Leadership across Cultures: A Study of Canadian and Taiwanese Executives

Article excerpt


* The issue of the universality of leadership attributes across different cultures is of importance to researchers and global managers, however, the literature on this topic seems rather limited and inconclusive.

* This article reports on a study of Canadian and Taiwanese upper middle managers to examine their similarities and differences in terms of their leadership styles.

Key Results

* The two groups showed similarities on such leadership attributes as visionary, symbolizer, auditor and self-sacrifice. Charismatic leadership, along with ambassador and auditor roles are also common between the two samples, but consist of somewhat different items. There are also culturally specific leadership attributes unique to each group. The article provides a theoretical framework for understanding the impact of culture on leadership.

There is much research on leadership in North America and Europe, but a lingering question remains: To what extent are the findings generalizable to other cultures? This is an important question for both executives and researchers. It is important to executives because their competitive arena is increasingly global. Globalization creates many business opportunities, but it also creates complex challenges. Managing people and organizations from other parts of the world is more complex than managing domestic operations due to different cultural values (Hofstede 2001). In a recent survey of human resource managers responsible for executive development in 108 Fortune 500 firms, the respondents were asked to identify the relative importance of various resources towards the success of the firm. Having competent global leaders was rated as the most important factor in business success, ahead of adequate financial resources or technology. The same survey showed that 85% of executives do not think they have an adequate number of global leaders (Gregersen/Morrison/Black 1998). Researchers are also interested because cross-cultural research will help "fine tune" existing theories by introducing a broader range of variables, behaviors, and processes. It helps identify aspects of existing theories that are universally applicable and those that are culturally contingent (Triandis 1993, Yukl 2002).

This paper investigates the impact of culture on leadership by comparing the leadership profiles of Canadian and Taiwanese managers. We will identify and discuss those aspects of the leadership model that are common between Canadian and Taiwanese executives and those that are unique to each group. We develop these profiles from the vantage point of the executives' immediate subordinates who themselves are in middle to senior management positions.

Culture and Leadership

There has been a plethora of studies to examine the relationship between culture and leadership styles. The literature points to a major divergence of views regarding the universality or culture-specificity of leadership attributes and effectiveness. Many researchers have argued for a direct impact of culture on leadership styles, arguing that specific cultural traditions and norms are bound to differentiate leadership styles (Smith/Peterson 1988). Hofstede (1980) and his colleagues have suggested that power distance is the most important determinant of leadership styles: Countries with a high power distance prefer autocratic leadership while countries with a low power distance prefer a more participative style. In a similar vein, Triandis (1994), in a comprehensive review of the literature, concluded that the optimum leadership profile in a country is strongly influenced by its cultural values. He showed that employees in individualist countries prefer more freedom and autonomy while those in collectivist cultures favour security and in group harmony.

On the other side of this debate are those who argue that at least some aspects of leadership transcend national cultures. …