Long-Term Requirements for Leadership in the Context of Increased Diversity. Is There a New Importance to Face Cultural Diversity?

Essay, 2016
30 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents



Research objective

Background and Context

Adjustments of Theoretical Leadership Frameworks

Demands on Leaders in Cultural Diverse Environments

Outlook Essay-Part

Critical Evaluation of Leading Cultural Diversity

Necessity of Adjustments

Challenges of Implementation

Diversity Leaders- What is special?

Future Direction

Concluding Remarks


The present work gives an overview of the state of research regarding cultural diversity leadership and brings together current findings. The study gathers the research status on theoretical leadership approaches and their adjustments for the area of cultural diversity. In addition, requirements on the level of leaders are presented. In the second part of this article the focus is on the critical evaluation of requirements for leadership and the discussion of long-term successful diversity leadership approaches concerning the necessity of adjustments and the implementation process. Finally, recommendations for future research and development are supplied and a comprehensive conclusion is made.

Keywords: Cultural Diversity, Diversity Approaches, Leadership, Diversity Leaders


The growing international flows of goods, factors and knowledge are fostering the global interactions among a rising amount of diversified people leading to a changing world where cultural diversity has become a central topic (Bellini, Ottaviano, Pinelli & Prarolo, 2013). The issue gains in importance because Germany and the whole world are currently facing the major challenge to accommodate a high number of refugees. Besides the political debate, it is ascertainable that the topic of cultural diversity management gains in importance in an organizational context as well. The integration into the labor market represents an essential component within the entire process of integration. The challenge for companies is not only based on short-term policies and measures that allow the integration of refugees in the company. There is also a long-term challenge to analyze developments and effects due to the increasing heterogeneity of the workforce and to respond to that. Therefore, the subject of cultural diversity management gains in importance (Bissels, Sackmann & Bissels, 2001).

There are challenges, but companies– if they do it the right way- benefit from many advantages. The advantages of a targeted cultural diversity management are, for example, job satisfaction on the individual level and a higher productivity on an organizational level (Cox, 1995, p. 7). Despite the positive characteristics and the increasing popularity of the subject “inequality and discrimination still widely exist” (Shen, Chanda, D'net, & Monga, 2009, p.235). There is still room for discussions about implementation and strategies to handle cultural diversity and leadership plays a crucial role in that context (Cox, 2001, p.31). According to Richardson (2005) the effective management of culturally diverse workforces should be a long-term key priority of organizations, not because they become kinder but because their survival depends on it.

Research objective

The initial illustration shows the growing importance of coping with cultural diversity for companies. This work intends to illustrate the challenge for the area of leadership and to critically consider and evaluate the proposals in the literature from a long-term perspective. To achieve this goal, the first part of the work summarizes the current state of research on the subject and outlines the main theoretical approaches and their recommended adjustment for a culturally diverse context. In the second part, the different leadership approaches are critically evaluated concerning their standards and the practical implementation process. Additionally, the characteristics and qualities which are required of leaders are discussed.

To sum up, the objective of this work is to delineate the current state of research relating to cultural diversity, to define theoretical leadership approaches, their proposals for reframing and the requirements for leaders. In the second part both the reframing of leadership approaches and the requirements of leaders will be discussed, taking into account new theoretical findings and challenges. The specific research questions driving this study are therefore:

1) What adjustments of leadership framework does theory demand in order to address culturally diverse organizations?
2) What requirements are laid down for leaders in the context of growing cultural diversity?

Background and Context

“Diversity includes all differences that comprise the human experience and make up, i.e. race, gender, culture, ethnicity, physical and mental capacity, size, sexual orientation, religion, education, economic status” (Caines, 2003, p. 256). To classify the cultural component, the model of four layers of diversity of Phillips is suitable. The personality is the central core and influences the other layers. Internal dimensions cannot be influenced by individuals, like age and nationality. External dimensions can be the educational background and the experiences. The cultural background based on the socialization, experiences and rules (Moran, Abramson, & Moran, 2014). The different learning experiences, values and beliefs at different stages in life (Richardson, 2005) should be brought together to use them effectively and achieve organizational objectives. The fourth layer is the organizational dimension which includes the management status (Phillips, 2008). Managers should develop awareness about these layers to understand that differences among people can result in misunderstandings but can also increase the access to a pool of new abilities and ideas in an organizational context (Robbins & Judge, 2013, p.76). Diversity management is thereby defined as the utility and realization of the potentials behind diversity (Köppel, 2014). Daft (2011, p. 294) describes that the perspective on the subject has changed from a traditional model into an inclusive model. The traditional model only contains the dimensions that are observable and inborn, such as gender. The inclusive approach of diversity encompasses all the differences that can exist between people and may have an impact on the internal and external perception.

The increasing diversity of workforces has become one of the most critical challenges facing companies, that operate on the market (Chen & Van Velsor, 1996). In addition to the example of refugees as mentioned in the beginning there are other factors which lead to an increase of cultural diversity in the future: the growing internationalization result in multicultural companies with a high level of flexibility, the increasing expansion of technology dissolves geographical and thus cultural boundaries and the dismantling of hierarchies leads to a stronger mixing of the staff (Bissels, Sackmann &Bissels, 2001). But not only reactions to these phenomena are noticeable. Companies also want to promote diversity actively through specific programs, since the benefits are communicated widely. Nevertheless, there are still cases of discrimination and growing challenges which require personnel management actions (Scheier, Schramm & Jarren, 2015). The importance of diversity management has grown almost continuously in recent years (Pauly, 2016). Beyond the management leadership plays an important role in this context (Cox & Blake, 1991; Cox, 2001, p.31), because leadership can be found at every organizational level and a leader sets the organization in motion (Adler, 1999 in Connerley & Pedersen, 2005, p.13).

Adjustments of Theoretical Leadership Frameworks

In this changing world, one key factor for social progress and successful operations is the ability of a company to manage a diverse community (Richardson, 2005). The research of the last years brings together approaches from different perspectives. The interactional model of Taylor Cox (1994) is a still often-quoted model to implement cultural diversity management. It distinguishes between individual level factors, group factors and organizational factors and describes the structural and informal integration of a diversity climate on all levels. According to Thomas and Ely (1998) two paradigms to integrate a diversity climate exist: the assimilation paradigm and the differentiation paradigm. The assimilation paradigm claims that employees of an organization are all the same and should be encouraged to uniform behavior weather the differentiation paradigm emphasizes the differences. To blur the borders a combination results in the integration paradigm, which promotes “equal opportunity and valuing cultural differences” (Thomas & Ely, 1998, p.2). To generate a culturally diverse workforce where all contributions are valued the management has the task to support discussions, eliminate dominance, ensure organizational trust and communicate commitment to diversity (ibid.). The multicultural diversity approach underlines the perspective by claiming that differences should be associated with social identities labeled with high values (Plaut, Garnett, Buffardi, & Sanchez-Burks, 2011). All different characteristics of employees should be integrated in a harmonious whole. The colorblind model (Rosenthal & Levy, 2010) goes further and requires that differences of people should actively disregarded in all processes. People should be blind means that they should avoid the tendency to categorize people into a specific group, e.g. racial or ethnic.

The current management approach to the issue of cultural diversity originates from Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez-Burks (2008). The authors claim that the focus of minority groups in the multicultural approach and colorblind model don’t reach the whole organization. An adjustment is important because of the changing world, where “minority groups becom[e] the numerical and economic majority in organizations” (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez-Burks, 2008, p. 116). Therefore, they develop the all-inclusive approach which considers the cultural group of the majority in equal parts as minority groups, e.g. by the defining of the corporate philosophy. Jansen, Otten and van der Zee (2015) examined that the explicit inclusion of the majority leads to higher expected inclusion for prospective and current members.

Already in 1998, it was demanded that companies should stop try to manage diversity and begin to lead diverse workforces (Hopkins & Hopkins, 1998). While managers have the formal authority to reward or sanction employees, leadership can influence people beyond a formal authorization. Nevertheless, it is discussed that traditional leadership theories have to be reframed in order to reach culturally diverse organizations (Chin & Sanchez-Hucles, 2007; Chin & Trimble, 2014). Traditional leadership frameworks were developed to reach the majority of the workforce, which implies that the employees have quite similar experiences and values (Butler, 1993). In the context of growing cultural diversity where diverse experiences and social backgrounds exist it is required to adjust approaches in order to achieve the same goals - higher motivation and performance (Hopkins & Hopkins, 1998). Chin (2010) added that the current approaches of leadership which derive from traditional paradigms can foster inequality, social injustice and barriers towards inclusiveness.

Chen and Veslor (1996) examine leadership approaches which are most suitable for the area of diversity leadership and can build a theoretical basis. The attributional leadership theory describes how leader and follower use information in order to make causal explanations for human behavior. These evaluation process provides biases and errors, which may result from cultural differences. The research of leadership prototypes provides the possibility to detect underlying cultural differences due to diversity and translate them into leadership differences, but therefore researchers have to build new indigenous prototypes of a given culture away from the dominant conceptions. The leader-member-exchange model (LMX) is a relationship-based approach that focuses on the two-way relation between leaders and their followers, called dyadic. Leaders develop an exchange with each of their members, which influences the members’ performance level (Chen & Van Velsor, 1996). The LMX contributes that the increasing diverse relationships between leader-member and member-member create the need to focus the dyadic dynamics in order to understand the interactions. Additionally, the relationship is built on a reciprocal perspective of trust and obligation, not unilateral as the focus of traditional models (Chen & Van Velsor, 1996; Scandura & Lankau, 1996). The behavioral complexity model emphasizes the set of leadership skills which shows the high complexity of leadership behavior. Hooijberg (1995) completes the model by adding cognitive components. On basis of this theoretical framework Chen and Van Velsor (1996) develop a model of diversity competency and leadership effectiveness. In contrast to the other frameworks it considers the different roles of social identities and requires motivational, behavioral and cognitive competencies. The building of relationships is taken over from the LMX model. According to the model, relationships are affected by diversity competency and on the other hand affect leadership effectiveness independently or as a mediator.

According to Chin & Trimble (2014) the traditional trait theory which identifies specific personality traits that describe a leader, can also be adjusted for diversity leadership. The trait theory has the disadvantage to be biased against groups with less access to leadership roles and therefore a shift is necessary to a “leader identity intersecting with dimensions of social identities” (Chin, Desormeaux and Sawyer, 2016, p. 52). The situational theory focuses on the different application of directive or supportive dimensions according to situational factors. To reframe this theory Chin and Trimble (2014) recommend that the adaptability and flexibility of leaders in different cultural contexts should be emphasized. Concerning the LMX model Chin and Trimble (2014) add the expansion to a diverse leader member organizational exchange paradigm (DLMOX) which explicitly includes all diverse leaders and members who act in the context of their experiences. The transformational leadership includes charisma as a central trait for leaders. The approach excludes non-western perspectives and favors western and masculinized perceptions. Therefore, an expansion of perceptions should be aimed to include all cultural perspectives (Chin & Trimble, 2014).

A recent study carried out by Gotsis and Grimani (2016) again considers different traditional leadership theories and as Chen and Van Velsor (1996) they provide evidences which leadership theories are suitable in the context of growing cultural diversity. They give further evidence that LMX and transformational leadership have a decisive meaning but they also add the shared and team leadership as a useful theoretical foundation that can foster cultural diversity. Shared leadership emphasizes group quality over individual quality. The benefits are that the distribution of responsibility and roles depends on sharing valued resources in a reciprocal process. According to the authors, the perspective can be easily adopted for leading diverse teams and subsequent studies show positive effects for team performance and decrease of stereotyping. To meet the needs of a cultural diverse team also team leadership is appropriate. Studies elaborate that the development of diverse mindsets can be influenced by team leadership to generate a common understanding of diversity as a resource and forwarded reflexivity processes (Gotsis & Grimani, 2016). The authors further investigate four alternative frameworks that emphasize more humane considerations. They posit that ethical, altruistic, servant and spiritual leadership have an inclusive nature . Ethical leadership reinforces equitable treatment and reduces all forms of overt and covert discrimination while altruistic leadership emphasizes the balanced processing and internalized moral perspective. Servant leadership provides cues with respect to interpersonal acceptance and valuing other social identities. A vision that calls and fosters various cultures is reinforced through a spiritual leadership.


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Long-Term Requirements for Leadership in the Context of Increased Diversity. Is There a New Importance to Face Cultural Diversity?
Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences  (Kommunikation und Umwelt)
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Cultural Diversity, Diversity Approaches, Leadership, Diversity Leaders
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B. Sc. Lea Pauly (Author), 2016, Long-Term Requirements for Leadership in the Context of Increased Diversity. Is There a New Importance to Face Cultural Diversity?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/336375


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