Leadership skills in an intercultural context

Term Paper, 2020

19 Pages, Grade: 2,3



Register of illustrations

List of abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Intercultural Leadership
2.1 Intercultural settings
2.2 Classification of leadership in an intercultural context
2.3 Culture-dependent leadership styles

3 Skills & competencies
3.1 Intercultural Competencies
3.2 Intercultural Intelligence
3.3 Effects on teamwork (MBI)

4 Application of IL skills
4.1 Amazon.com, Inc
4.2 Weleda AG
4.3 Leadership in Australia
4.4 Meta perspective

5 Conclusion/ Critical acknowledgement


Register of illustrations

Figure 1: Diverse definitions of culture

Figure 2: IC foundational dimensions

Figure 3: MBI framework

List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

“Leadership is related to the profession of a highly qualified conductor or builder […].” (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 2014, p. 12). As the world’s economy has been going through a fundamental transformation due to globalization, internationalization and demographic changes, new challenges in every component of economy are faced. Cultural differences not only effect trading process in B2C and B2B, establishing companies in countries with a different culture, business relationships that cross borders, but also the interaction of the people involved. Due to all these shifts expectations encounter each other and cause tension in teams, corporate relationships and in leadership. This may lead to uncertainty and frustration in people, who are involved, as well as ineffectiveness in work processes. To improve intercultural corporate interactions solid and trustworthy guidance is needed. In cross-cultural teams this guidance is resembled by a qualified and competent leader.

This term paper analyzes, What competencies are required in leaders of intercultural teams in the pursuit of successful leadership?

Firstly, difficulties in intercultural environments and settings are presented. Afterwards the potential, difficulties and requirements on Intercultural Leadership (IL) are defined. Looking at the GLOBE study the variety of leadership styles in different countries are going to be inspected. In detail this term paper is going to focus on leadership styles in Germany and the USA. The explored differences create potential for misunderstanding, frustration and ineffectiveness.

Guidance in an intercultural context does not only require professional qualification, but fundamental Intercultural Competencies (IC) and Intercultural Intelligence (II), that are going to be investigated in this elaboration. These skills are also crucial for team building. In this paper the MBI framework is an example.

The conscious usage of IC and II distributes slowly in the corporate world. During my research I was unable to find one company meeting all of them in their principles. To explore different approaches the strategies of Amazon and Weleda are considered. In Australia due to the population many cultures meet. The Australian Human Rights Commission has investigated the influence of different skills in leadership. To take it to an expert meta perspective an interview is analyzed.

2 Intercultural Leadership

As there is a common sense around internationalization, interculturalism and leadership, first those terms need to introduce.

2.1 Intercultural settings

An intercultural setting is not only result of people from different countries working together. Yet globalization is one unavoidable area of cultural exchange and leadership.

Globalization is the progressive and dynamic emergence of international business relationships. For a variety of goods and services local markets turn into international markets (cf. Morasch & Bartholomae, 2011, p. 310). Globalization brings different ethnics, norms, values, traditions, rules and behavioral patterns together (cf. Stippler et al., 2011, p. 99). Increasing Diversity is caused by immigration and emigration, religion, cultural and political merges such as in EU, social, demographical and gender structure shifts (cf. Aretz & Hansen, 2003, p. 12). The mentioned reasons for cultural diversity only resemble a minor part of cultural dimensions (cf. Robbins, Judge & Campbell, 2016, p. 37f.):There are more dimensions to the definition of culture:

Figure 1 : Diverse definitions of culture

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Source: Browaeys & Price, 2015, p. 4)

Coping with these differences and using them for good becomes very important, when individuals are connected by a supposedly productive collaboration (cf. Robbins et al., 2016, p. 37). The diversity of human capital creates more challenges, but by overcoming them cross-cultural collaborations have a huge potential for improving business strategies and their outcome (cf. Matveev, 2017, p. 33). A superficial approach does not catch the important characteristics of a culture, but rather leads to judgements (cf. Robbins et al., 2016, p. 37).

2.2 Classification of leadership in an intercultural context

“Leadership is the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of a vision or set of goals.” (Robbins et al., 2016, p. 332). Leaders must cope with a variety of expectations, while being influenced by external and surprising aspects of a situation. Furthermore an intercultural context creates even more comprehensive challenges and expectations towards a manager (cf. Thomas et al., 2011, p. 246). A typical day of people in a leadership role contains a variety of requirements. Those may be expected or unexpected and command the ability to adapt quickly. Managers mostly communicate verbally (cf. Thomas et al. 2011, p. 246). Executives of intercultural project teams or those, who lead teams abroad long-term, who act globally to create and nurture business relationships as well as corporations with subsidiaries and business partners intercultural employees are considered intercultural leaders (cf. Thomas et al., 2011, p. 246f.).

Leadership is not only present in higher management levels, but also indispensable throughout organizations. While management mostly works with existing principles, leadership attempts to create new ones (cf. Hinterhuber & Krauthammer 2014, p. 12). Creating positive and productive relationships in the pursuit of building a strong and committed team is key to sustainable leadership (cf. Stippler et al., 2011, p. 52f.). Establishing those relationships is already challenging in homogenous teams. IL tasks contain more challenging aspects depending on their setting (cf. Thomas et al., 2011, p. 247ff.). As mentioned earlier expectations take their toll. Additionally, one tends to see his culture superordinated. The own culture becomes the standard and that creates stereotypes, biases, loss of efficiency. However, there is potential in intercultural settings. If the leader is able to consider and appreciate various perspectives and resolve intercultural hurdles, one may use strengths of the different cultures to create an impactful team (cf. Stippler et al., 2011, p. 99). Those teams are called multicultural teams as their members have different nationalities and cultures. (cf. Matveev, 2017, p. 105). Therefore, managing and leading in a global context require a specific skill set to cope with a variety of factors. Global executives must have IC (cf. Matveev, 2017, p. 32). Doing business without those skills may deteriorate a company’s market position (cf. Matveev, 2017, p. 32f.). Most common hurdles and reasons for unsuccessful internationalization processes in companies are “inadequate understanding of the local national culture, lack of clarity about motivation for internationalization, selection of wrong partners for internationalization, lack of clarity of operational goals and responsibilities, unclear management structures, lack of adaptation to local employees and stakeholders, lack of support for internationalization through, failing confidence in own abilities, failing trust in own employees and local staff in the target country and not adequate governance structures.” ( Engelen & Tholen, 2014, p. 2)

2.3 Culture-dependent leadership styles

The company's culture also influences the leadership styles (cf. Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 2014, p. 91). Cultural differences also influence leadership in a corporate context (cf. Barmeyer, 2018, p. 212) as it sets standards on three levels. The first level is noticeable and palpable in superficial characteristics. Characteristics for example may be found in fashion, building culture, language and food. The second level resembles the value and moral system, while the third level contains key assumptions. The key assumptions of culture as nearly impossible to capture. Even though level one is simple to access, the difficulty level increases along this chronology (cf. Browaeys & Price, 2015, p. 4).

With GLOBE Study an extensive research on the influence of culture on leadership, expectations towards leaders and correlations regarding the effectiveness level in companies has been established. GLOBE is the abbreviation for Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE, 2020). Starting in 1994 Robert J. House pursued not only a research on international differences, but also created an international research team (cf. Brodbeck, 2016, p. 62f.). In the pursuit of creating a wide-ranging survey nine cultural dimensions were chosen: Assertiveness, institutional collectivism, in-group collectivism, future orientation, gender egalitarianism, humane orientation, performance orientation, power distance and uncertainty avoidance (cf. Browaeys & Price, 2015, p. 43). In addition to that six leadership dimensions were added: Charismatic/value-based leadership, team-oriented leadership, participative leadership, humane-oriented leadership, autonomous leadership as well as self-protective leadership (cf. Brodbeck, 2016, p. 132). The classification of various cultures takes place on a scale between as is and should be (cf. Browaeys & Price, 2015, p. 43). Using these results of their survey the researchers determined ten cultural cluster for 25 countries. Clusters share similar expressions of the dimensions yet there are fundamental differences (cf. Brodbeck, 2016, p. 151ff.). In comparing Germany and the USA major differences can be explored. Germany belongs to the German-speaking cluster, while the USA is classified as Anglo-American. The differences result from events in the counties’ history. In Germany uncertainty avoidance, assertiveness, individualism and a deeply ingrained faith in governmental interventions are characteristic. An explementary effective leadership style consists of a high-performance orientation, specialist competence, autonomy, directness, constructive debate and participation. In contrast to that German leaders focus moderately on team orientation and human orientation. A visionary leadership style has been ranked 6,02 out of 7. Visionary leaders are highly appreciated in the USA. They embody superior and inspiring position. These leaders excel in high performance orientation, individualism and masculinity, assertiveness paired with low power distance and uncertainty avoidance (cf. Stippler et al., 2011, p. 100ff.). This shows, that the different leadership styles exclude one generally valid style.

3 Skills & competencies

“Intercultural Management, which deals with the culture-dependent phenomena in management activities, is a young discipline within business administration.”(Engelen & Tholen, 2014, p. 2). Leadership and management are both important for a company’s success. Leaders are the conductor and managers the music directors (cf. Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 2014, p. 12). Leadership is an essential for corporate institutions to overcome crises (cf. Bruch, Krummaker & Vogel, 2006, p. 50). Yet not every executive is fully adequate equipped to cope with requirements, that occur in an intercultural context (cf. Thomas et al., 2011, p. 255). In this chapter those skills and competencies are explored and introduced.

3.1 Intercultural Competencies

IC is described as the ability to interact purposefully and successfully with a diversity of people regarding their culture, education and ethnic (cf. Matveev, 2017, p. 33). This competence is on par with fundamental job and leadership skills. Its purpose is to enable economic efficiency, intercultural understanding and behavior in staff members of all hierarchical level as well as a peaceful team dynamic and comfort for the divers people involved (cf. Thomas, 2016, p. 256). The most important trait for that is the adaptability to cope with unfamiliar cultural characteristics, by understanding, accepting and responding to those discrepancies (cf. Matveev, 2017, p. 32).

Even though this seems to be plausible and clear, IC is a wide concept. Being able to activate cognitive complexity, work goal-oriented – in this case creating a sustainable economic outcome with a divers, but satisfied team - being open to a heterologic work environment, uncertainty and affections along with conflict coping strategies are highly advantageous (cf. Lloyd & Härtel, 2010).

In addition, know-how regarding a general, personal to own, foreign, market-oriented and goal-oriented cultural approach is part of the intercultural competencies pool. As the goal of intercultural collaborations and teams is not to just avoid arguments and misunderstandings leaders in an intercultural context need to create creativity, flexibility, security and stability in the process by using their cross-cultural knowledge, situational assessment and managing (cf. Thomas, 2016, p. 256f.).

The following table gives a rough and yet accurate overview of what IC is about:

Figure 2: IC foundational dimensions

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Source: Matveev, 2017, p. 77)

There are skills that leaders benefit from in the pursuit of applying good IL: Leaders with good listening skills, patience and openness to new experiences can identify and maximize employees' strengths. Also, they can provide a support system for minimizing weaknesses. Therefore, leaders need a balanced work and life experience, a healthy lifestyle besides a high stress tolerance. Qualified cross-cultural leaders trust their intuition while making decisions. They also do not hesitate with exploring a trial-and-error process (cf. Eberhardt & Majkovic, 2016, p. 26). As the MBI structure is a demonstrative example, this is going to be shared in chapter 3.3. In the pursuit of supporting their team leaders need a secure base. This enables them to create the same circumstances for their team (cf. Eberhardt & Majkovic, 2016, p. 26).

3.2 Intercultural Intelligence

Intercultural competencies mostly include learnable abilities. Intelligence in general is defined as a “a hypothetical construct […] that describes the acquired cognitive skills and knowledge of a person that are available to him or her at a given time.” (Maier, 2020).

II has also been explored due to the increasing speed of globalization. The theoretical approach of II covers beyond cognitive and intellectual capabilities, the way of coping with various ideologies. Coping strategies include understanding, recognition and choice. Moreover emotional understanding and compassion allow a deeper traceability, better judgement as well as decision making (cf. Barmeyer, 2018, p. 296). Social intelligence is skill that allows one to efficiently cope with moods, intentions and motivation in a group of people. Therefore this is part of the II. Truly important in this attempt is the ability to apply self-assessment and external assessment (cf. Stippler et al.. 2011, p. 76).

CI closes the gap between emotional intelligence and difficulties dealing with others in intercultural environments. An individuum, who is intercultural intelligent, is able to adapt to successfully to a foreign culture easily. The first step in developing II is making the experience and recognition of culture-specific norm systems. Transferring this to employee and company leadership leaders need to be aware of conflicts of interest. They also have to create an individual way of leading through those conflicts in between organizational needs and employees’ needs. (cf. Barmeyer, 2018, p. 212ff.). It is a dynamic process to perform in, avoiding the negative outcomes of intercultural collaborations, but using the positive effects of intercultural characteristics (cf. Seelmann-Holzmann, 2010, p. 77f.).

Critical situations requires flexibility and adaptability, so aside from being aware of differences leaders benefit from gaining awareness of their current mental state, strengths and weakness as well as being aware of their (cf. Bruch et al., 2006, p. 40).

3.3 Effects on teamwork (MBI)

In this chapter a superficial outlook on transforming the competencies into a strategy for action is given:

The greatest challenge in globalization and internationalism is working through and with all the differences. For team building and collaborations a framework has been developed. It is called MBI and describes three phases to create sustainable cross-cultural teamwork (cf. Lane & Maznevski, 2014).

Figure 3: MBI framework

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Source: Lane & Maznevski, 2014, p. 90)

Firstly, awareness of differences is created. This includes perspectives, framework, personality etc. All of them are information to create a deeper understanding. This process is called Mapping. Seeing all those differences creates a gap between participants. With Bridging an efficient way of interaction is applied in the pursuit of creating value in the differences. The communication must not contain blame but helps focusing on similarities. In the integration part of the process findings are used to unite and build on it. A successful mapping process leads to a high performing work force (cf. Lane & Maznevski, 2014, p. 73). Creating a Winning Team Feeling by developing and facilitating strengths motivation can be increased in a team. This effect benefits from cherishing the team and team members for their achievements. If an employee genuinely believes that one is part of a Winning Team, this energy creates confidence. This impacts not only the business positively, but also the interaction with clients and investors. The success potential expands. But yet this effect also works the other way round (cf. Bruch et al., 2006, p. 61).


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Leadership skills in an intercultural context
Fresenius University of Applied Sciences Idstein  (Hochschule Fresenius Fachbereich Onlineplus)
Intercultural Competence
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Intercultural Leadeship, Intercultural competencies, Intercultural intelligence, MBI, Leadership
Quote paper
Nora Stracke (Author), 2020, Leadership skills in an intercultural context, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1030797


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