[September 15, 2018] A few long-time readers will recognize this title from a similar article from early last year (see link). In it I wrote that great leaders understanding people are at the central theme of leadership. But there is more. Leadership is also influenced heavily by one’s culture.
Culture is an accumulation of behavioral practices that both push and pull us in a myriad of ways. Therefore, it follows, that leadership is pushed and pulled by those same dynamic forces. For example, I’m originally from the southern parts of the United States. Growing up there meant giving a part of your life to the military. This was so pervasive that any man, not a veteran was looked down upon socially.
Culture also has a sway over the skills and values of leaders. The type of leadership that works best, the way followers respond, and the techniques leaders use are all subject to those same pressures. I have found that autocratic forms of leadership work better in Asian cultures than the American or European culture. And this works well.
There is an old story from World War II that the German Army senior leadership could never understand the U.S. military. The Germans considered the U.S. troops to be undisciplined, lazy, disrespectful, and slovenly.
Such a comparison was made in contrast to their troops, of course. This made the Americans hard to predict and hard to explain why they did anything. To complicate this even further for German Intelligence services, it was said that even the British couldn’t understand the Americans.
To be a successful leader does require hard work; that work being defined by the culture from which they come. So when we say that it takes more than hard work, we have a better idea of the influences that one’s culture has upon the success of a leader. Nonetheless, there will always be similar attributes of leadership that do not change; loyalty, courage, creativeness, and getting the job done.
A leader that has experience with others in another culture (one that differs significantly) can understand. I had a commander that liked to tell jokes. When we were in South Korea, the South Korean army officers were always confused by him. Jokes are cultural.
The best way to remain a good leader is to be aware of those cultural nuances.