Leaders everywhere need to develop and adjust their behaviors to work in a global environment. But what works well in one setting may not in another.

“If you are generally an effective leader in your home country or culture, but find yourself literally working in new territory, you need to understand that good leadership is in the eye of the beholder,” says CCL’s Regina Eckert. “What made you successful up to now may not matter as much. Or worse, those strengths may become liabilities.”

Various studies about leadership styles have shown that different cultures have different definitions of leadership and different expectations of leaders. How we evaluate leaders — good or bad — is largely dependent on the values and practices we have grown up in.

“We need to be aware that culture has an impact on how leaders are perceived by others. People have set ideas about leadership and they judge others as to how well they live up to them,” Eckert explains.

Many leadership attributes are seen as effective in some cultures and not in others, or neutral or negative in some cultures and not in others. The well-known GLOBE research — which examined the relationship between concepts of effective leadership and national cultural values in 61 societies around the world — solidified this idea that culture impacts our view of effective leadership.

If you are working in a culture different from your own or working on virtual teams across countries, Eckert suggests the following steps to refine your leadership style:

  • Appreciate the boundaries of your own approach to leadership. Know that your view of leadership is only one view and it has both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Assess the relative importance of a particular skill or competency in the eyes of the people you lead and work with. Ask questions and listen carefully to try to understand what they expect of you as a leader. Even common assessments or feedback tools might not be sufficient. If you’ve recently been given a 360-degree feedback assessment, for example, you may have been given a low rating on a particular skill and feel you need to improve. But it may be worth considering cultural context. A low rating on something that is seen as unimportant in a particular setting doesn’t seem like a problem.
  • Consider how well you are living up to others’ leadership expectations. Where is there a mismatch between what they value in a leader and how they perceive you? What could you do differently? How could you work to better align the two? Of course, the goal is not to constantly change or adapt to meet each person’s or each culture’s every expectation. However, you’ll improve collaboration and build better relationships when you manage these different views in an authentic fashion.

Leading Afghanistan: Lessons from a Four-Star Resignation

When General Stanley McChrystal resigned last month amid controversy over an article in Rolling Stone, it raised many questions of politics and policy. But lessons of leadership were front and center for CCL’s Clemson Turregano as he observed the events.

Turregano, a former U.S. Army officer, works with government and military agencies as a senior faculty member at CCL. His column, Lessons from a four-star resignation, recently ran onWashingtonPost.com. He noted powerful leadership lessons, taught by General McChrystal, President Obama and General David Petraeus, who was tapped to relieve McChrystal:

  • From General McChrystal: the importance of accepting responsibility for our actions.
  • From President Obama: when a handpicked, high-profile, high-potential subordinate acts out of accordance with established rules of conduct, it’s important to take the same actions we would with a more junior employee.
  • From General David Petraeus: when duty calls, a positive response is required. We need to grab the reins and do the best we can.

From all three men, we can learn the value of humility. “All modeled real humility in their responses — and that’s a quality we can never see too much of in our leaders,” Turregano writes.

Of course, the leadership lessons — as well as the politics and policy matters — have crucial, real-world implications. For Turregano, reflections on leadership are not academic. He is no stranger to the complex realities facing the military in Afghanistan and the leaders of Afghanistan. Prior to joining CCL, Turregano worked in the Initiatives Group for the senior U.S. staff in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the deputy director for Strategic Initiatives, Clemson developed international agreements and training plans, in addition to mentoring senior Afghan and coalition officials.

Last year, he returned to Kabul to bring CCL-style leadership development to Afghan military leaders. Read about the creative leadership work that the CCL team brought to a group of seasoned Afghan leaders in Turregano’s series of blogs: Learning Leadership in Kabul.

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