Leadership in a global perspective

Leadership culture differs considerably between countries and continents. It is very interesting to study this.

I have seen in the statistics from my LinkedIn and blog articles about leadership that I had readers from just about all continents (except Antarctica of course ;). I am very curious how people and organizations look at leadership over the world. For example, what are the strengths and what are the weaknesses? It differs significantly depending on the country and culture.

I live in Sweden and work with warehouse production, I have also worked three months in Denmark responsible for a optimization project regarding the Danish warehouse production. In my work, I focus a lot on leadership in the organization. In warehousing, it is one of the most important issues regarding productivity and quality. In Sweden, it is common to work in flat organizations. It is common to be able to discuss and debate between the ruling hierarchy levels in a company without it becoming a problem. However, the leadership differs substantially even compared with neighboring countries like Norway and Finland. Finland for example has a much more hierarchical structure.

In Sweden, an employee can question the accuracy of a directive or decision on an operation against the immediate supervisor if he considers that it is a more effective or safer way to perform an operation. If the manager determines that the employee is entitled and the employee’s proposal benefits the company, the manager usually is humble and unpretentious and give the employee the right. In this way, you ensures the quality of the procedures in an operation. It also gives the employees influence and encourage innovation, also provides increased job satisfaction and loyalty.

A word I deliberately have chosen to avoid in my articles because I understand that it has a negative connotation in many languages and cultures, particularly when mentioned in the same breath as leadership is humility. It is enough to just look at the English language, if you look at the word humility in an English dictionary, it can, for example, read: “low in rank” or “to lower the status,” it does not sound particularly positive. I know that humility can be positive in the English as well, but usually negative aspects comes in mind first, especially in connection with leadership.

If you look in a Swedish dictionary, humility is often described: “Balanced self-concept and is aware of its limitations” it is positive qualities and especially if you are a leader. It has nothing to do with weakness in personality.

For me humility is something positive. A humble leader is a strong leader who can better absorb new knowledge from both subordinates and superiors. It is easier for a humble leader to take feedback both from above and below in an organization. Are you humble as a leader, you are aware that you will never be complete, you must constantly be receptive to new knowledge. If the leaders of a company cannot develop their competence, how should a company keep up with the level of competition?

Leaders who are humble toward their subordinates and can admit their mistakes gives a much greater confidence than leaders who pretend to be infallible and complaining of deficiencies of others continuously. A humble leader develops a much more loyal staff who dares to think for themselves, take risks in a positive way, and be innovative. It will be a very different advantage on the company’s development and efficiency, the employees do not go and just waiting for the authoritarian leader’s orders all the time and are afraid to make mistakes. Employees think for themselves and take initiative that benefits the company.

I would argue that humility is essential for you to become a great leader and be able to get full value out of your workforce. Obviously, workers trying to push the policies and rules will test you occasionally, and equally obvious you need to act forcefully against such behavior. You must act firmly and consistently when rules and policies are broken but it increases trust in you even more of the staff if you can simultaneously be a humble leader when the staff live up to your expectations. In daily conversations with the staff, you should act humbly and truly listen in your interpersonal relations. There are always things to learn no matter whom you talk to.

If you are humble, people are also more willing to listen to you. Just see for yourself, sure you listen more actively on a person showing mutual respect? This of course applies if you are the leader and talk with a subordinate.

In the accelerating globalization, it is even more important with humility in leadership. It is not unusual today with senior and middle managers seeking jobs abroad and move to other parts of the world. If you are going to win employees respect, you should show humility towards the culture and those values prevailing in the actual country. You must show a genuine interest and a desire to learn about their particular country and culture. Otherwise, I can promise you that it will be problematic.

I am curious what you who reads this article are thinking and your opinion in this matter. Can you follow my reasoning regarding humility? Do you agree with me that humility is something positive and essential if you want to develop as a person and leader, and if you want to win people’s trustfully.

Can you see humility as a strength, something that is also positive in leadership or is it a weakness and a sign that you are spineless. Personally, I am sure it takes a strong person with self-esteem and high self-awareness to be humble. Leaders who dare to be humble are those who win them employees’ confidence and thus raise companies to a new level.

If you want to read more about humble leadership I recommend this article from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2014/05/the-best-leaders-are-humble-leaders

I have read many books about leadership, but the one who influenced me most is: “Radical Collaboration” written by James W Tamm and Ronald J Luyet (2005). Unlike many other books about leadership, the book is based upon evidence from science and research. If you going to successfully implement radical collaboration in your organization, you need to be a humble leader. Read the book and you will understand.

I would be very grateful if you share this article and provide feedback. As I wrote earlier in this article, I am curious how you look at humility in leadership around the world.

Roberth Karlsson

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