Conflict and Leadership
In the case presented on pages 188–89, the Dutch were unable
to accept the hapless Belgian's leadership. This led to a conflict situation. It
was 'resolved' by the Belgian being sent back to Belgium.
There has been little effort on the part of transnational
corporations to develop intercultural managers whose leadership can be accepted
in different cultures. Finney and von Glinow surveyed a small but representative
sample of transnational corporations in the United States to ascertain what
these corporations are doing in this regard. They were unable to find anything
substantive. The corporations placed a lot of importance on 'international
experience', on the job experience, and knowledge of a foreign language. They
did not address whether the managers were oriented to being geocentric rather
than ethnocentric. An ethnocentric manager may have 'international experience'
and still not know how to lead a workforce from a different culture.
and Hofstede (1976) undertook a cross-cultural study of IBM managers to
ascertain the extent to which the Tannenbaum and Schmidt leadership schema had
acceptance. This study is now dated, and there is a need for definitive work by
both academicians and practitioners in this area. We briefly present their main
Managers in Japan registered an above average preference for
the authoritative 'sells' style and a somewhat below average preference for the
Managers in Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany
displayed a high preference for the consultative style.
Managers in Brazil and France revealed an above average
preference for the 'joins' style, and a below average preference for the
As well as the fact that the study is dated, one can question
whether results obtained from IBM managers are universally applicable. However,
the pertinent question still is, how can an intercultural manager lead a
culturally diverse group of people without ensuing conflict?
Before we examine this question we will look briefly at a more
recent study about cultural differences and leadership by Wills (1996). Wills interviewed in a
structured fashion 25 managers from 14 European countries. He found differences
in what they expected from managers holding leadership positions. These
differences were cultural. However, what these managers from varying cultures
agreed on regarding effective leadership is what is of interest here.
Wills arranged the key success factors that culturally
diverse managers identified as vital for leadership into three clusters:
Individual-level issues are qualities a leader of culturally
diverse managers should possess, such as empathy. Wills saw empathy as a
leader's instinctive ability to understand what a manager from another culture
would want done. The other two individual-level issues are empowerment and
emotional intelligence. Wills accepted the view that empowerment is 'the act of
strengthening an individual's beliefs in his or her sense of effectiveness'.
Managers from different cultures may need to be empowered in different ways.
Meanwhile, emotionally intelligent leaders allow their managers to express their
emotions instead of suppressing them. Culturally sensitive leaders allow their
subordinates to emote in ways consonant with their national or ethnic
Bridging issues connect individual-level issues with social
issues. An example is communication. Effective intercultural leaders issue instructions, advice and suggestions in a
manner that is clearly understood by their subordinates. They may need to give
careful consideration to culture when communicating. In other words, a Swiss
leader communicating to a Spanish subordinate needs to make allowances for the
fact that a Spaniard might interpret messages differently from a Swiss. The
other bridging issues are visioning and charisma. Intercultural leaders with a
capacity for visioning are able to get acceptance for their visions by
subordinates at all levels and from all cultures. Leaders with charisma are able
to get their followers and subordinates to accept their beliefs and align
themselves with those beliefs. Needless to say, an intercultural leader will
acquire the acceptance of subordinates from various cultural backgrounds.
Social issues are those that reflect the characteristics of the
society in which the branch of a transnational corporation functions. The extent
of globalization prevalent in a society is an example given by Wills of a social
issue. Increased globalization calls for greater skill on the part of a leader
to successfully interface with managers from different national and ethnic
cultures. The cluster of social issues also includes competitiveness and change.
Competitiveness demands that leaders get all their subordinates, irrespective of
culture, to be high performers. Additionally, leaders should be able to take
change in their stride and inspire their subordinates to do so.
Wills developed his model to ascertain whether a European style of
leadership existed. His description of a leader suitable for contemporary Europe
could be extended for an intercultural manager required to lead an intercultural
team and avoid conflict situations. That is our opinion and that of most of the
international managers interviewed for this book.
If the Wills model is applied to the Belgian/Dutch team example,
the following can be inferred:
The Belgian leader lacked intercultural empathy. As a
result, he was unable to understand what his Dutch managers wanted from him.
The Belgian leader was incapable of empowerment. He erred in
not recognizing that the Dutch members of his team worked best when
He was also bereft of any sense of vision for the team and
its projects. On the contrary, he gave the impression to the team that he was
motivated by personal goals.
Further, he was unable to communicate effectively with his
Dutch team. The Dutch felt he had nothing of value to communicate or
The transnational corporation that had deputed the Belgian
manager to lead a Dutch team in Holland had not given due attention to the
social issue of globalization. Otherwise, it would have selected a manager with
Wills' model recognizes that the leader of an intercultural group
of managers must possess certain capabilities. The Belgian leader lacked these
capabilities, and was not aware that they were required of him. This caused the
conflict between him and the Dutch members of his team. Whatever other
attributes the Belgian might have had, they could not offset his deficiencies as
an intercultural leader. Conflict in an intercultural setting can be created by
a lack of intercultural competencies on the part of the leader.