Culture Matters

An array of Asian flags wave against a blue sky. The photo was shot from a low angle and accompanies a blog post about why culture matters.

Do different types of leaders emerge in different markets? How do personality and culture impact cross-border business?

Recently on The Science of Personality, cohosts Ryne Sherman, PhD, and Blake Loepp spoke with Hogan’s Krista Pederson, managing director of Asia-Pacific, and Anne-Marie Paiement, PhD, senior consultant, about why culture matters.

Krista currently resides in China, and Anne-Marie resides in Australia. Not only are cultural differences a focus of their professional expertise, but cross-cultural business is also a part of their direct experience.

Keep reading to learn more about cultural differences in who becomes a leader, how to lead an international team, and ways organizations can leverage personality assessment data to select and develop globally minded leaders.

Cross-Cultural Personality

The Hogan point of view on cross-cultural personality is anchored in socioanalytic theory. Socioanalytic theory holds that humans across the globe evolved to get along, get ahead, and find meaning. “We have found that this is true no matter what society in the world is being measured,” said Krista.

The individual differences in how people pursue these universal goals equate to our unique personality characteristics. “We do not see certain genders, ethnicities, or other groups of people having significantly different trends,” Krista added. “This is why using personality is a fair and equal way to select and develop our talent.”

In other words, personality scores are mostly the same across cultures. Significant differences in personality do not exist between different groups, markets, or countries.

Leadership and Culture

Where we do see personality differences is in top leadership positions across different countries and markets. Some cultures value different outcomes, while others may value the same outcomes but achieve them in different ways.

Anne-Marie provided an example from Hogan personality data, comparing Canadian and French leaders. “Both of those markets’ leaders value getting ahead, so leaders tend to score higher on [the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory scale] Power. However, they will differ in how they do so,” she explained. In Canada, a low-density population country, leaders tend to gain power by being warm and showing tact and diplomacy. In France, a high-density population country, organizations tend to promote and value leaders who are not afraid to confront or challenge others directly and publicly. Putting that in terms of Hogan scales, Canadian leaders tend to score higher than French leaders on the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) scale Interpersonal Sensitivity.

Differentiating Between Country and Culture

While it is possible to measure personality across national boundaries, it is not possible to do so across nebulous cultural boundaries. No one can pinpoint where culture starts and ends. For instance, French culture influences leaders in France and Canada, but also in Belgium, Congo, Haiti, Switzerland, and many, many other countries. Other cultural influences are present in most of those places, as well.

“Within a country’s borders, a lot of different factors influence what type of leaders are promoted to the top,” Krista said. Giving an illustration from China, she explained that business leaders tend to place less emphasis on agency and more on conscientiousness. These characteristics make them much more willing to build consensus and act within a group than to lead using the individualistic, charismatic style seen in other countries.

Leader Emergence and Leader Effectiveness

Leadership emergence relates to leaders who tend to be promoted, while leadership effectiveness relates to leaders who build and maintain high-performing teams. The two types of leadership may be found in the same individual, but they often aren’t.

Personality still predicts the same set of outcomes in all cultures, so what makes a leader effective in one culture is likely to make that leader effective (or ineffective) in other cultures, too. “If you’re a high [HPI] Adjustment individual, there’s the same set of consequences for you no matter what culture you’re in,” Krista observed.

“There may be differences in leadership emergence, but the same things seem to predict leadership effectiveness,” Anne-Marie agreed.

How to Lead an International Team

When explaining how to lead an international team, Anne-Marie and Krista advised leaders to evaluate their mindset and rely on data:

  • Understand your leadership style – Knowing the leadership style of your own market is key to recognizing differences. “Being unaware of unconscious biases and the impact it might have on their efficacy and reputation . . . we don’t want leaders to fall in the trap that their strengths that have helped them be successful in a specific market in the past will necessarily be as effective,” Anne-Marie said.
  • Understand cultural expectations for leaders – Knowing the expectations for leaders and team members is key to successfully working with them. “As a leader, understanding where your team members are from, the culture that they’re from, and even the leadership style within that culture can be very helpful,” Krista said.
  • Rely on data – Avoid generalizing or making assumptions about cross-cultural leadership. Well-validated personality assessments, such as Hogan’s, can provide data-driven insights to help decision-makers understand the values and behaviors that inform local, organizational, and team culture. Consider the unique personalities of individuals, and be sensitive to exceptions that may seem to subvert the norm.

Selecting and Developing Globally Minded Leaders

Organizations need to use valid personality assessments to select leaders who can manage individuals from different cultures effectively. The leaders who are most likely to promote a culture of inclusion are those who will leverage diversity, remain humble about what they know, and consider others’ backgrounds before acting. Hogan has researched inclusion competencies in leadership and can help organizations identify people who are likely to embody these qualities.

Similarly, international companies can use personality assessments to better develop their current leaders to make them more successful at managing people across cultures. “We encourage organizations to emphasize the importance of understanding the target culture’s leadership norms for cross-cultural business success,” Krista said.

Depending on the expectations of others within the organization, a leader might need to adapt their interpersonal style. For example, an American leader of a Chinese team might give indirect feedback and cause confusion, while a Chinese leader of an American team might give direct feedback and cause offense. While directness and indirectness both exist across cultures, what can vary are the cultural expectations surrounding a leader’s communication methods.

“Don’t underuse assessments,” Krista said. She encouraged organizations that conduct cross-border business to assess their organizational culture, how teams across an organization interact, and how individuals within a team interact.

“Look beyond general cultural stereotypes,” Anne-Marie said. “Invest some effort in becoming aware of your own culture’s leadership expectations and what some implications are in terms of unconscious biases. If you’re a leader, that will be very important in working with people from different backgrounds or people in general in today’s globalized market.”

Listen to this conversation in full on episode 90 of The Science of Personality. Never miss an episode by following us anywhere you get podcasts. Cheers, everybody!