Different leadership styles from around the world

Businesses are operating in an increasingly global environment, which requires careful consideration of cultural differences when marketing goods and services worldwide.

This is particularly true for Australian organisations hoping to take advantage of growing opportunities in Asian markets, with the country ideally placed to strengthen trade relationships on the continent.

Whether you are dealing with international partners or setting up an office in an overseas location, understanding typical leadership styles in that country can be extremely beneficial to bolstering smooth-running relationships.

So what are the main leadership styles exhibited worldwide? British linguist Richard D Lewis explored the nuances between a number of countries in his 1996 book ‘When Cultures Collide‘, which is now in its third edition.

Here is a summary of some of the common characteristics outlined in the book.

Australia

Australian leaders are thought to be fairly democratic, with Mr Lewis pointing to Swedish egalitarianism models as a close comparison.

However, Australian organisations are also guided by the more aggressive American way of doing business, which favours quick thinking and fast decision-making.

According to Mr Lewis, Australian executives must be considered ‘one of the mates’, but once they have achieved this status they often exert important influence.

Research by the Australian Institute of Management has previously found that the country’s leaders are supportive, preferring coaching and mentoring rather than focusing on individual mistakes.

UK

Diplomatic, tactful and casual, British managers are often fair and willing to compromise.

Under the surface though, UK leaders have a pragmatic streak that ensures they can be resilient and ruthless, but in a subtler manner than is stereotypically seen in US counterparts.

Where British employees can falter is in international communications, with an adherence to tradition and inward-looking perspective that can prevent cross-cultural learning.

Japan

Japanese businesses are more likely to have a bottom-up approach to innovation and change, Mr Lewis claims.

Top executives may harness substantial power, but new ideas typically come from workers on the ground. These are then filtered up through middle management to senior executives and are put in place when they gain enough support.

This process involves the circulation of a document called a ringi-sho, which is annotated and amended by various departments as it makes its way up the leadership chain.

China

Like in Japan, Chinese leadership is often geared towards consensus decision-making, which Mr Lewis describes as the Confucian model. This means a leadership group is usually in charge of policy implementation.

However, unlike in truly democratic leadership styles, there is a respect for unequal relationships. Organisational structures are similar to families, with age and seniority being greatly revered.

A benevolent autocrat is considered the ideal boss, and subordinates expect to be given instructions.

The US

US leaders are often assertive, aggressive and goal orientated, which Mr Lewis says is a result of the country’s frontier beginnings shown since the 18th century.

“They are capable of teamwork and corporate spirit, but they value individual freedom above the welfare of the company, and their first interest is furthering their own career,” he stated.

Leadership positions are usually allocated based on merit and Americans are not shy about pursuing wealth as their main motivation.

India

Nepotism is a key feature of Indian leadership structures. Decision-making is often made between family members holding senior positions within the organisation.

Trade groups exert a significant influence in the country and strong inter-personal relationships can develop between these organisations.

Germany

German efficiency is commonly referred to when discussing businesses in the country – and while it may be a stereotype, there is truth to the notion.

Clear chains of command exist in each department, with information passing through the hierarchy in a top-down fashion. However, despite this autocratic approach, there is room for consensus in German leadership models.

Germans often gain the respect of subordinates by showing a willingness to work hard, obey the rules and play fair. Horizontal communication between department leaders is less common than in US and British firms.

France

France’s leadership models are among the most autocratic, although Mr Lewis says this may not be particularly evident at first glance.

CEOs often have skills across a wide range of areas, including marketing, production, accounting and personnel – shifting gears as and when required.

Due to this comprehensive coverage, management blunders are more accepted in French businesses, as leaders are responsible for a large number of decisions across many departments.

Netherlands

The Netherlands values merit-based appointments, so Dutch leaders can often point to many achievements and competencies.

While managers in the country are decisive, consensus is important and there are commonly a number of key individuals involved during new policy implementations.

Mr Lewis adds that ideas have free flow throughout Dutch organisations, suggesting bottom-up creativity is encouraged.