The world has indeed gotten smaller, and with that has come changes in leadership. Many corporations have gone multinational, both marketing their products and outsourcing labor overseas. This means that leaders are increasingly having to learn to navigate different cultural leadership norms.
Many leaders learn to lead steeped in the values of their home country. They then come to the conclusion that their own country’s method of leadership is the most effective way to run a company or department. These leaders struggle abroad when they discover that different cultures respond differently to different forms of leadership. If they are unable to adopt their style to the needs of their workers, they will not be effective in their position.
Many differences in leadership come down to how a culture views hierarchy within a company. Some cultures value charismatic, autocratic leaders. They trust one capable person to make the best decisions for the company, uncomplicated by too many conflicting viewpoints. Others value democratic leadership that is open to ideas from ground-floor level employees.
Both theories of leadership work, but only because there is an understanding between leaders and their employees that uphold a particular leadership style. If employees expect their leaders to be decisive and autocratic, they will lose faith in a leader that is constantly asking for input. If they expect a leader to be accessible to lower-level employees and open to feedback, they will become frustrated with one who does not live up to that expectation.
For example, in France and Spain, employees like autocratic leaders who motivate their workers through charisma and a clear vision. Top execs may consult with others on big decisions, but the final choice is theirs, and they expect it to be final. This fascination with charismatic, powerful leaders can be seen in history and folk heroes like Napoleon.
On the other hand, in Japan, many suggestions within a company come from the bottom level and are then brought up through the rungs to upper management. The top executives then decide which suggestions to ratify, based on popularity and projected success. Swedish companies put an even heavier emphasis on democracy. Leaders are easily accessible, and important choices are discussed by all before a final decision is made.
In the middle of the road are countries like Germany, which value a clear hierarchy much like the ones seen in France or Spain, but also have routes for feedback to come from lower-level employees to top-level leadership.
Leaders who operate internationally need to have a good understanding of their personal leadership styles, and the ability to flex that style to fit the situation. Leaders new to international leadership often benefit from trainers or advisors in their new country or countries. With practice, truly international leaders can learn to gauge the needs of their workers and adjust their style naturally.