The Importance of Understanding Global Leadership

Globalization has arrived. The work of individuals, teams, business units, and companies span geographic boundaries, markets, cultures, and languages. Organizations have operations around the globe, and the major economies of the world are tightly interconnected.

As applied practitioners of organizational psychology, it’s important for us to understand the implications for work in these organizations, and in particular how to manage talent needs as the nature of business changes. Tasks and duties in low-complexity jobs are often more tangible and easily defined, may have little differentiation across cultures. For example, basic assembly and manufacturing positions require some degree of conscientiousness and teamwork, and may have little variance in the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality characteristics (KSAPs) required to successfully perform the job in different cultures. In high-complexity jobs, the specific task and duty requirements may be harder to define, and require a higher degree of judgment and discretion on the part of the employee. In these roles, the cultural context may dictate the specific set of KSAPs that will facilitate performance.

Management and leadership positions are generally considered to be high-complexity jobs. The people that fill these roles are given broad goals and targets to accomplish, and are afforded the discretion to exercise their judgment regarding the best way to meet these goals. Just about the only common characteristic of these jobs is the responsibility of the leader to facilitate the work of others. But how do leaders facilitate the work of others? How do they build and motivate high-performing teams? The answer to this is the most oft-uttered line of any psychologist – “it depends.”

Here at Hogan we’ve initiated some research to explore the leadership characteristics in various cultures around the world. These characteristics reflect a culture’s beliefs about what constitutes leadership. According to Implicit Leadership Theory (Fischbein and Lord, 2004), people develop ideas of what constitutes leadership. Collectively, these beliefs form an individual’s leadership prototype. People then compare others to this leadership prototype, and to the extent that a person matches the leadership prototype, we ascribe leadership qualities to that person. Through this research, we are examining whether there may exist cultural differences in leadership prototypes, and thus in the people that are promoted into leadership positions in organizations. Naturally, this will hold implications for organizations whose operations span cultural boundaries.

Stay tuned for research updates, and look for our findings to be presented at the 2012 SIOP Conference in San Diego.