few dimensions
Second, Hofstede’s data was from IBM managers alone. Hofstede developed his model
of national culture by surveying over 88,000 employees in IBM subsidiaries from 72
Third, Hofstede’s model is also seen as static, as it cannot detect how culture changes
The final critical aspect of Hofstede’s model is that the data was collected in the 1970s
and the model is outdated.
THE GLOBAL LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR (GLOBE)
STUDIES MODEL OF CULTURE
The Hofstede model is one of the most popular cross-cultural models and has generated
important understandings of cross-cultural management. However, Hofstede’s cultural
framework was conducted in the 1970s and is sometimes seen as outdated. A recent study by the
Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior (GLOBE) researchers provides additional
insights into understanding culture. The GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational
Behavior Effectiveness) program is an extensive research project, which is meant to analyse and
explore all previous studies on cultural divergences and patterns and integrate all those
researches on one single platform and also provide an approach to measure the magnitude of
cultural differences. The basic criterion for the selection of countries for this research program
was not fixed per se, nevertheless the one factor that was particularly taken care of was the
certainty that countries should be selected in such a way that all major regions of the world get
adequate representation. The essence of the GLOBE project was to examine the inter-
relationship between societal culture, organizational culture and organizational leadership. The
idea of the GLOBE project was conceived by Robert J. House in the summer of 1991. A grant
proposal was written in the spring of 1993 which followed a literature review and development
of an item pool containing 753 questionnaire items. GLOBE was founded in October1993 and
the project formally begun.
The GLOBE researchers found evidence of nine cultural dimensions which include: power
distance, uncertainty avoidance, uncertainty avoidance, gender egalitarianism, future orientation,
humane orientation, performance orientation, in-group/family or societal collectivism and
Uncertainty Avoidance: is defined as the extent to which members of an organization or
society strive to avoid uncertainty by reliance on social norms, rituals, and bureaucratic
practices to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.
Power Distance: is defined as the degree to which members of an organization or society
expect and agree that power should be unequally shared.
Societal/institutional collectivism: reflects the degree to which organizational and
societal institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution of resources
and collective action.
In-group/family collectivism: It reflects the degree to which individuals express pride,
loyalty and cohesiveness in their organizations or families.
Gender Egalitarianism: is the extent to which an organization or a society minimizes
gender role differences.
Assertiveness: is the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies are
assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in social relationships.
Future Orientation: is the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies
engage in future-oriented behaviors such as planning, investing in the future, and
Performance Orientation: refers to the extent to which an organization or society
encourages and rewards group members for performance improvement and excellence.
This dimension is similar to the dimension called Confucian Dynamism by Hofstede and
Humane Orientation: is the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies
encourage and reward individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring, and
kind to others.
Although the GLOBE data provides much insight into a large number of countries, the GLOBE
model has also been criticized for many of the same reasons as the Hofstede model. Cultures are
extremely complex and some argue that research based on questionnaires can never accurately
assess a country’s cultural profile.
However, despite these criticisms, the use of the Hofstede and GLOBE cultural models will be a
good starting point as it will provides crucial information about how countries differ on critical
NATIONAL CULTURE AND BUSINESS CULTURE IMPLICATIONS FOR
LEADERSHIP TRAINING: A MULTINATIONALS APPROACH
A society’s business culture reflects the values, beliefs, and norms regarding how business is
conducted in any society. As a leader, understanding business culture is extremely as critical as
national culture, it provides insights regarding appropriate aspects of doing business in a culture.
One of the important cultural differences that explain the degree of formality is power distance.
High power distance tends to be associated with formality in many other aspects of the business
Another important aspect that pertains to the business environment in a society is the nature of
relationships between business partners. In societies such as China it is expected that business
partners will be patient and take a long-term view of any partnership. However, in the US
business negotiators may not necessarily view a business partnership as long term.
In more collectivistic societies, personal relationships are extremely important. It is therefore
expected that for Nigerian companies negotiating with Chinese companies will want to develop
relationships first. Furthermore, care must be taken to give opportunities for collectivistic
individuals to avoid loss of face. Because of the focus on the collective, teams are very important
in collectivistic societies. In teams, people strive to reach consensus and generally avoid
NATIONAL CULTURE CAUTIONS AND CAVEATS FOR LEADERSHIP TRAINING
Most countries have subcultures, which represent the ways of life of groups of people within a
culture. Cultures do not determine exactly how each individual behaves, thinks, acts, and feels.
Assuming that all people within one culture behave, believe, feel, and act the same will amount
GENERAL CONCLUSION: ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR LEADERSHIP AT
ORGANISATIONAL AND COUNTRY LEVEL
This review reiterates to policy makers the influence of national culture on the psyche of
individuals. Both at the company and country levels, being able to assess the manner in which
followers will react towards decisions made can facilitate the adoption of policy by individuals.
In the United States, it is customary for even the most difficult measures to be followed, at
organizational and country levels, because of the American pragmatic approach at analyzing
situations (Crunden, 1994; Hofstede, 2001). However, the French tend to adopt a philosophical
stance on issues. My contention is being aware of these contingencies can help policy makers
place themselves ahead of the curve, when it comes to devising policies.
The second implication of this review is for businesses expanding across national boundaries,
whose decision-makers need to be acclimated to the way cultures respond to leadership
influence. Simply positing transformational leadership is the panacea may be misleading. It
would be a mistake for a company operating in America, France and even Africa to apply the
same leadership styles all through. If such is the case, this company may find out the influence
the leader seeks to exert on followers will not be forthcoming. Acting in a culturally intelligent
manner would make it possible for a company with cross border operations to anticipate the
reaction of followers, and act in a way that will impel them to embrace the policies adopted by
the company (Earley & Mosakowski, 2004).
Lastly, this review offers academicians and researchers opportunities in the field of cross-
national studies of leadership styles.
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Psychology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
House R. J. & Mitchell T. R. (1974): Path-goal theory of leadership. Journal of Contemporary
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Muenjohn and Armstrong ( 2007): Transformational Leadership: The Influence of Culture on
the Leadership Behaviours of Expatriate Managers. School of Management, RMIT
University 239 Bourke St. Level 16 (Office 108.16.42) Melbourne, Victoria 3000
Robert J. House (1993): Cultural Influences on Leadership and Organizations: PROJECT
Rodrigues, C.A. (1990): "The situation and national culture as contingencies for leadership
behavior: two conceptual models", in Prasad. S.B (Eds), Advances in International
Comparative Management, pp.51-68.
Yvette N. Essounga: A Cross-Cultural Theoretical Review of National Culture, Individual
Liberties, and Leadership Styles in the US and France. The University of Texas Pan-
American 1201 W. University Drive, Edinburg, TX 78541.