The Cultural Anchoring of Leadership Styles

1 With globalisation and related intensification of trade and commerce effective leadership has become indispensable in the business world. Where traditionally the business leader took the role of commanding “the troops” towards effectiveness and efficiency this has changed dramatically over the last decades. The service industry rise, knowledge management trends, increased workforce diversity combined with international trading and global sourcing of talent, has considerably reshaped the role of the leader in the contemporary organisation. Numerous firms are in global alliances depending upon flexibility/adaptability to local markets, requiring their managers to possess appropriate leadership styles to cope effectively with different value systems and cultures (Fahy, 2002; Coviello et al., 1998).

2 Arguably, the flattening of hierarchical structures has also contributed to this reshaping process as traditional sources of authority, upon which leaders have built on for years, have been diminished. Combined with the rise of new trading powers such as the “Asian Dragon”, business leaders, especially in international MNEs do not only face domestic multiculturalism and diversity but are also increasingly expatriated. Consequently completely new cultural pitfalls and challenges are faced requiring understanding of cultural values as well as quick cultural adaptation to transfer domestic leadership abilities into foreign markets. Combined with steadily rising competitive pressures, the contemporary business leader in a role not easily filled.

3 Despite leadership being a universal concept (Bass, 1990), with most literature anchored in the (individualistically oriented) US, it has been questioned to what extend western leadership styles are cross-culturally transferable (Dorfman, 2003). Resultantly, debate has sparked over how far leadership is culturally contingent, if universal leadership qualities and tactics exist and what the explanatory variables are...