The Challenges of Leading a Culturally Diverse Workforce
Culturally Diverse Leadership is very important in today’s increasingly interconnected world. Leaders and managers are faced with the challenge of effectively leading and managing culturally diverse workforces and building relationships with international suppliers and customers. In addition, global communication and collaboration complexities have added a new level of difficulty to leadership and management. To succeed, leaders must have the tools and strategies to navigate cultural differences.
Problems with Applying Current Leadership Theories
Leadership training and development have become more complex in this new global reality, particularly in international contexts. Many leaders need help to apply the leadership theories they have learned because of the differences in cultural understandings of what leadership is and what qualities or characteristics are necessary for effective leadership. For example, some cultures focus on leadership styles, while others concentrate on the relationships between leaders and followers. This mismatch can lead to a lack of clarity and ineffective training, especially in multinational organisations.
Furthermore, current leadership models tend to be based on specific cultural perspectives and values, with Western-oriented models dominating international discussions and leadership training. This phenomenon, known as cultural colonialism or imperialism, can lead to ineffective and irrelevant leadership practices in other cultural contexts. For example, assertive and visible leaders may be influential in countries like the UK and the US. In contrast, more supportive and servant-oriented leaders may be more effective in Japan. The leadership style that works in one cultural context may not work in another.
There are three types of leadership theories and models: universal, normative, and contingency. Universal theories propose that leadership is a set of useful generalisable behaviours regardless of cultural or geographic context. Normative theories focus on cross-cultural or multicultural contexts and aim to be applicable anywhere. Contingency theories suggest that leadership is situational and varies from one cultural context to the next. Leaders should focus on their followers’ cultural preferences. However, despite the global applicability of these theories, they still need help in practical application. Simply knowing that a culture values specific leadership traits does not provide guidance on how to lead multicultural teams or make a leader from a different culture effective within that culture.
The Need for a New Approach to Leadership Training and Development
A new leadership training and development approach is needed to address these challenges. The cognitive leadership process model is one such approach based on how the human brain works. This model suggests that leadership is a momentary event resulting from interactions between organisational actors, creating fluid meanings in specific social situations. The biological functions of the human brain control these social processes, which are the same regardless of cultural influence. This approach can potentially make leadership training and development more consistent and relevant for culturally diverse participants and establish an internationally accepted definition of leadership.
Overcoming Cultural Imperialism in Leadership
Previous research has shown that most available leadership theories and models are Western-centric, idealistic, and unrealistic in other cultural settings. The spread of US-centric models, such as servant leadership, transformational leadership, and charismatic leadership, represents a form of cultural imperialism that has damaged the economies and cultures of developing countries. Culture-bound leadership theories also tend to fail to represent the needs of leaders from other cultures. To overcome these challenges, a new approach to leadership training and development is needed, one that is based on the cognitive leadership process model.
Q: What is the cognitive leadership process model?
A: The cognitive leadership process model is an approach to leadership training and development based on how the human brain works. It suggests that leadership emerges due to interactions between organisational actors, creating fluid meanings in specific social situations controlled by biological functions in the human brain.
Q: Why do leaders struggle to apply current leadership theories in multicultural contexts?
A: Definitions of leadership and cultural understandings of what qualities or characteristics are necessary for effective leadership vary widely from culture to culture. This makes it difficult for leaders to apply leadership theories that are based on specific cultural perspectives and values.
Q: What is cultural colonialism or imperialism in leadership?
A: Cultural colonialism or imperialism in leadership refers to the dominance of Western-oriented models in international discussions, research literature, and leadership training. This can lead to ineffective and irrelevant leadership practices in other cultural contexts.
Q: What are the benefits of the cognitive leadership process model?
A: The cognitive leadership process model has the potential to establish an internationally accepted definition of leadership, make leadership training and development more consistent and relevant for culturally diverse participants, and overcome challenges posed by other culture-centric theories and models. It is based on how the human brain works, which provides a measurable constant independent of cultural influence.
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