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The Impact of National Culture and Gender on Organisational Leadership Development

Info: 12010 words (48 pages) Dissertation
Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Cultural StudiesLeadership


In the past years, globalisation has brought rapid changes to organisations, and due to the differences among countries, organisational leadership in the global context becomes increasingly complicated (Maria and Arenas, 2009 & Sheppard et al., 2013). Yet convergence is not a necessary outcome of globalisation, multinational organisations actually have been responding to the standardization tensions by leading through local adaptations (Edwards & Rees, 2010).

In view of the complexity of current business environment, scholars challenge the gender and culture neutral approaches of studying leadership development (Acker, 1990 ; Broadbridge & Simpson, 2011; Kark, 2004). Although some reseaches such as Bass (1990) and GLOBE project assert that certain leadership qualities, for instance, supportiveness, agreeableness and conscientiousness, may be universally effective attributes across all cultures (Dickson et al., 2003). As a result, many organisations implement the same leadership development programs that stress a few universal successful leadership traits to both female and male leaders. Yet Steers et al (2012) case doubt about such approach as neglecting countries difference and the organisational challenges women face would disadvantage the development effectiveness. Blackmore (2010) also argues that gender and culture are needed to be taken into consideration when it comes to leadership development because globalisation and culture have impact on women, institutions and leadership at both macro and organisational level.  In brief, an inclusive approach for leadership theory development and research is critical as gender and culture are important elements for a better understanding about the diversity issues (Ayman & Korabik, 2010; Chin, 2010).

While acknowledging Ayman and Korabik’s (2010) emphasis about the importance of culture and gender regarding leadership, it is also important to understand the impact of culture and gender on leadership development through the lens of leader self identity (Day & Antonakis, 2012). In the context of leadership development, the development of observable skills and competence development of leaders are argued to be supported by deeper level of process related to mental schemes and structures (Day et al., 2009).  It is argued that leader identity development is crucial for constructing positive spirals of self identity and in turn impacting leader development positively (ibid). This paper aims to examine the impact of national culture and gender on leadership development with extended exploration of identity theory for a comprehensive understanding of the topic. Three key research questions are to be addressed: First, do culture and gender effect individual’s leadership identity? Second, how do culture and gender impact the process of western leadership development in non-western context? Third, what are the obstacles to and possible strategies for women engaging in leadership in organisations?


The Leadership Development Process and Leader Identity

As defined by Day (2001), leader development focuses on the fostering of individual-based human capital; leadership development, on the other hand, is managed at a more collective level to address the social capital of teams and organisations. Leader and leadership development are not mutually exclusive. Excluding one of them may lead to incomplete development, and put teams and organisations at risk by being vulnerable to complex leadership challenges (Day & Harrison, 2007).

Leadership development as a process plays an important role in contributing to the leadership effectiveness. The entire development is not merely a bundle of interventions and practices, when it is down to individual leader level, it is also an ongoing process of self development (Day et al., 2014). In the context of identity theory, Ibarra et al (2010) assert that the leader identity development is a core part of leaders’ self-concepts. They argue that meanings of one’s identity attached to oneself are granted by self and others, and these meanings are dependent on personal identities and social identities. In other words, definition of one’s identities is defined by the social roles they hold and personal attributes they show. In the context of the professional identity of leaders, Schein (1978) suggests that professional identity is a combination of both personal and social identities, and as a relatively stable construct of how people define themselves in such role, such identities are granted via social interactions and evolve over time.

In the light of self-concept, the congruence between leader role and identity is crucial for leadership development as individuals desire to be seen as leaders by others and by themselves when they enact leadership positions (Guillén et al., 2015). In particular, if the gap between self image and individuals’ perception about their leadership role is small, they may have a more positive perception of themselves as leaders and arguably help to increase their intrinsic motivation about taking a leadership role (Chan & Drasgow, 2001; ibid). In addition, with reference to Schien (1978)’s argument that professional identity is claimed through social interactions, leadership as a complex construct is embedded in the social interaction and social network in organisations, during the process of leadership development, both leaders themselves and their followers are impacted. Resources such as power and network embedded in the social network in organisations are crucial for leadership development.  In other words, multiple players including leaders, followers and peers are involved in the process of leadership development, a multilevel study which covers perspectives and feedback from both sides is necessary for a comprehensive study of this subject (Day et al., 2014)

Although it is a complex set of human development process, many of leadership development researches treat this subject as a mere collection of best practice with lack of attention to the leaders’ experience and ego development  (Day, 2012).  From the leaders’ development outcome perspective, this development process is also important in terms of facilitating leaders’ experience building and career development progress (Biemann, et al., 2015). Leaders gain more experience through the leadership development process via different interventions such as 360-degree feedback, mentoring, coaching, on-the-job development, and the importance of these experience is to enhance their self-efficacy as taking a leadership role. Self-efficacy is argued to facilitate the identity sharping process of leaders, with less incongruence between the leader role and identity, higher motivation to lead may also be resulted.

Taking all these perspectives into consideration, it is pivotal to take leaders’ identity processes and motivation into account during leadership development, and as leadership involves multiple players, integrating the feedback from followers and peers also facilitate the development of the leaders (Ibarra et al., 2010).

Gender and Leadership Development

Trinidad & Normore (2005) remark that gender matter is more than biological differences; it is actually about the culturally distinctive attributes of men and women. Chao & Tian (2011: 65) put forward that blanks in researches and theory development may be resulted if gender is ignored in leadership development study. Scholars argue that leadership is a gendered topic and significant differences between male and female leaders are identified (Chao, 2011; Eagly, 2007; Eagly et al., 2003; Morgan, 2006). This phenomenon is actually attributed to the fact that gender roles are situationally embedded in organisations. The associations between femininity and relationship-oriented leading style and masculinity and task orientation behaviours are common found in organisations (Andersen & Hansson, 2011). Eagly et al. (2003) asset in their meta-analysis study that there is a tendency of female leaders showing reward-contingency behaviours when comparing to their male counterparts. Morgan (2006) and Chao & Ha (2008) also find in their studies that male leaders and prefer logical and linear model of leadership as productivity is often of their key focus, and organisations that adopt feminine value framework tend to value empathetic, intuitive and organic types of attributes.

Gender as a barrier to leadership

Despite the fact the number of women managers has been increasing globally, slow progressing rate is found in different studies, the phenomenon of continuous female underrepresentation in leadership still happens in organisations (Day & Antonakis, 2012; Schein, 2007).  According to the recent survey results, gender inequality clues are still reported in the light of leadership positions occupancy and pay. For instance, Catalyst (2014) identifies a stagnant trend of female representation in leadership roles and women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are only accounted for 14.6% of the overall population. A National Management Salary Survey also reports that salary of female managers in U.K. is 22% less than their male colleagues (CMI, 2015). Similar result is also found in China that only 5-10% of board positions are held by Chinese women (ILO, 2015).

Drawing on these gender inequality information, Eagly and Carli (2003) argue that gender can be female leaders’ barrier, they assert that incongruity between expectations about female gender roles and leader roles causes prejudice against women leaders. Varying degrees of barriers to women in management are still found in organisations, and gender stereotyping is in particular obvious at senior executive level. One of the biggest obstacles faced by women leaders is the persistent bias of natural association between leadership and men (Schein, 2007). Female leaders suffer from the “think male – think manager” perception as it projects successful leaders’ characteristics as male attributes instead of women’s. Regardless of the evidence found in studies that women possess the optimum combination of leadership skills that drive positive results, unequal access to leadership development opportunities and widespread differential treatments are still found between men and women (Chao, 2011; Eagly et al., 2003; Eagly, 2007). Hoyt & Murphy (2016) warn that the gender stereotyping issues pose threat effects to the identity-safe environment and it may demotivate female leaders’ motivation to lead sue to their disadvantageous positions.

On top of organisation as an environmental factor, aspiration of women leaders is another pivotal supply-side factor that affects female leadership development result. According to Eagly’s role congruity theory (2002), women (men) need to fulfil the expectations to display stereotypical feminine (masculine) behaviours for pursuing the predominant feminine (masculine) organisational roles. If the female leaders fail to display the expected manner according to the role expectation, it is argued to lead to double binds and even prejudiced criticism from their superiors, such as lower performance appraisal results and differentiated standards comparing to their male counterparts (Jackson & Parry, 2011; Chin, 2011; Weinberg et al., 2015).   In order to deal with this disadvantageous situation, scholars recommend female leaders to lead with androgynous leadership style (Vinkenburg, van Engen, Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2011). This leadership style requires female leaders to display sufficiently feminine behaviours that are congruent with the expectations to the gender role, they are also expected to show the masculine attributes at the same time in order to gain credibility and build their image as professional leaders (Ayman & Korabik, 2010; Trinidad & Normore, 2005). Nonetheless, it is argued that these identity incongruent actions are against female leaders’ self identity in which it may lead to demotivation consequently (Vinkenburg, van Engen, Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2011). More, leader identity shaping takes place during the leadership development process, aim of the leader identity construction is to shape a coherent sense of self identity that can balance the expectations associated with social identities that are related to them, as a result, identity-congruent actions are a preferred option for the sake of self sense making aim (Cunliffe, 2014: 54; Oyserman, 2010). KarelaiaGuillénb (2014) and Oyserman, (2010) remark that identity conflict caused by identity incongruent actions may even decrease female leaders’ affective motivation to lead as these actions are not seen as meaningful not important. Hoyt & Murphy (2016) further assert that the gender stereotyped-based threat and identity conflict may lead to decline in performance that the impact can accumulate over time, female leaders’ engagement level and career aspirations may also be decreased consequently, and this can result in women quit professions early in their career before they progress to the top. As Day and Harrison (2007) remark, the individualised nature of leadership development is important because leaders’ growth paths are not identical; the role of self has a long term impact on continuous leadership development. Consistent with these views, Van Knippenberg (2012) suggest that a leader’s identity may be role related and may have a motivating influence on the leader’s behaviour. In brief, it is necessary to look into the development of a leader’s self-identity in the context of female leadership development (ibid).

Culture and leader identity

Hofstede and Minkov (2010:6) define culture as “the collective programming of human mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another”. In the light of leader identity, the perceptions about effective leader formed by people are impacted by culture, and the prototype of ideal leaders varies from culture to culture (Den Hartog & Dickson, 2010). As Van Knippenberg (2012) argues, identity is a perception about oneself and others that is embedded in group membership. In this sense, group membership is actually formed among leaders and followers in organisations, while leaders are also members of the teams they lead and leadership is a process exists in the context of group membership, taking the influence of culture into account, understanding of the relationship between culture and leader identity is crucial for leadership development research. Although certain leadership qualities, such as decisiveness, appear to be universally effective, culture plays an important role in moderating how leadership behaviours are displayed and received (Scandura & Dorfman, 2004). As Den Hartog and Dickson (2010:417) put forward, enactment of the impact of culture and leadership on individuals are executed in similar ways, and self-concept is seen as a key variable in the relationship between culture and leadership. In other words, leaders’ self-identity about leaders are critical in leadership development (Day & Harrison, 2007),  and as western-centric leadership theories have limited applicability in a global setting, culture’s moderating role in the context of female leadership should be considered (Takahashi, Ishikawa & Kanai, 2012).

Culture and leadership development

Scholars remark that environment of organisations are shaped by national culture which has potential impact of leadership development practices (Klenke, 2011; Nardon & Steers, 2014).  From a broad perspective, culture can be defined as a system of beliefs values and practices with deeply rooted path dependencies due to the fact that history of each culture is embedded within societies (Greener, 2002). In this sense, individuals’ beliefs and behaviours are actually formed according to the national culture, and people are enabled by their cultural background and sense making mechanism to deal with universal problems with divergent ways. In the past decades, different cultural models are developed to explain the cultural differences, and Hall’s (1976) high/low context system, Hofstede Model (1980), studies by Schwartz & Bilsky (1987), Trompenaars (1993), and GLOBE Model (House et al, 2004) are arguably the most frequently studied ones (Shi & Wang, 2011). Of all these theories, Hofstede’s culture theory is the most widely cited one in leadership and management research arena for the study of cultural phenomena (cited 1,800 times through 1999) (Kirkman et al, 2006). More than 100,000 employees in more than 40 countries are involved in his research; key contribution of his work is that it is the first theoretically guided basis for understanding cultural differences and cross-cultural leadership characteristics (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014).

Despite certain leadership qualities such as transformational leadership and decisive decision making are argued to be universally applicable across cultures, culture plays an important role in leadership development study because of it serves as a moderator of how the leadership behaviours are displayed and perceived (Scandura and Dorfman, 2004; Sheppard et al., 2013). In the context of study of western and non-western comparison of leadership, it is suggested to pay extra attention to the unconscious prejudice brought by the ‘superiority’ of western culture, it is crucial to integrate the perspectives of the oppression side with different historical and cultural background comparing to the west (Harding, 2004). For instance, the U.K. as a country with individualist culture defines leadership as a single individual who takes the lead and guide followers to achieve goals. Whereas in China, due to its collectivistic culture, leadership and group endeavours are closely associated with each other (Steers et al., 2012).  Furthermore, from a social identity construction viewpoint, followers in teams are also one of the co-producers of leadership, and their views about what means effective leadership has an important impact to the leadership effectiveness (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014; Van Knippenberg, 2012). In other words, leadership construction is seen as dependent on different cultural settings where different approaches are adopted based on people’s deep-seated cultural values and sense making mechanism (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014).

Cultural values and women’s leadership

Chao (2011) identified TFL as a female leadership style due to the emphasis of a leader’s intellectual inspiration and the individual consideration given to employees. While female leaders tend to display more transformational leadership behaviours, cultural leadership studies found varied preference of TFL or transactional leadership behaviours in different cultures. For example, Mittal (2015) argues that TFL is the most applicable to Chinese leadership situations and Deng Xiaoping is a great transformational leader example. Moreover, it is suggested that employee in collectivist culture have a tendency to subordinate their individual goals to group goals and have a stronger commitment to their organisations. Furthermore, leaders from collectivist cultures also emphasise the value of long-term relationship and in-group bonding (Chao, 2011; Hofstede et al., 2010). These values actually are congruent with the TFL’s focus on enhancing followers’ motivation and performance and emphasising collective goals. In addition, cultures with high masculinity such as China, Japan and Malaysia, it is found that there is a greater degree of sex-typing and masculinity is viewed as more leader-like than femininity (Toh & Leonardelli, 2012). Aligning with the aforementioned findings, it is reasonable to infer that culture has a moderator role in the context of female leadership, and western-centric leadership theories are only applicable in a global setting in a limited sense (Takahashi et al., 2012).

Future directions

From a critical viewpoint, the assumption of leadership universality provides an insufficient explanation. Leadership does not occur in a vacuum and it is not culture and gender neutral (Ayman & Korabik, 2010; Chin, 2011). Ayman & Korabik (2010:166) asserts that studies on gender and culture matter because they have impact on a “leader’s style, behaviour, emergence and effectiveness”. In view of the importance of culture and gender on the leadership experience, acknowledging intertwined contextual factors such as culture and gender are critical for enhancing understandings of leadership development (Day & Antonakis, 2012; Zagorsek et al., 2004).

It is argued that integration of gender and culture in the study of leadership is needed as studies remark that around 98% of leadership theories emerged from the United States with an ethnocentric bias (Ayman & Korabik, 2010). As leadership is highly contextual and relationship-based, Day and Harrison (2007) also stress the need for multilevel studies of leadership with inclusion of the inseparable micro (gender, identity and self-motivation) and macro factors (culture and institution). In brief, a holistic view of leadership development which considers gender and culture is necessary for future research.

This study builds upon existing studies of cross-cultural leadership and gender, and will contribute to this literature in two main ways. First, this research will provide a more inclusive view about the extent of applicability of western female leadership theory in a Chinese context. Bias in western leadership theories have long been discussed in previous years. As House & Aditya (1997) elaborate, “almost all of the prevailing theories of leadership and about 98% of empirical evidence at hand are distinctly American in character: individualistic rather than collectivistic, stressing follower responsibilities rather than rights, assuming hedonism rather than commitment to duty or altruistic motivation, assuming centrality of work and democratic value orientation and emphasizing assumptions of rationality rather than asceticism, religion, or superstition” (Zagorsek et al., 2004). Studies also remark that the preferred leadership qualities in UK are also found significantly similar to mainstream western (US) theory (Alimo-Metcalfe, 2010). As there is a strong bias and an ethnocentric viewpoint in the western leadership studies, it is necessary to understand how gender and culture influence the process of leadership construction in an international context.

Secondly, this study will investigate both the micro (gender, identity and self motivation) and macro influence (culture and institution) on leadership development in organisations. These factors cannot be seen in isolation from each other and are crucial to address the lack of gender diversity at higher organisational levels (Pryce & Sealy, 2013). Therefore, this research will generate practical insights for organisational policy makers about the question of ‘what is going on’. This shift of focus will build a more supportive and inclusive environment that can sustain women leaders’ career aspirations. Furthermore, it will facilitate the female leadership development processes and experience which are critical to the construction of leadership (Jackson & Parry, 2011).

In conclusion, this research will add value to the female leadership theories in terms of the applicability of western theories in a Chinese context. At a practical level, it will also contribute to a more robust leadership development process, which integrates both macro (cultural and institutional) and micro (individual) factors. The study is expected to lead to outputs in high quality leadership and management journals (i.e. Leadership Quarterly; Gender, Work and Organization).

In addition, gender inequalities are also embedded in social networks, which are often dominated by male interests and power (Donnelly, 2015; Kark & Eagly, 2010). Although studies revealed that having internal and external networks and mentors contribute to increased salary, promotions and career gain, women’s relative lack of access to such capital are found to have hindered their progress upward through organisational hierarchies (Ng, Eby, Sorensen & Feldman, 2005; Timberlake, 2005; Wolff & Moser, 2009). In brief, this old boy network mechanism is another obstacle impeding women’s integration and advancement in workplace, which leads to the glass ceiling issue (Kumra and Vinnicombe 2008).

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