National Culture-The oversimplification of the American leadership culture

This is an interesting chapter, and I can see why Professor Northouse saved it for last. In addition to being a large and diverse topic, it addresses a far ranging and disparate field. “For our purposes, culture is defined as the learned beliefs, values, rules, norms, symbols, and traditions that are common to a group of people. It is these shared qualities of a group that make them unique. Culture is dynamic and transmitted to others.” We will return to this point in a bit.

A valuable trait that I hope you have acquired and honed while in college would be critical thinking skills. Being able to read something and understanding it to the point where you can analyze its veracity, accuracy, and applicability. “…Trompenaars (1994) surveyed more than 15,000 people in 47 different countries and determined that organizational cultures could be classified…” Is “organizational culture” what this chapter is all about? Or is the chapter more about national culture? Are those two constructs the same thing?

The chapter spends a considerable time and ink on the GLOBE study. “…and to make meaningful generalizations about culture and leadership.” Before we assess the extent to which we can indeed make “meaningful generalizations” from the study, I’d like to take a look at Figure 16.1 from the “GLOBE Study of 62 Societies”—are there 62 countries in Figure 16.1 or am I missing something?

It’s a big study; maybe they dropped a few countries out for expediency. Nevertheless, does that study make sense to you? Can we “lump” all Canadians leaders into one category successfully? Can we do that for Americans? Can we say that American leaders are like this or like that? I would refer you to Colin Woodward’s (2011) book, American Nations, A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. He builds a convincing argument from studying American voting patterns, demographics, and public opinion polls going back to the days of the first settlers, and expresses the opinion that his research reveals that America is really made up of eleven different “nations.”

Question #1:

Do we benefit from the stereotypical view of “this country falls into this cluster on Figure 16-1” or is that such a gross over-simplification as to be of a disservice to us as leaders?

It is unfortunate that Professor Northouse doesn’t spend more time on Lord and Maher’s (1991) implicit leadership theory. From the standpoint of understanding leadership and national culture it is important and revealing. In essence, it postulates that “if the followers believe that you are a leader, then you are in fact a leader.” It continues to explore different cultures and their interpretations of what a leader is. In 2005, Yan and Hunt published a study “A Cross Cultural Perspective on Perceived Leadership Effectiveness. In it they explore Inference-based perception and Recognition-based perception. Inference-based perception emphasizes the functional aspects of leadership. In order to be perceived as effective, leaders rely on good organizational performance. In other words, “The proof is in the pudding” and “Nothing succeeds like success.” While Recognition-based perception involves the use of pre-existing knowledge about leadership in a particular context. In other words, if the leader “fits” the preconceived prototypical leadership image in the minds of the followers, then they are, by definition, a leader. It comes down to a simple “If-Then” statement. “If a good leader does ‘X’, and our leader does ‘X’, then our leader is a good leader.” Very similar to attribution theory and the Fundamental Attribution Bias, that hopefully you committed to memory in Principles of Management and/or Organizational Behavior.

Question #2:

What if implicit leadership theory and attribution theory are right? What does that mean for our understanding of leadership? If followers merely say that you are a leader, does that truly make you a leader?

Table 16.2 “Universally Desirable Leadership Attributes” and Table 16.3 “Universally Undesirable Leadership Attributes” are provided. Essentially, the book opens with trait theories in chapter two, and closes with more traits in chapter 16.

Question #3:

Is trait theory the most meaningful leadership theory to you? What theory of leadership do you see yourself using once you graduate and become a manager/leader? (Recognizing and giving credit to those of you who are managers and leaders right now—what leadership theory/style do you currently use? Do you intend to make a change, now that you have had the class?)

Now, back to our opening… “For our purposes, culture is defined as the learned beliefs, values, rules, norms, symbols, and traditions that are common to a group of people. It is these sharedqualities of a group that make them unique. Culture is dynamic and transmitted to others.” To me, the most important phrase in all of that is “Culture is dynamic.” Indeed it is, and for reasons that are perhaps best stated by Byron Reese in his 2013 book “Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger and War.” I will offer only a few cites from that work—page 24: “Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously asserted in 2010 that we create more content every two days than in the history of civilization up to 2003.” Yes, I admit that some (a good bit?) of that is meaningless sophomoric drivel, but yet, it does inevitably contribute to our “shared qualities of a group that make them unique…” and therefore it contributes to our culture. “In 2006, roughly a billion people had access to the Internet. As of the end of 2012, the Internet has more than two billion users. By 2020, it is estimated that five billion people will be online, representing two-thirds the population of the planet. Every other metric is still climbing: data throughput, mobile phone usage, messages sent, websites created, amount of information online, data transfer speed, and CPU speed. Nothing is slowing down. So whatever trends we have observed so far are only getting started. The Internet is still in its adolescence. It is only really about twenty years old. If it were a person, it still couldn’t order a beer to toast itself for all it has done in such a short time.”

Earlier, Professor Northouse stated that “Culture is dynamic.” The Internet’s effect on culture is only now beginning to be understood.

Question #4:

In the Internet Age, is “national culture” even a meaningful construct any longer? What should we concentrate on, instead?


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