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Leadership Cultural Diversity and Global Mindset

Extensive research has been undertaken over the past 50 years to identify and analyze leadership behavior. Leadership has been defined in many different ways, but most definitions assume that it involves an influence process concerned with facilitating the performance of a collective task. It involves a process whereby intentional influence is exerted by one person over other people to guide, structure, and facilitate activities and relationships in a group to achieve organizational effectiveness and success. Robins and Judge (2008) define leadership as “the ability to influence a group toward the achievement of a vision or set of goals (p. 385). Along the ability to influence, intercultural, interpersonal and organizational communication skills are crucial for global leaders. For effective leadership in multicultural settings, a global mindset and diversity understanding are the most important skills required of leaders.

There are several distinct theoretical bases for leadership. At first, leaders were felt to be born, not made. So-called great person theory of leadership, it implied that some individuals are born with certain traits that allowed them to emerge out of any situation or period of history to become leaders. The trait theories concentrate on the leaders themselves and have shown little promise for either the understanding of the leadership process or the relationship with effective leadership performance. Recent research findings show a significant relationship with the “Big Five” personality traits and effective leadership. According to Luthans (2008), there is emerging interest in positive organizational behavior capacities (i.e. hope, optimism, resiliency, emotional intelligence, and, especially, self-efficacy) and effective leaders, and there is continuing concern with leader skills and competences (pp. 413-416).

Most researchers evaluate leadership effectiveness in terms of the consequences of the leader’s actions for followers. Leadership is an exchange process between the leader and the followers. The group and exchange theories emphasize the importance of followers. Graen and Uhl Bien (1995) applied a multi-level and multi-domain perspective on leadership, distinguishing between leader-based, follower-based, and relationship-based leadership styles (p. 224). Leader-based style was found to include more structured tasks, strong leader position power, member acceptance of leader, and common understanding of leader and power. Follower-based became known for more unstructured tasks, weak position power, member non-acceptance of leader, and leader’s absence from responsibilities. The relationship based style included situation favorability for leader between two extremes, accommodated differing needs of subordinates, and could elicit superior work from different types. Now known as Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory, it says the leaders treat individual followers differently; in particular, leaders and their associates develop two-person dyadic relationships that affect the behavior of both (Luthans, p. 417). This research continues to be relatively supportive despite some criticism it received over the years. LMX seems to be more descriptive of the typical process of role making by leaders, rather than prescribing the patterns of downward exchange relations optimal for leadership effectiveness. However, from the social cognitive perspective, it should be taken into account that leader-member exchanges are a reciprocal process, as leaders may be inclined to change follower self-concept in the short run to achieve performance goals and more enduring changes. Meanwhile, followers reciprocally shape leaders’ self-schemas through their responses, both as individuals and through collective reactions.

The traditionally recognized theories of leadership tend to be more situation-based. In particular, Fiedler’s contingency model made a significant contribution to leadership theory and potentially to the practice of human resource management. The situation in which an organization operates plays an influential role in designing and managing the organization effectively. The situational variables and contextual aspects of leadership affect leadership roles, skills, behavior, and followers’ performance and satisfaction. Effective group performance depends on the proper match between the leader’s style and the degree to which the situation gives control to the leader. The theory suggests that a key factor to leadership success is the individual’s fixed leadership style. Based on empirical research, Fiedler concluded that task-oriented leaders end to perform better in situations of high and low control, while relationship-oriented leaders perform best in moderate control situations. It is important to note that contingency theory emphasizes that leaders are not successful in all situations. In the 21st century workplace, this theory is still predictive and provides useful information about the type of leadership most likely to be successful. Data from this empirical research theory could be particularly useful to organizations in developing leadership profiles. However, the theory does not clearly explain why people with certain leadership style are more effective in particular situations than others, as well as what to do when the leader and the situation mismatch in the workplace. In addition, mush use of psychology and sociology has contributed to the development of five major contingency theories: Fiedler’s least-preferred co-worker (LPC) theory (relationships, power, and tasks), Evans’s path-goal theory (paths and rewards), Kerr and Jermier’s leadership substitutes theory, multiple-linkage models (leadership and group effectiveness), and Fiedler’s cognitive resource theory (Robins and Judge, 2008, pp. 386-403).

The studies have given a rise to a number of taxonomies which Yukl (2002) proposes might be refined into the three jointly inter-reacting categories of task-, relations-, and change-oriented behaviors. On looking at the fields of study covering participative (change-oriented) leadership, delegation and empowerment, Yukl more closely examined Vroom-Yetoon’s model of participative leadership to identify decision procedures in different situations. In his Leadership in Organizations book, he considers some detrimental success of collective participatory efforts by members of an organization to achieve meaningful tasks then gives the following definition of leadership: “Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how it can be done effectively, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish the shared objectives” (p. 7). One of the most important and difficult leadership responsibilities is leading change, especially the cultural change. The creation and establishment of a clear and compelling vision is useful to guide the organization through change, and guidelines are necessary for formulating a vision, as well as implementing change for political or organizational or people-oriented actions. Throughout the change process, the role of the leader is key.

While traditional leadership theories focused on the leader’s influential power over the followers, the contemporary leadership theories focus on the importance of the leader as a communicator. Contemporary organizations are constantly searching for leaders who can exhibit charismatic, authentic, and transformational leadership qualities. They want leaders who have clear vision and the right charisma to carry out the vision. Although exhibiting the right behaviors at the right time may be perceived as a result of true leadership effectiveness, the evidence strongly shows that people have a relatively uniform perception of what a leader should look like. They attribute true leadership to people who are smart, personable, verbally adept, and inspirational. The effectiveness of charismatic and transformational leadership crosses cultural boundaries. Effective leaders today must develop trusting relationships with the followers, because as organizations have become less stable and predictable, strong bonds of trust are likely to be replacing bureaucratic rules in defining expectations and relationships. Leaders who are not trusted are not likely to be effective.

Yukl clearly explains, in chapter 9, why attributions of charisma are jointly determined by the leader, the followers, and the situation (pp. 240-267). Charismatic leaders arouse enthusiasm and commitment in followers by advocating a vision and increasing the followers’ confidence about achieving the vision. Attribution of charisma to the leader is more likely if the vision and strategy for attaining it are innovative, the leader takes personal risks to promote it, and the strategy appears to be succeeding. Self-confidence, strong convictions, speaking ability, and other leader traits or skills increase the likelihood of charisma. Ethical charismatic leaders use power to serve others, align vision with followers’ needs and aspirations, consider and learn from others, as well as stimulate followers to think independently and to question the leader’s views. They prefer open, two-way communication, share recognition with others by coaching, developing, and supporting followers. They rely on internal moral standards to satisfy organizational and societal interests (Howell and Avolio, 1992, p. 45). Robins and Judge (2008) defines charismatic leadership theory as a theory which states that “followers make attributions of heroic or extraordinary leadership abilities when they observe certain behaviors” (p. 413). Charismatic leadership may affect some followers more than others. People are more receptive to charismatic leadership especially at times of crisis, stress, and negative outcomes. Charismatic leaders have idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Luthans, p. 435). However, as a group they are considered a subsection of transformational leadership.

Transformational leaders make followers more aware of the importance and value of the work and induce followers to transcend self-interest for the sake of the organization. They empower organizations by developing follower skills and confidence to prepare followers for greater responsibilities. Under difficult conditions, resilient transformational leaders help followers to see threats as opportunities for advancement and responsibility for success (Luthans, Youssef, and Avolio, 2007, p. 126-127). They support and encourage followers to maintain enthusiasm and effort in the face of obstacles and difficulties. As a result of such influence, followers’ motivation and performance increases along with improved trust and respect toward the leader. The primary characteristic of transformational leadership is the idealized influence, as opposed to charisma, allowing people to differentiate between the two theories. The major difference is how followers are treated. While transformational leaders seek to empower and elevate the followers to develop followers into leaders, charismatic leaders may seek to keep followers weak, loyal, and dependant on them. While transformational leaders increase follower motivation and performance to a greater degree, effective leaders typically use a combination of transformational and transactional leadership types (Yukl, pp. 253-254). Leadership effectiveness may not necessarily be enhanced by transactional leadership; however, contingent reward behavior is effective for recognizing accomplishments, as well as rewarding the efforts and good performance (Bass, 1990, p. 22).

Global Mindset & Cultural Diversity

In today’s rapidly changing global economy, it has become crucial for leaders to possess such intelligence that analyzes and employs the greatest possible emerging and challenging opportunities as well as observes and interprets the dynamic and culturally diverse world in which they lead humans – the most valuable assets of any given organization. The success of the strategies multicultural organizations pursue is largely impacted by the leaders’ perceptions and interpretations of the global socioeconomic environment. With central focus in the field of cognitive psychology and organizational theory, global mindset has much to do with human beings and their sense in the world in which they encounter daily interaction with one another. We live in a world where do exit dynamic, ambiguous, and complex information that get our attention and absorption. Using cognitive filters, we are selective in our absorption and biased in our interpretation. There exists the likelihood that our mindset and new information may, however, be engaged in an inconsistent correlation, under which circumstance the information becomes subject to rejection or the mindset becomes subject to change. The mindset of other members in an organization has an influence on and does indeed shape the mindset of the collectivity of individuals within the organization. The level of power, the status of people with whom being interacted, the purpose of interaction, etc, does play a crucial role in the shaping of one’s mindset. New experiences, a change in the relative power of different individuals, and a change in the process of organizational and social interaction within members do result in a change of the organizational mindset.

According to Gupta and Govindarajan (2002), the cognitive psychology has shown that mindset exists through knowledge structure primarily composed of differentiation and integration attributes. The latter first of two refers to the narrowness of knowledge the individual brings to a context, whereas the latter one refers to the level of integration of disparate knowledge elements in the knowledge structures. When differentiation is low, integration is not an issue; however, when it is high, integration becomes a critical attribute. Many of us are changeable and each time frequently swing towards the person we last met. This scenario where high differentiation is accompanied with low integration is known to be High D-Low I. Conversely, those who welcome diverse options and demonstrate integrative perspective are known as High D-High I which itself is the definition of global mindset. Gupta and Govindarajan define global mindset more precisely as “one that combines openness to and awareness of diversity across cultures and markets with a propensity and ability to synthesize across this diversity

The value of global mindset is best illustrated by the company’s ability to combine speed with accurate response. The company’s ability to grasp the needs in the local market and its ability to build cognitive bridges across the needs and between its own global experience and capabilities are manifested in such comparative advantages which identify the emerging opportunities, analyze the trade-off between the local adaptation and global standardization, smoothen the complimentary activity coordination across the borders, spread out the concept of new products and technologies, share best practices effectively and efficiently across subsidiaries. The value of global mindset becomes quite apparent when analyzing how its presence or absence might affect a company’s strategy in a rapidly growing foreign market of extremely complex economy where public policy is unpredictable and preference is given to local companies as opposed to foreign. Modifying and reformulating strategies in order to achieve goals in the foreign market may still not be enough for success if there is a lack of understanding of changes in the foreign market and demand and lack of integrative global perspective towards the ongoing events in the foreign market. Awareness of changes in foreign market environments can therefore become a major source for valuing and upholding the global mindset and identifying and addressing its ever-existing challenges.

Achieving global mindset occurs through cultivation, as prescribed by cognitive psychology and organization theory, and it is driven by curiosity and commitment to gaining knowledge about the world and its way of operation, by exposure to diversity, by unequivocal formulation of current mindsets, as well as by development of integrated perspective on diversity of standards in cultures and markets. Cultivating curiosity about the world is a reflection of attitudes, an element of individual personality makeup. Although the companies are capable of manipulating with adroitness to further produce curiosity among employees, their greatest freedom still lies on employee selection and in managing the demographic makeup of the companies. Companies cultivate knowledge regarding diverse cultures and markets through facilitating such knowledge at individual levels and through diversifying the company workforce itself which build cognitive diversity inside the mindset of individuals as well as bring together a diverse knowledge base across the organization members. Formulating current mindset is heavily influenced by the process of interaction between people and the environment which shapes the interpretation of the surrounding world, hence affecting how the mindset changes or remains unchanged. Self-consciousness becomes a necessary and inseparable component when cultivating the current mindset which work best through asking managers to articulate own beliefs about the subject domain, as well as through drawing comparative analysis of how different managers would interpret the same reality. Getting formal education that builds on the awareness of diverse cultures and markets and participating in events and projects in foreign markets, and emerging oneself into more extensive cultural learning programs and trainings are all powerful ways of constructing a global mindset.

Diversity is about differences, and humans do not easily negotiate differences. “The human brain’s response to differences is typically arousal, alarm, and sometimes attacks, until such time as the differences are processed by exposure, reason, or mastery” (Marsella, 2009, p. 121). The interactions between social diversity markers (i.e. ethnicity, race, age, sex, gender, social class, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental challenges, physique, etc) as well as between interpersonal and individual differences result in different conditions of acceptability. Differences become the source of problems in cultures and organization; however, diversity encounters occur under problematic perceptions. Leaders across the globe face the ever-increasing cultural challenges during their day-to-day interaction with humans within and outside the organization. In this global era, cultural diversity intelligence, competence, understanding, appreciation and embracement are required of effective global leaders. [Negotiate Diversity – Immergance of Conflict (this is on a chart in the article)]

Successful leadership of today’s increasingly diverse workplace is among the most important global challenges. The problem of managing today’s culturally diverse workforce is the unfortunate inability of the leaders’ and managers’ to fully comprehend the organizational, cultural, and global dynamics. The global economy has moved diversity to the top of any leader’s agenda. There is a reason to believe that cultural issues in leadership should be studied to reveal both differences between cultures and specific within-country practices that would help expatriate leaders succeed. Organizational communication will differ across cultures. Today’s global leaders need to recognize such differences. Most of the research on leadership theories has been conducted in English-speaking countries, limiting our knowledge about how culture might influence their validity, particularly in Eastern cultures. During the last decade, interest in cross-cultural leadership has increased dramatically for apparent reasons. Increasing globalization of organizations has made it more critical to learn about effective leadership in different cultures. Influencing and motivating culturally diverse workforce has become an increasing challenge for global leaders or leaders of cultural diversity on local levels. Successful influence requires a broad understanding of cultural differences and motivational factors in each culture.

The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) research program has carried on a cross-cultural investigation of leadership and national culture, using data from 825 organizations in 62 countries to identify nine dimensions on which national cultures differ: power distance; individualism versus collectivism; masculinity versus femininity; uncertainty avoidance; long-term versus short-term orientation; and humane versus performance orientation (Robbins and Judge, 2008, p. 125). The GLOBE framework is primarily based on Geert Hofstede’s Framework for Assessing Cultures – one of the most referenced approaches for analyzing cultural variances since 1970s (p. 124). According to Yukl (2002), the results of the GLOBE research indicate that certain traits, skills, and behaviors are rated highly relevant for effective leaderships in all culture, for example, integrity (honest, trustworthy, just), visionary (has foresight, plans ahead), inspirational (positive, dynamic, encourages, motivates, builds confidence), decisive, diplomatic, achievement-oriented, and team-integrator, whereas some attributes varied widely in relevance across cultures, such as ambitious, cautious, compassionate, domineering, indirect, risk taker, self-sacrificing, sensitive, status conscious, etc. (p. 418). Examining the relationship among societal cultures, situational variables (such as strategy, culture, uncertainty, etc), leadership process, and organizational effectiveness, the GLOBE project has provided significant research results for leadership of cultural diversity in the rapid pace of globalization and economic development.

To have a broader understanding of how leadership of cultural diversity and organizational communication with global mindset are applied in real world practices, I have decided to interview three individuals, who hold positions in public, non-profit, and private sectors, as well as to analyze and relate my findings to some leadership and diversity management research.

My first interviewee, Miss. Hanying Li from Singapore, had started working in private sector but transitioned to the non-profit sector for most of her career life. She currently serves as senior program officer for Mangroves for the Future, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (AUCN) Asia Regional Office in Bangkok, Thailand. Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a regional multi-partner initiative on coastal ecosystem rehabilitation and management. Her main responsibilities include program coordination with all stakeholders, including six partner agencies, two donors, eight focal countries, etc., as well as project management (84 small projects and 9 large projects in six countries), and day-to-day running of the regional Secretariat. She has unshakeable knowledge of diversity and enormous amount of professional experiences cross-culturally. She was a valuable asset for my research, as I was trying to particularly learn about cross-cultural leadership in Asian cultures. With her strong background and knowledge of Singaporean culture and workforce, she was able to address the core culture values and beliefs of Singaporeans which facilitated my exploratory study of Hofstede’s and Trampenaar’s cross-cultural dimensions and leadership.

Singapore is a major success story. Its solid foundation leaves only the question of how to continue expanding in the face of increasing international competition. To date, however, Singapore has emerged as an urban planner’s ideal model and the leader and financial center of Southeast Asia. Li believes that leading an organization, motivating the workforce, and assuring organizational success in Singapore require a careful study of cultural values, traditions, and norms, as well as diversity training. In her opinion, not many people from western leading nations have been successful in Asian markets, primarily because of the inability to understand and accept the cultural differences and lead according to those differences.

According to Li, Singaporeans treat special groups of people with special respect and courtesy. Honored guests, elders, parents, teachers, bosses and leaders must be treated differently. They strongly value and adhere to a hierarchical relationship in society, as a result of Confucian teaching & thinking. They see the society as composed of people who are inherently unequal in rank and standing, and differences in rank are signaled and reinforced by the style of the interaction between the parties involved. Deference, respect and formality towards superiors are the norm. In addition, juniors are supposed to keep their opinions to themselves unless specifically and directly asked. Hence, subordinates in Singapore are unlikely to question authority and are less likely to initiate upward communication unless requested to do so because its culture values the importance of status differences and hierarchies. The complex authority and status relationships characterize Singaporeans as a hierarchical culture which parallels with the idea of power distance in Hofstede’s study. Luthans (2008) notes that “power distance is the degree to which members of a collective expect power to be distributed equally” (pg. 432). Singapore has a high rating on power distance which means that large inequalities of power and wealth exist and are tolerated in the culture. Li suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders; furthermore, power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others.

In Singapore, people feel less threatened by ambiguous situations, motions are shown less in public, younger people are trustworthy, and people are willing to take risks in life. The authorities are there to serve the citizens. Conflicts and competition can be contained on the level of fair play and are used constructively. Singapore has comparatively low uncertainty avoidance; it has organization settings with less structuring of activities, fewer written rules, less risk taking by managers, higher labor turnover, and more ambitious employees. The Organization encourages personnel to use their own initiative and assume responsibility for their actions. Uncertainty avoidance is the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these. Luthans (2008) defines uncertainty avoidance as “the extent a society, organization, or groups rely on norms, rules, and procedures to alleviate the unpredictability of future events” (p. 432).

Li mentions that leaders from individualistic cultures might have hard time motivating Singaporean employees if there is no appreciation and respect for employees’ family members. Tasks are not usually distributed to individuals, but rather to a group. Traditional Asian value of family ties remains paramount to the average Singaporean. Hence, it is not surprising that it is the group rather than the individual that is emphasized in Singaporean society. In Singapore, children are raised to stay within the family. From early infancy on, children are conditioned to be a part of the group and to stay within the group. They are socialized to be dependent on the group, to make decisions that benefit the group, and to make choices for, and in support of, the group. Children are taught to assist and uphold the honor of the group, whether that group is the family, the school, the neighborhood, or the nation. The person who places individual needs ahead of the group needs is considered to be amoral, almost a misfit, or even a social deviant. To sum up, family’s moral influences and kinship partners lead Singaporeans to be collectivistic, rather than individualistic. Group collectivism is “the degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty, or cohesiveness in their organizations or families” (Luthans, 2008, p. 432). In contrast, individualism is t he tendency of people to look after themselves and their immediate family.

Lastly, towards the end of the interview, Li mentioned about the importance of cross-cultural human-relation intelligence for effective leadership. Some cultures like Singapore are emotionally neutral – not showing their feelings in public or organizations, acting stoically, and maintaining their composure – which does not necessarily mean disinterest. This notion of emotional intelligence has become increasingly important for culturally diverse leadership environments. Luthans, Youssef, and Avolio (2007) defined emotional intelligence (EI) as “the ability to accurately perceive, express, understand, use, and manage emotions in oneself and others in order to facilitate cognitive, emotional, and social growth and development” (p. 183).

My second interviewee, Mr. Hovep Seferian, is the Vice Consul, Press and Trade Attaché of the Brazilian Embassy in the Republic of Armenia. Throughout his life and career, he has lived and experienced major cultural differences and challenges in Syria, Lebanon, India, Egypt, France, Brazil, and Armenia. His multicultural experiences have immensely influenced his perspective on cultural differences. As an immigrant especially in India and Lebanon, he underwent major obstacles, hoping to integrate in the system without being discriminated. Life experiences have not only made him a transformational leader, but also a selfless public servant and administrator.

Seferian emphasizes the importance of ethical and moral responsibilities public leaders should have when tensions and diversity challenges occur. They are to be perceived honorable in their field before they are trusted with public affairs and business. Once honor is gained by the followers, they are to follow personal morality, as well as professional, organizational, and social ethics. An ethical public leader would not use the position for personal or private gains in a democratic mechanism. Nations are democratic when public officials follow the rule of law to truthfully serve the citizens without selfish ambitions. Personal motivations, value-free neutrality, legitimacy, and social equity may heavily influence on public leaders’ role in the society and their commitment to ethical conduct in decision making and democratic service. Personal morality is closely related to personal motivations, since personal concerns, such as career advancement, financial security, or private gains, play a significant role in the professional workplace. The public service environment is quite complex, making it difficult to generalize about the nature of public service and identify the way public leaders can best serve the public. The organizational and social ethics hold the public leaders responsible for protecting individuals in the society and furthering the process of the group as a whole. Standards of conduct, formal guidelines for ethical behavior, and other norms have been created to hold public leaders accountable for their actions. “Ethics and morality in government sector should be addressed more now than ever before with the emerging diversity challenges the system encounters,” Seferian believes.

Despite the cultural and diversity challenges, public/government officials have an obligation to be fair and just for all citizens. As representatives of the citizenry, they have the responsibility to bring social justice, equity, and economic efficiency. However, Safarian mentions that in certain countries, like those of the former Soviet Union, it has become increasingly difficult for public administrators to intervene in governmental decision-making and public policy to address diversity and equality issues. Although attempts towards democratization have been made, the cultural and polit

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