Tag Archives: Geert Hofstede

Is Humility A Universal Leadership Value Across Cultures ?


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Humility in leadership can be defined as the ability to understand yourself and bring the best from other people. You must first know your talents and limitations, then recognize that you have to rely on others and empower them to discover their own strengths and manage their weak points to focus on achieving a common goal.

Global leaders and managers working in multicultural teams must manage conflicts, poor communication and lack of teamwork as a result of misunderstandings and wrong assumptions from people driven by different internal core values and beliefs.

What we know, from the work of Professor Geert Hofstede on dimensions of national culture is that some countries have high power distance such as Russia that scores 93 on a scale of 1-100 and others have a low power distance dimension like United States that scores 40.

What it means, is that in Russia the power is distributed unequally and highly centralized with 80% of the financial potential concentrated in Moscow. It also means that in high distance countries people believe that power and authority are facts of life and inequality is institutionalized. Leaders are therefore expected to have a top-down approach to solve conflicts and take important decisions. Subordinates will simply comply with their leader.

For doing business In Russia, you must understand that hierarchy and status are important and that Russians respect age, rank and position as well as technological expertise. Russians see negotiations as win-lose and compromise as weakness.

On the other hand, in lower power distance countries such as the United States, there is a preference for consultation and collaborative leadership. Subordinates are encouraged to be independent  and contribute to problem solving. In the United States. business communication is informal and based on a win-win negotiation style.

If you are coming from the U.S. or another low power distance country when you have to deal with high power distance countries like Russia, you need to take your time  to understand who has the power of making decisions, otherwise nothing is going to happen especially when dealing with the administration and its very complex bureaucracy. For Americans, “time is money” but trying to force Russians to take quick decisions will only delay the processes and decrease trust.

So in a sense, humility in business negotiation is highly valued by Russians in general as humble business leaders have patience, try to understand first  and at the same time are strong enough to deal with conflicts without showing any sign of arrogance or superiority.

Most of the studies on humility as a value in leadership have been conducted in the United States and therefore it is difficult to separate the empirical and anecdotal from the real science-based evidences.

Leadership is a question of character (integrity, confidence, curiosity), not temperament (biology and genetics), therefore it is possible for global leaders and expatriated managers to learn cultural differences and the benefits of humility, holding judgment and avoiding placing one culture above another.

The role of effective intercultural leaders is to shape the corporate and local cultures of their organization to be understood and embraced by individuals from different race, ethnicity, religion and gender with a minimum of misunderstandings. 

Related Articles:

Cultural Map of the World: Using Values To Explain Cross-national Differences


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Anne Egros‘s insight:

The World Values Surveys were designed to provide a comprehensive measurement of all major areas of human concern, from religion to politics to economic and social life.

Two dimensions dominate the picture: (1) Traditional/ Secular-rational and (2) Survival/Self-expression values.

These two dimensions explain more than 70 percent of the cross-national variance in a factor analysis of ten indicators-and each of these dimensions is strongly correlated with scores of other important orientations.

The results of this type of surveys must be used with caution as people behaviors are changing pretty fast based on economic development, new technologies, globalization and communication tools such as internet or mobile phones.

Other theories of cross-cultural communication are drew from the fields of anthropology, sociology, communication and psychology and are based on value differences among cultures. Edward T. HallGeert Hofstede, Fons TrompenaarsShalom Schwartz and Clifford Geertz are some of the major contributors in this field.

My Favorite tool is the Five  Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions 

See on www.worldvaluessurvey.org

 

The Power of Negative Thinking and Cultural Preferences


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Both ancient philosophy and modern psychology suggest that darker thoughts can make us happier, writes Oliver Burkeman.

The way we are thinking affects what we do and this article is interesting because it explores alternatives and it challenges the positive thinking principle that if we can dream it we can do it.

“The Three Little Pigs” story gives us a good metaphor on poor evaluation of risks. The two pigs who wanted to play built their houses quickly overlooking quality and danger of the situation. When the wolf came, down went the houses! The lesson is that laziness and too much optimistic thinking are undesirable characteristics to possess, while hard work and careful planning are very positive characteristics.

Positive thinking in American culture is deeply anchored in the education system and workplace cultures.

On May 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. Without this type of thinking would it have been possible for Armstrong to land on the moon in 1969?

On the other hand we can probably credit an overly positive thinking for the disasters like the “Titanic” or the space shuttle Discovery  (see details in a previous post:  The Titanic Failure, Technical or Leadership Flaws ? )

You can have big dreams but connect expectations with facts and evidences. Good leaders make decisions based on good judgment considering positive outcomes and costs of failure and evaluating the risks of doing something or avoiding it.

How much risk we can tolerate is also greatly depending on culture according to Geert Hofstede. Among the 5 main cultural dimensions there is one called : Uncertainty avoidance: The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen?

The US scores 46 on this dimension and therefore, American society is what one would describe as “uncertainty accepting.” Consequently, there is a larger degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices, or foodstuffs.

People from coun­tries with high uncer­tainty avoid­ance, such as Rus­sia who scores 95 and many of the former soviet states will typ­ic­ally expect expli­cit instruc­tions and dir­ec­tion for many tasks and will need very detailed and formal responses to requests and ques­tions, these indi­vidu­als feel at their most com­fort­able and pro­duct­ive in a world of struc­ture and rules.

Conclusion:In multicultural environments it is important to understand how people from different cultural backgrounds evaluate risks and project negative or positive outcomes. Avoiding ethnocentric decisions is key in intercultural project management but at the same time high  risk-avoidance should not paralyze action.

How To Understand Cross-Cultural Communication ?


This blog has been inspired by an article published  by Rana Sinha How to understand cross-cultural analysis?. I have summarized Rana’s key ideas and added my own sources of information

Origins and Evolution of Cross-cultural Communication.

 Typically anthropologists and social scientists tend to study people and human behavior among exotic tribes and cultures living in far off places rather than do field work among white-collared literate adults in modern cities. Advances in communication and technology and socio-political changes started transforming the modern workplace yet there were no guidelines based on research to help people interact with other people from other cultures. To address this gap arose the discipline of cross-cultural analysis or cross-cultural communication. The main theories of cross-cultural communication draw from the fields of anthropology, sociology, communication and psychology and are based on value differences among cultures. Edward T. Hall, Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars, Shalom Schwartz and Clifford Geertz are some of the major contributors in this field.

[The popular ‘Iceberg model’ of culture developed by Selfridge and Sokolik, 1975 and W.L. French and C.H. Bell in 1979, identifies a visible area consisting of behaviour or clothing or symbols and artifacts of some form and a level of values or an invisible level.]

What is culture ?

 A simpler definition is ‘the unwritten rules of the social game’.

Generally culture can be seen as consisting of three elements:

  • Values – Values are ideas that tell what in life is considered important.
  • Norms – Norms consists of expectations of how people should behave in different situations.
  • Artefacts – Things or material culture – reflects the culture’s values and norms but are tangible and manufactured by man.

Most of people working with cross-cultural communication and intercultural training and coaching  have heard about the Five  Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions (http://www.geert-hofstede.com/).

Geert Hofstede defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders.

What Are The Five Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions ?

  1. Power Distance : Measures inequality
  2. Individualism: is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance : indicates to what extent people  feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations.
  4. Masculinity/Feminity: Masculinity versus femininity, refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders
  5. Long-Term Orientation: Long term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of “face”,  and fulfilling social obligations.

What about the 5 Cultural Dimensions For the USA? 

If we explore the US culture through the lens of the 5-D Model, we can get a good overview of the deep drivers of American culture relative to other world cultures.

Power distance: The United States score low on this dimension (40)  this translates the focus on equal rights in all aspects of American society and government. Within American organizations superiors are always accessible and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise.  Both managers and employees expect to be consulted and information is shared frequently.  At the same time, communication is informal, direct and participative.

Individualism: The United States, with a score of 91 on this dimension, is a highly individualistic culture.Individual freedom  is the most basic value that all Americans share. Individuals have control over their own destiny and they want to have free choices on every topics. Personal success is priority number one. Americans are expected to take initiative regarding education, employment, personal development or well-being. As a consequence, Americans are assertive and straightforward while interacting with others and sometimes labelled as arrogant by other cultures who value group interests over individual success. In the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative.  Also, within the exchange-based world of work, hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do.

Masculinity/Feminity: The United States score 62 on this dimension and is considered a “masculine” society driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the “winner” or “best-in-the-field.” This value system starts in school and continues throughout one’s life – both in work and leisure pursuits.
There are strong shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. As a result, Americans will tend to display and talk freely about their “successes” and achievements in life, here again, another basis for hiring and promotion decisions in the workplace. Typically, Americans “live to work” so that they can earn monetary rewards and obtain higher status based on how good one can be.  Conflicts are resolved at the individual level and the goal is to win.

Uncertainty avoidance: The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? The US scores 46 on this dimension and therefore, American society is what one would describe as “uncertainty accepting.” Consequently, there is a larger degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices, or foodstuffs.  Americans tend to be more tolerant of ideas or opinions from anyone and allow the freedom of expression.  At the same time, Americans do not require a lot of rules and are less emotionally expressive than higher-scoring cultures.

Long-term orientation: The United States scores 29 on this dimension and is a short-term oriented culture.  American businesses measure their performance on a short-term basis, with profit and loss statements being issued on a quarterly basis.  This also drives individuals to strive for quick results within the work place.  There is also a need to have the “absolute truth” in all matters.

How France Compares with the US ?

Power distance: In France, hierarchy is needed the superiors may have privileges and are often inaccessible. The power is highly centralized in France. In management, the attitude towards managers is more formal, the information flow is hierarchical. The way information is controlled is even associated with power, therefore unequally distributed.  

Individualism: France scores high on the individualistic index but lower than the U.S.  This means that the French favor individual and private opinions, taking care of themselves and immediate family rather than belonging to a group. In the work environment, the relationship with work is contract based, the focus is on the task and autonomy is favored. The communication is direct  but much less than in the U.S.

Masculinity/Feminity With 43, France is a relatively Feminine country and so very different from the U.S.With its famous welfare system (securité sociale), their 35 working hours/week and 5 weeks holidays per year, France cares for its quality of life and focuses more on work in order to live than the reverse. Competition amongst work colleagues is usually not favored. Material signs of success, especially flashy ones, should not be too visible.

Uncertainty Avoidance: France has one the highest scores on the Uncertainty Avoidance Index. Certainty is reached through academic work and concepts. Teachings and trainings are more inductive. In management structure, rules and security are welcome and if lacking, it creates stress. Therefore planning is favored, some level of expertise welcome, when change policies on the other hand are considered stressful.

Long-term orientation: At 39 France is a short-term oriented society. This means a great respect for tradition as well as a need for norms and absolute truth as guidelines. In terms of business this short-term orientation focuses on quick results. Consumption is driven by immediate gratification, sensitivity to social trends and rituals.

Managing and organizational culture

Managing international business means handling both national and organization culture differences at the same time. Common organization cultures across borders are what holds multinationals together.The cultural differences between nations are especially found on the deepest level; i.e. on the level of values. In comparison, cultural differences among organisations are especially identified on the level of practices. Practices are more tangible than values. Organisational Culture can be defined as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one organisation from others”

Read more about building third culture teams: https://zestnzen.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/how-to-lead-highly-effective-third-culture-teams/

Aims of cross-cultural analysis

Cross-cultural communication or inter cultural communication looks at how people from different cultural backgrounds try to communicate. It also tries to produce some guidelines, which help people from different cultures to better communicate with each other. Culture has an interpretative function for the members of a group, which share that particular culture. Although all members of a group or society might share their culture, expressions of culture-resultant behavior are modified by the individuals’ personality, upbringing and life-experience to a considerable degree. Cross-cultural analysis aims at harnessing this utilitarian function of culture as a tool for increasing human adaptation and improving communication.

Cross-cultural management is seen as a discipline of international management focusing on cultural encounters, which aims to discover tools to handle cultural differences seen as sources of conflict or miss-communication.

Beside Geert’s model, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) model expands the core level of the very basic two-layered model, rather than the outer level. In their view, culture is made up of basic assumptions at the core level. These ‘basic assumptions’ are somewhat similar to ‘values’ in the Hofstede model. Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner use seven dimensions for their model of culture:

    • Universalism vs Particularism (what is more important – rules or relationships?)
    • Individualism vs Communitarianism (do we function in a group or as an individual?)
    • Neutral vs Emotional (do we display our emotions or keep them in check?)
    • Specific vs Diffuse (how far do we get involved?)
    • Achievement vs Ascription (do we have to prove ourselves to gain status or is it given to us just because we are a part of a structure?)
    • Attitude to Time
      • Past- / present- / future-orientatedness
      • Sequential time vs Synchronic time(do we do things one at a time or several things at once?)
    • Internal vs External Orientation (do we aim to control our environment or cooperate with it?)

Criticism of current models

One of the weaknesses of cross-cultural analysis has been the inability to transcend the tendency to equalize culture with the concept of the nation state. A nation state is a political unit consisting of an autonomous state inhabited predominantly by a people sharing a common culture, history, and language or languages. In real life, cultures do not have strict physical boundaries and borders like nation states. Its expression and even core beliefs can assume many permutations and combinations as we move across distances.

There is some criticism in the field that this approach is out of phase with global business today, with transnational companies facing the challenges of the management of global knowledge networks and multicultural project teams, interacting and collaborating across boundaries using new communication technologies.

Some writers like Nigel Holden (2001) suggest an alternative approach, which acknowledges the growing complexity of inter- and intra-organizational connections and identities, and offers theoretical concepts to think about org

How to Develop Cultural Intelligence? Intercultural Dimensions


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With the world becoming increasingly global and connected, it is importance to develop Cultural Intelligence (CQ) not only for expat managers at work but also in life for your spouse and children. The cultural intelligence is a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity. CQ is a critical capability that enhances employee, manager, and organizational effectiveness. It also enhances interpersonal interactions in a wide range of social contexts.

Most of people working with cross-cultural communication and intercultural training and coaching  have heard about the Five  Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions (http://www.geert-hofstede.com/)

Geert Hofstede defines culture as:

  1. The first, most common, meaning  is “civilization”, including education, manners, arts and crafts and their products.
  2. The second meaning refers to the way people think, feel,  and act.

Geert has defined it as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders. A simpler definition is ‘the unwritten rules of the social game’.

What Are The Five Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions ?

Professor Hofstede’s five intercultural dimensions are (http://www.geerthofstede.nl/culture/dimensions-of-national-cultures.aspx)

  1. Power Distance : Measures inequality
  2. Individualism: is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance : indicates to what extent people  feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations.
  4. Masculinity: Masculinity versus femininity, refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders
  5. Long-Term Orientation: Long term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of “face”,  and fulfilling social obligations.

CONCLUSION:

I think it is important to understand that the tool developed by Hofstede  is just a support that can be used to stimulate questions and help people from different cultures to share information and discuss about meta-communication (communication about the communication process). It is not a way to  judge, there are  no good or bad intercultural dimensions. The tool may increase awareness about our own culture and others and therefore helps to identify specific skills needed for  candidates for expatriation or identify skills to develop.

Use this tool  to compare two countries: for example your home culture with your host culture: http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_dimensions.php

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