Leadership in cross-cultural contexts (Part I)

Almost a year ago I have taken on my first formal leadership role as team lead. I have had experience from informal leadership roles (project leader, central function position) in cross-cultural contexts and some theoretical knowledge on cross-cultural management. Now I was curious about the concept of leadership in cross-cultural settings and enrolled in a university course on that topic. This is part one of a series of three (find post II here and post III here) posts describing my main learnings from the course.

Psychological Safety

The course was on advanced level, thus interpreting academic research articles related to cross-cultural leadership was one of the course objectives. In Amy Edmondson’s book „The fearless organization“ I found an interesting article relating to the question if psychological safety would apply across cultures.

My LinkedIn Post about Amy Edmondson’s book can be found here.

Interpreting and discussing academic research

In her book, Edmondson refers to psychological safety and culture, writing that „cultural differences in power distance does mean that the job of creating psychological safety is harder in some countries than in others.“ (Edmondson, 2019, p. 208) and knowing that she has enriched her work with a lot of references to original articles, I was eager to deep-dive into one of them for my course. The authors of the article I chose (Anicich, E., Swaab, R. and Galinsky, A. (2015). Hierarchical cultural values predict success and mortality in high-stakes teams. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(5), pp.1338-1343.) examined Himalaya expeditions and how success rates where connected to the cultural dimension of power distance / hierarchy. The found that the stronger the cultural dimension of hierarchy the more people reach the summit. But also: the higher the facility rates (= deaths) on the way. Cultural dimensions seem to be two-sided, where the functional perspective of hierarchy improves coordination and reduces conflict while the dysfunctional perspective reduces psychological safety and information sharing. In your daily work as a leader, this might imply that if you know you work with strong hierarchical cultures, you need to put emphasize on putting psychological safety and information sharing in place.

Below you find the presentation I used to present the article and facilitate a discussion among my peers. The article is available online here.

The value of academic research

It has been some time since I have had a look at an original academic paper, and it was refreshing to get back to the basics again. I believe that one motivational factor was that I had a book I could relate the research to as well as peers (and an examiner) who had read the article and were eager to discuss it critically. If you are looking for ideas how to get started with your academic research journey, I have written about my tips and tricks here and here.

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