The confluence of leadership and cultural diversity is a subject neglected in academic production, but has been receiving more attention recently, providing organizations with powerful insights.
Historically, most of the studies on leadership have been produced in the United States, a country known an individualistic culture, where the majority of the leaders are represented by men. In this scenario, it is no surprise that the description of a leader includes sufficient adjectives that reflect this culture, such as “ambitious, focused, self-sufficient, influential, competent, capable of taking decisions, competitive, full of energy, assertive” and so on.
But are these characteristics of a leader enough, relevant or even coherent given the workforce diversity that characterizes the current job market? Do they meet the challenge of multidisciplinary and multicultural global team leadership that prevails nowadays in large corporations? Are the studies carried out over recent decades still valid nowadays?
Some classical and widely accepted theories are falling apart in this scenario, starting by agreeing what leadership is. While early definitions of the concept emphasized command, power and control in the leader-subordinate relationship, more contemporary definitions focus on the dynamics between leaders and groups.
In addition, new leadership styles have appeared, since representatives of other groups have been occupying management positions. Not always reflecting the traditional stereotypes, these new executives have shown efficiency. Studies have confirmed that women, for example, tend to be more democratic and participative, more effective in transforming leadership and tend to exert influence more frequently by rewarding rather than punishing, in comparison to male leaders. Black leaders tend to be more worried about integrity and justice, while leaders of Asian descent tend to have a more collectivist approach and strive for a more harmonious work environment.
In short, traditional studies on the traits and behaviors of leaders is limiting and limited and does not address the challenges of mobilizing culturally diverse groups. Global leaders will need new paradigms of management practices, as well as redefining organizational culture.
Chin, J. L. Introduction to the Special Issue on Diversity and Leadership. American Psychologist, v. 65, n. 3, P. 150-156, 2010.
Alessandra H. V. Miyazaki, MSc
Senior associate at BMI Blue Management Institute.