Time perception in leadership

A case study of Chinese business culture

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

34 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Introduction

2 Typology of cultures
2.1 Hall
2.2 Hofstede
2.3 Trompenaars
2.4 Time perception
2.4.1 Functional vs. social time
2.4.2 Time orientation: past, present and future
2.4.3 Monochronic vs. polychronic time perception

3 Time perception and leadership
3.1 Types of leadership
3.2 Culture & leadership
3.3 Expatriate managers in between time perceptions
3.4 The impact of time perception on decision-making
3.5 Monochronicity and polychronicity in global business

4 China - a case study of time perception in business
4.1 The Chinese flow of time: Confucianism and Taoism
4.2 Leadership style
4.2.1 Confucian leadership style
4.2.2 Characteristics of Chinese leadership
4.3 Doing business with China - do’s and dont’s concerning Chinese time perception

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Day by day we are woken up by the alarm. The clock schedules our daily routine. Punctuality at work is emphasized. Deadlines are considered to be accomplished on time. The clock drives us to undertake a certain amount of tasks during the day. In Western societies time is considered as resource, which can be spent, saved or lost. Thus, it represents a force, which drives our lives. Timetables and calendars create the feeling of time pressure. This phenomenon implies a big gap between the time an individual lives and the one the same person feels inside like a body clock. Hence, especially in task-oriented management, issues concerning time occur. Furthermore, cultural differences cause a variation of time perceptions. In fact, social time, as a culturally determined interpretation of time, has a great impact on business culture. On the one hand, the sense of social time influences expatriate managers going overseas, who have to adapt the local time perception; on the other hand, it concerns leaders, who have to juggle with two time perceptions in order to organize cross­border collaborations. Punctuality serves as prime example for time perception. While in Western Europe timekeeping represents a virtue, in Southern Europe dates are treated rather flexible.

The time perception of cultural groups varies even more. Monochronicity and polychronicity embody the main perspectives of time. Therefore, their origin and impact will be explained in general as well as in terms of managerial behaviour. After classifying the cultural clusters established by the GLOBE study, the example of the Confucian Asia will be contrasted with Western Europe. Further on, the case study of China serves as prime example of Confucian Asia to underline the influence of the local time perception on the present leadership style. Finally, a behavioural guideline for leaders concerning time perception shall create a harmonious overall picture of this work. Since this paper does not have the extent to scrutinize the influence of all cultural dimensions on leadership style, I chose the issue of time perception, because so far this aspect has been rather neglected in research. The following investigations are supposed to give a guideline to time awareness in general. By analysing the case of China, difficulties and potentials of varying time perceptions regarding managerial success shall be examined.

2 Typology of cultures

In order to examine the context of different time perceptions, in the following chapter the three most important classifications of cultural dimensions will be introduced. Since this work does not have the extent to explain all dimensions in detail, they rather shall be briefly outlined. Finally, the particular concepts of time perception will be scrutinized in chapter 2.4.

2.1 Hall

Edward T. Hall, the founder of intercultural communication as anthropological science, identified four dimensions of culture by examining behavioural differences which have the potential to cause intercultural conflicts: time, space, patterns of communication and data velocity. The crucial distinction of time perception between monochronicity and polychronicity will be further characterized in chapter 2.4.3. According to Hall, space orientation means the distance which an individual needs to feel comfortable. Hall distinguishes between personal, intimate, social and public distance. While an individual always keeps its personal distance in order to protect oneself; entering one’s intimate distance, the closest space around an individual, is only allowed to close friends and family. Within the social distance interactions with acquaintances and strangers are recognized. Lastly, public distance occur in anonymous interactions, e.g. between actors and their audience (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 20.02.2011).

Furthermore, the dimension of communication patterns describes the conceptualisation of low-context and high-context cultures. Hall denotes informal information networks as contexts. These networks store information, which are only available to individuals. Low- context cultures need further data to comprehend information, since less informal information networks exist. The two dimensions of transmitted content and of relation are separated. Hence, without further input, data can be interpreted in different ways. German-speaking, Anglophone and Western Scandinavian cultures represent low-context cultures. Nevertheless, about 96% of cultures worldwide show a high-context orientation. Because of the high information context, only one interpretation exists. The meaning of information is further determined by non-verbal communication. Thus, individuals do not need any further data for comprehension. Hall’s contextuality is closely linked with his categorization of time, which will be further explained in chapter 2.4.2. In fact, low-context cultures mainly feature a monochronic comprehension of time; while high-context cultures rather show a polychronic time perception (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 21.02.2011).

2.2 Hofstede

The Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede investigated the correlation between national and business culture. Based on an analysis of 100,000 IBM employees throughout the world, Hofstede established five dimensions of cultures (cf. Luo & Shenkar, retrieved 13.02.2011, p.19):

Power distance Uncertainty avoidance Individualism/ collectivism Masculinity/ femininity Confucian dynamism Power distance describes the grade of acceptance of hierarchical structures. Hence, cultures stand out due to their appreciation of lower or higher social and managerial levels in organisation. High power distance is marked by centralization, a high number of supervisors and great wage differences (cf. ibid., p.20). Uncertainty avoidance defines the extent to which ambiguity is tolerated in organisation. Enterprises with high uncertainty avoidance feature e.g. standardization, specialists and no risk tolerance (cf. ibid., p.23). The dimension of individualism/ collectivism sets the reference point of self-identification either individually or as part of a group. Thus, this dimension has a great impact on organisational structure. While individualism is characterized by employees defending their self-interest and impersonal organization; collectivism shows a family-like organisation as well as loyalty towards the group (cf. ibid., p.26). The distinction between masculinity and feminity describes Hofstede’s fourth cultural dimension (cf. ibid., p.27). In countries where masculine and feminine behaviour is valued differently, sex roles strictly differ. Since in such countries characteristics like aggression and competition are considered to be of importance, fewer women work in highly qualified jobs. Hence, special organisational structures are necessary to counteract against the distinction of genders (cf. ibid., p.28). Lastly, Confucian dynamism depicts long­term and short-term orientation. As the name of this dimension designates, it is rooted in the Confucian tradition. Hence, China is the prime example for long-term oriented cultures. Values such as persistence and the respect of social obligations are essential. As further outlined in chapter 4.2.1, Confucian organisations have a tendency to long-term planning and commitments (cf. ibid., p.29).

Even though these concepts do not specifically speak about time, they still imply a relation to temporal perception. The importance of personal relationships on decision-making are closely linked to long-term thinking and planning. Furthermore, high or low uncertainty avoidance stresses either control of time or a certain workflow (cf. Anderson/ Brodowsky/ Meilich/ Schuster/ Venkatesan, 2008, p.247). Further examinations in this work will explain these aspects.

2.3 Trompenaars

Fons Trompenaars, a student of Hofstede, established a seven dimensional model of culture. He distinguishes (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 15.02.2011):

Universalism vs. Particularism Individualism vs. collectivism Neutrality vs. Emotionality Specificity vs. Diffusity Accomplishment vs. ascription Attitude towards time Attitude towards environment Five dimensions of Trompenaars’ classification refer to the relation between individuals, while the attitude towards time and environment rather depict abstracts.

Firstly, universalism describes the dominance of rules independent from status or relationships of an individual; while particularism emphasizes the importance of personal relationships. The second dimension equals Hofstede’s dimension of individualism/ collectivism. Thirdly, emotionality depicts the extent to which the expression of feelings is appreciated in public. For example, neutral cultures control their feelings. Physical contact is rather avoided (cf. ibid. retrieved 15.02.2011). Furthermore, specificity/ diffussity match Hall’s assumption of space orientation. It refers to the extent in which individuals allow others to take part in different areas of life or rather protect them (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 16.02.2011). The fifth dimension of accomplishment/ ascription describes reasons for prestige in certain cultures. It can be distinguished between performance-oriented cultures, where social respect originates in hard work; and status-oriented cultures, where social status itself causes respect no matter how an individual achieved a position (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 17.02.2011). Furthermore, Trompedaars emphasizes the time orientation of a culture. Hereby, he agrees with Halls assumption of societies’ past-/ present- and future- orientation, which will be scrutinized in chapter 2.4.2. The attitude towards environment forms the last cultural dimension. Here, self-monitoring in terms of dominance over the environment vs. external control as harmony with its surrounding is focused (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 18.02.2011).

2.4 Time perception

In order to understand the impact of time on leadership, it is necessary to classify time perceptions. The following chapters will give an elaborate overview.

2.4.1 Functional vs. social time

The distinction between functional and social time serves as basis for further investigations. Functional time, also known as Newtonian conception represents the linear-quantitive time. Since it is measurable, mathematical, homogenous, divisible and independent of objects and events, functional time is viewed to be objective and absolute. In Western societies this real time is considered as resource. The proverb “Time is money” depicts this state perfectly. Thus, time can be spent, saved and lost. The improvement of productivity of individuals, groups and organisations constitutes its ultimate aim (cf. Harvey & Napier, 2004).

In contrast, social time represents the interpretation of time. Hence, this social construction acquires meaning by time markers including events and objects. Social time does not only differ among individuals and organisations, but also different time attitudes are found across cultures (cf. ibid., 2004). Hence, Anderson and Venkatesande declare social time to be the heartbeat of culture:

It “[...] sets the pace, timing, and the tempo of how time is lived. It also reflects how people think and feel about time. A social time system is a comprehensive framework that encompasses the rules, standards, practices, and costums of human behaviour and interaction with respect to temporality.” (Anderson/ Brodowsky/ Meilich/ Schuster/ Venkatesan, 2008, p.245)

Concerning business, social time has a great impact on consumer behaviour including the timing and frequency of purchase or the expected lifetime of a product. Hence, taking the social time of a certain culture into account for a certain marketing strategy can be crucial for the success of a product (cf. ibid., p.245).

The stage of a country’s development affects time perception significantly. While in most developing countries as agricultural societies, time is dictated by the cycle of the sun and by the changing seasons; in industrial countries thanks to modern technology time perception depends less on nature. In fact, electricity, air conditioning, heating and communication media allow activities around the clock (cf. ibid., p.246). This difference represents the categorization of cultures with clock-driven time and ones with event-driven time. As already mentioned, Western societies more likely schedule events by the clock; while in other cultures more probably people get scheduled by events (cf. Koskinen, 2008, p. 85).

These characteristics correspond to cyclical and linear time perception. Cyclical time is the most common. Because of the dependence on nature, according to this perception activities repeat in loops; parallely or moving forwards. Therefore, events are considered to be repeatable. Regarding this point of view, in such cultures past and future might be considered to be much more important than the actual present (cf. ibid., p.85). Additionally, cyclical time is more fluid and less static. Individuals with a cyclical perspective of time deny their own great influence on future incidents. Long-term cyclicity originates from Buddhism, which is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. The concept of reincarnation considers life as an endlessly cyclical process of birth, death and rebirth. For cultures with a linear time perception, such as

Western societies, cyclicity is rather confusing, because linearity implies a steady progress in order to obtain benefit (cf. Ballard, 2010, p.24).

Linear time perception originates from Christianity. Therefore, it mainly exists in Western societies. Cultures with a linear time perception significantly care about their valuable time, since activities have to be undertaken until a certain deadline. Additionally, according to the steady running time, events are unrepeatable. Hence, the present is essential in linear time perception. According to business, companies with a linear time perception, such as Western enterprises, are more likely to plan for short terms; while rather tradition-oriented companies with circular time perception, e.g. in China and Japan, tend to long-term planning (cf. Martin & Chaney, 2006, p.38). Furthermore, Western companies are more likely to account for every minute of the day, while e.g. Asian enterprises show rather spontaneous organisation concerning time. Asian companies also have fewer meetings than Western enterprises; therefore they tend to organize longer meetings. Hence, because of different time perceptions cooperating businesses might face difficulties in communication. For instance, Asian companies might compromise on quality due to unfamiliar deadlines. In general, multicultural teams tend to need more time for getting to know each other. But once they are familiar with each other’s habits, they work more effectively than monocultural collaborations (cf. ibid., 2006, p.39).

2.4.2 Time orientation: past, present and future

E. T. Hall distinguishes between past-, present- and future-oriented cultures. According to the time interpretation of an individual or even a culture, this categorisation is based on the concept of social time. The history of events has an impact on decision-making in the present. At the same time the present represents a reference on the forthcoming future. Hence, the estimation of risks and probabilities has to be taken into consideration for strategic planning in the present. Although the impact of past, present and future form a symbiosis concerning decision-making, cultures tend to orientate only towards one aspect of time.

Because of their awareness of old times, past-oriented cultures, including China, focus on the maintenance of traditions in the present. Their behaviour is affected by the importance these cultures attach to the history of their country, family and company. Furthermore, the respect towards older people forms an important feature. Hence, the past has a great impact on actions in everyday life in order to repeat former glory (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 15.02.2011). As will be explained in the following chapter, past-oriented cultures tend to long-term thinking (cf. Anderson/ Brodowsky/ Meilich/ Schuster/ Venkatesan, 2008, p.246)

Present-oriented cultures, including Western Europe, are considered to be rather timeless. This means, concerning decision-making traditions do not play such a great role like in past- oriented cultures. At the same time, neither future is the only influence on decisions. Thus, plans do not necessarily have to be respected (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 15.02.2011). The motivation for actions in present-oriented cultures is the proverb “Carpe Diem”. Hence, these cultures consider actions taking place in the present and contemporary relationships as guidelines for decision-making (cf. Kosiu/ Troncy/ Gölzhäuser, 2003, p.1).

Lastly, in future-oriented cultures, including the USA, past and present achievements only serve as potential in order to create a prosperous future. Enthusiastic planning provides a feeling of security, since these cultures more likely act in expectation of prospects than solving current issues. In future-oriented cultures young people are viewed as resource to create a better future for the country (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 15.02.2011). Furthermore, because of their time perception people tend to invest more than they actually consume (cf. Kosiu/ Troncy/ Gölzhäuser, 2003, p.1). However, in these cultures short-term planning is more likely (cf. Anderson/ Brodowsky/ Meilich/ Schuster/ Venkatesan, 2008, p.247).

These categories of time orientation are not absolute. Moreover, certain cultures tend to act in the framework of one of the concepts. Nevertheless, overlapping within a culture is probable, since each individual possibly shows a different time perception.

Depicting Hall’s categories of time orientation, Trompenaars developed a scheme, where each circle represents, going from left to right, past, present or future. The importance of each time can be observed by the size of its circle. Furthermore, the overlapping of two circles shows their dependency. A lack of contact illustrates the negligence of a certain time (cf. Transkulturelles Portal, retrieved 15.02.2011).

The following scheme displays representing countries for each time orientation. Since the examples of Western Europe and the USA already have been explained in detail, only China serves to illustrate Trompenaars’ approach.


Excerpt out of 34 pages


Time perception in leadership
A case study of Chinese business culture
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)  (Intercultural Management)
Leadership. An alternate take
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ISBN (Book)
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time perception, leadership, Chinese business culture, Edward T. Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaars, functional time, social time, time orientation, monochronic time perception, polychronic time perception, leadership types, expatriate managers, global business, leadership styles, Confucian leadership styles, cross-border collaboration
Quote paper
Stefanie Schumann (Author), 2011, Time perception in leadership, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/170587


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