Cross Culture Comparison of Leadership Traits

1 January 2017

The article is based on report on research conducted, which shows the study of comparing perceptions of the importance of 18 traits for effective low-level leaders and high-level leaders. Participants were 84 full-time white-collar employees from Australia and 244 full-time white-collar employees from China. Multivariate analysis of variance revealed cultural differences in terms of which traits are regarded as important for effective leadership.

China’s recent entry nto World Trade Organization (WTO) has already resulted in an increase in trade agreements between China and many developed nations (e. g. Australia, US). The increase in trade between China and developed nations will inevitably lead to increased interactions between personnel from China and the developed nations. These personnel, especially expatriate managers, need to be aware of cultural differences and similarities in leadership prototypes in offer to perform effectively. Leadership is a major component of the social fabric of many organization (Lord et al. 1986), and prototypical perceptions of effective leadership represent an important topic of investigation for research (Hackman and Lawler, 1971; Hunt, 1991; Petterson, 1985).

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Perceptions of leadership are what followers act on and, therefore such perceptions can impact the outcomes of the leadership process (Bennett, 1977; Gerstner and Day, 1994). Leader acceptance and effectiveness may depend on leader attributes and behaviors being congruent with the endorsed implicit leadership theories of followers (Cronshaw and Lord, 1987; House et al. , 1999).

Furthermore, certain characteristics of a culture may render specific leadership characteristics and styles acceptable and effective (House et al. , 2004). For example, a leader who adopts an autocratic style may be more accepted and effective in a high power distance culture (e. g. China) than in a low power distance culture (e. g. Australia) Although studies have examined cultural differences in leadership traits, there are important issues that remain to be addressed, especially with regard to comparisons between China and Australia.

The largest study thus ar, project GLOBE, involved data from approximately 17,000 managers from 951 organizations in 62 countries around the world. According to the research, cognitive prototypes appear to be a central component of implicit leadership theories (Lord et al. , 1982) and provide an abstract standard, or expectation, against which actual leaders can be compared. Cognitive prototypes thus influence perceptions of leadership as well as reactions to leadership, because interpretations of and reactions to leadership depend on the type of prototype that is evoked (Lord et al. , 1984).

According to Lord and Maher’s (1991) ‘recognition model’, an important determinant of being perceived as an effective leader is the congruence between the follower’s pre-existing notions of the ideal characteristics of an effective leader and his or her perceptions of the leader’s actual characteristics. The better the match between ideal and actual characteristics, the more likely it is that the leader will receive credit for favorable work outcomes and therefore attain the social power vital for effective leadership (Cronshaw and Lord, 1987; Hollander and Julian, 1969; Shaw, 1990).

Although there is evidence that some leadership traits and practices are endorsed universally, there is also evidence that the enactment of these traits varies across cultures (Den Hartog et al. , 1999; House et al. , 2004). For instance, although leaders in Australia and New Zealand are expected to be egalitarian, Australian leaders are expected to be more socially oriented and less task-oriented than their New Zealand counterparts. Furthermore, people pursue goals because goal attainment implies that they possess those qualities that are socially desirable.

Consequently, leaders might favor certain leadership practices because practices might be perceived as indicator of certain socially desirable characteristics. For instance, in cultures that value decisiveness and hierarchy, leaders might prefer to be autocratic, and subordinates might prefer to be loyal and obedient. Conversely, in cultures that value egalitarianism, leaders might prefer to be consultative, and subordinates might prefer to be challenging and outspoken.

There is evidence of cross cultural differences and similarities in the leadership prototypically of various traits, indicating that some traits may be endorsed universally as prototypical of effective leaders, whereas the endorsement of other traits may be culturally contingent: Gerstner and Day (1994) found the leadership prototypically of traits to be related strongly to three of Hofstede’s (1980) cultural dimensions. Cross cultural similarities in leadership prototypes were also found by Gerstner and Day (1994).

Specifically, the trait ‘goal-oriented’ was the second most important prototypical trait for effective business leaders. The findings of Project GLOBE (House et al. , 2004) suggest that some traits (e. g. visionary, intelligent, trustworthy, and decisive) are endorsed universally as positive attributes for a leader to possess, whereas the endorsement of other traits is more culturally contingent (e. g. compassionate, domineering, orderly, and risk taker). Helgstrand and Stuhlmacher (1999) found that American and Danish students saw feminine leaders as most collegial, and feminine-individualistic leaders as most effective.

Brodbeck et al. (2000) found that leadership prototypes differed systematically with the general cultural values held by managers and employees in 10 different regions of Europe. Some traits (e. g. integrity, performance-oriented, team integrator, and visionary), however, were seen as facilitating outstanding leadership in all of the regions (e. g. integrity and visionary), except for France. China’s cultural tradition is founded on Confucian values, which still provide the basis for the norms of Chinese interpersonal behavior.

According to Hofstede and Bond (1988), one of the key principles of Confucianism is that social stability is dependent on unequal relationships. Confucianism emphasizes hierarchy and contends that each individual should be conscious of his or her position in the social system. Although Chinese culture may be changing, with wealth increasingly becoming the paramount value for Chinese people, some key elements of the culture (e. g. Respect for authority, collectivism) remain unchanged. In short, there may be sound reasons to expect the Chinese to endorse a different set of leadership traits to that of other cultures.

China would score low on individualism because of the high value the Chinese place on the family/referent group and the socialistic influence of Communism. Research has supported the claim in that collectivistic values have been shown to be dominant in China (e. g. Dorfman and Howell, 1988; Ralston et al. , 1996). It can also be argued that China would score high on power distance because of the Confucian emphasis on hierarchy. Along these lines, beliefs of Chinese managers have been found to be more autocratic countries, especially regarding sharing information with subordinates and participative decision-making (Redding and Casey, 1986).

In contrast to the Chinese, Australians tend to prefer managerial practices that are egalitarian and consultative (Clark and McCabe, 1970; Robbins et al. , 1994), which is consistent with their preference for low power distance. Australian leadership is distinct because of its emphasis on egalitarianism and individualism, and Australian leaders are expected to maintain the perception of equality with their followers. Australians also tend to play down inequalities and are not fearful or in awe of their bosses, or other authority figures. For example, Australian student have been shown to prefer an assertive style (e. g.

They address the lecturer by first name, maintain direct eye contact, and speak loudly) when complaining to a lecturer about their grades. Individualism-collectivism has been shown to impact managerial perceptions attitudes and behaviors. Hong Kong Chinese manages who migrated to Australia reported that they had to adapt to a smaller power distance between supervisors and subordinates, as well as to a more direct and participatory communication style. Australian middle managers perceived participative leadership to be more important for outstanding leadership than did middle managers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

There are additional reasons to expect differences between Australians and Chinese in terms of the importance placed on different leadership traits. First, compared to Chinese, Australians are less concerned with uncertainty avoidance and thus may place less emphasis on formalization and standardization. Accordingly, they may expect more innovative or less orderly behaviors from their leaders. Second, in individualistic/low power distance countries (e. g. Australia), managers typically create job-based work designs founded on individual initiative and responsibility. In contrast, in collectivistic/high power distance countries (e. . China) managers prefer team-based work organizations with strong control by supervisors, in which team-level quality measures and tools are used to manage quality.

Third, there is evidence that Chinese managers do not view communication as especially important for effective leadership. It is apparent that the roles and responsibilities of leaders vary with hierarchical level. Specifically, high-level leadership is more strategic in nature (e. g. developing and promoting a vision, thinking about organizational structure and policies, allocating resources, public relations).

Conversely, low-level leadership is constrained by the decisions made by high-level leadership and is primarily concerned with issues that are more immediate, less complex, and which necessitate closer involvement with followers, such as staffing and scheduling work, as well as structuring and monitoring the work activities of followers. Put another way, high-level leadership is concerned with ends more than means, whereas low-level leadership is concerned with means more than ends. Not surprisingly then, the behavior of high-level leaders and low-level leaders has been shown to differ both qualitatively, and quantitatively.

Given that leaders at different hierarchical levels perform different functions, followers are likely to expect different things from them. There is evidence that traits associated with transformational leadership (e. g. Courageous, diplomatic, innovative, inspirational, and visionary) are seen as more important for high-level leaders than for low-level leaders, while traits associated with daily operations and interacting with followers (e. g. Concern for subordinates’ interests, orderly, participative, and team builder) are seen as more important for low-level leaders than for high-level leaders.

In conclude, the Australians rated traits that attenuate leader–follower power differences (e. g. friendly and respectful) higher than did the Chinese. Consistent with previous research, traits that were regarded as more important for high-level leaders (e. g. inspirational and visionary) correspond with aspects of charismatic/visionary leadership. The findings indicate that the perceived importance of specific leadership traits is determined partly by culturally endorsed interpersonal norms and partly by the requirements of the leadership role.

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