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The impact of cultures on leadership

The impact of cultures on leadership

Leadership means to guide, inspire, and motivate individuals and groups, to create a common goal and culture, a positive atmosphere empowering the individual, sustaining the common goal, and performing in the best possible way. It involves setting a vision and making strategic decisions.

Different cultures usually refer to distinctive lifestyles, traditions, and values shared by groups of people in various regions or societies around the world. Cultures are shaped by numerous factors including history, geography, religion, language, and social norms, and let us include also biological and psychological factors. Think of females in leadership and the topic of neurodivergent people. Each culture has its own unique way of interpreting the world, which influences behaviour, perceptions, communications, and interpretation.

Some examples of major cultural groupings, often part of cross-cultural studies are:

  1. Western Culture

Associated with countries in North America and Western Europe. This culture is characterized by a strong emphasis on individualism, innovation, and a separation of state and church. These societies value personal freedom, democratic processes, and scientific rationalism.

  1. Eastern Culture

Societies in East Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea for example. These cultures are known for their collectivist orientation, valuing the group over the individual, and have a deep respect for authority and tradition. Confucianism plays a significant role in shaping societal norms, emphasizing harmony, respect for hierarchy, and the importance of education.

  1. Latin American Culture

Encompasses the countries of Central and South America with a vibrant mix of indigenous, African, and European influences. These societies are mostly influenced by strong family values, warmth in interpersonal relationships, and a collective approach to community life. Religion, particularly Roman Catholicism through colonialisation and missionary work, often plays a significant role in cultural practices and daily life.

  1. Middle Eastern Culture

Refers to Arab countries, Turkey, Iran, and Israel, among others, where in many Islam is a significant cultural force shaping daily life, laws, and interpersonal dynamics whereas in Israel nearly 74 % of the population is Jewish. These cultures emphasize community, respect for authority, and the importance of religion in guiding moral and ethical behaviour.

  1. African Culture

Africa is incredibly diverse, with many ethic groups and languages. Common cultural traits include strong community bonds, oral storytelling traditions, respect for elders, and vibrant artistic expressions. Some of the societies are deeply spiritual, with either traditional African religions or major world religions.

  1. South Asian Culture

Includes countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Known for their rich traditions, religious diversity (Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism), and emphasis on family and community. Social hierarchy, such as the caste system in India, can also have a significant influence.

  1. Southeast Asian Culture

Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, each with its own traditions but sharing common values such as respect for elders, community cohesion, and a blend of indigenous and colonial influences in their cultural practices.


The above described are general factors, often prevailing in these cultures, forming a broad framework to help understand global diversity. There are several sub-cultures and ethnic groups within these cultures. The description does show different approaches in our globalized world.

In former articles we discussed female leadership traits (read more here) and the contribution of neurodivergent employees (read more here) to “out of the box thinking” and “innovation,” in the tradition of a “design thinking approach.” These may be different cultures, determined by gender and physical and neurological factors. Culture in this context means the belonging to a group.


How do different cultures influence leadership, behaviour and the company culture?

According to an article in Manager Magazine of February 16th, 2024, the introduction of the Chinese e cars as Nio, Great Wall and BYD is not too satisfying so far because the management style and customer service of Chinese leaders and employees in Germany do not match the German style and requirements of both, clients, and employees. Local employees “escape” describing a difficult atmosphere in the workplace. May this be the prevalence of hierarchy in respect to equality?

A managing director of BCG describes in an article beginning of April the three important components of making career steps: 10% competence, 30% image, 60% visibility.

The author claims in the article that visible positioning of female managers and leaders is as crucial to enter leadership positions as it is neglected so far. “Do good and talk about it” (Georg-Volkmar Graf von Zedwitz-Arnim) does not seem to be a female habit and part of a “female culture”.


Culture, besides individual and personality traits as well as education, significantly influences leadership.

Different cultures prioritize different values, such as individualism versus collectivism, long-term planning versus short-term gains, high power distance versus low power distance. These values influence what behaviours are seen as appropriate for leaders. In individualistic cultures, leaders might be expected to be more assertive and independent, while in collectivist cultures, leadership might emphasize consensus and group harmony.

Communication styles are influenced by a culture. High-context cultures (e.g. Japan, Arab countries) rely on non-verbal cues and the context of a message, expecting others to read between the lines. Low-context cultures (USA, Germany) prefer direct and clear communication. Indeed, even written communication in business letters, deals or just job applications, vary enormously for example between Italy and Germany, within Europe. Leaders from different cultural backgrounds need to adjust to a common and accepted way of communication, a style effective across cultures.

In some countries leaders are expected to making decisions autocratically, while in others, participative decision-making is the norm. Scandinavian countries often favour a more democratic and inclusive decision-making style, while in more hierarchical cultures, such as in many Asian countries, decisions might be expected to come from the top.

The approach to conflict, how conflict is managed and how it is perceived, may vary according to the culture. Some cultures see conflict as a positive and necessary element for effective functioning, encouraging open confrontation and debate (read more here). Others may see conflict as something to be avoided, preferring indirect methods of addressing issues.

Motivation techniques, what motivates people may vary based on the culture and thus affects how leaders encourage their teams. In societies where harmony is valued, public recognition might be less effective than in cultures where individual achievement is celebrated.


All the described differences may also be individual and personal differences, not only based on a common culture, but intrinsically grown or created. And all of them bear endless possibilities of effective and empowering management of individuals, teams, and companies.

It is most important to recognize the proper approach and style and the one of the counterparts, may it be an individual or a company on the other side of the world. Awareness is the base of functioning communication, collaboration and of reaching goals, may they be common, different, or even individual. Coming back to the examples above, a skilled, competent women aspiring a c-suite role in a company managed mainly by men (See Porsche for example) needs to become visible, understatement does not apply, at least for another couple of years. The Chinese e-car company managers need to understand that a hierarchical leadership style and a little service orientated customer care will not work in Germany.

However, we strongly believe that all cultures have positive aspects and that we all can learn from each other. We embrace diversity, analyse the different approaches and styles of leadership, and implement mutual understanding and learning. Culturally aware leaders in multinational organizations can adapt their styles to suit the cultural context.

We analyse and take into account cultural aspects in the widest range of the definition in our Talent Consulting which gives us access to an immense pool of international clients and talents. We empower leaders to perform with success.

Written by Gabriele Kamps, PR & Communications Manager at Morgan Philips.


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