Leadership Crossroads Newsletter

In Focus:
Great Leaders and Strange Bosses

Over the nearly twenty years of my corporate career, I had about fifteen supervisors. Sometimes there was only one boss; at other times, I was in matrix organizations, reporting to two or three different individuals. These bosses originated from several different countries: China, France, Germany, Iran, Taiwan, the United States, and, err, Texas, which according to some is an altogether different place.  ;-)

Who was the strangest of these individuals?  I’m not telling.  [After all, he may be reading this column!]

To be sure, I have always been, and still am, very grateful to all of these people for having taught me something of value. To me, learning from the examples of others is the surest way to develop oneself. At the same time, some of these bosses made my life harder than it needed to be, for which I am, well, let’s just say, less grateful.

What strikes me when reflecting on these individuals, however, is something else: how different their styles were and what that taught me about different interpretations of what constitutes a good leader.

Over the years, I had tough U.S.-American bosses and not-so-tough ones. One of the greatest leaders to whom I had the pleasure to report was a West Point (U.S. Military Academy) graduate. His style was as far as could be from any cliché that might come to mind here (well, at least to mine): rather than the military-style take-no-prisoners commander I expected, he was a friendly and sociable character with an unobtrusive, highly participatory leadership style. When needed, however, he knew when to stand his ground and remain firm in the face of adversity. As I compared his style to those of other U.S.­American bosses I had over the years, I noticed similarities, yet also aspects that set him apart. Where others pretended to let their subordinates in on their decision making, he was genuinely inviting; where others became tense when challenged, even combative, his reactions reflected an assertiveness that always left room for a genuine curiosity in discovering others’ view­points.

At other points during my career, I was lucky enough to work with/for a few more great leaders. And then, there were the more mediocre bosses: those whose self-importance dominated their actions, those who seemed disinterested in their own jobs and mine, and one who was outright psychotic. All of which simply reminded me that great leadership takes a certain set of qualities not everyone develops.

What I discovered in parallel were patterns of cultural bias. Across different nationalities, differences in leadership styles stood out that clearly went beyond individual preferences. “Participatory though not necessarily inclusive” was a common experience with most of my U.S. managers. In contrast, those from China, Iran, or Taiwan all showed notable authoritarian and somewhat paternalistic tendencies. Challenging my German bosses was far easier than doing so has ever been with any of my U.S. ones, which reflects a common characteristic of Germa­ny’s more egalitarian business culture. Calling the French exe­cutive to whom I reported for a while “inclusive” would be, well, pushing the truth a bit. In a rather aloof style, he kept to himself and shared information only sparingly, as is indeed common with managers in France.

While some were more adaptable than others, I think it fair to say that the original culture of everyone I ever reported to was apparent in the ways they presented themselves as leaders. What fascinated me was that the dividing line between the great and the not-so-great leaders had little or nothing to do with cultural orientations. Maybe the French executive was less inclusive, but this was offset by his decisiveness and positive attitude. Maybe to Western standards the Chinese was overly authoritarian, but his vision and integrity nevertheless instilled deep trust and inspired those working for him.

As Wharton professor Robert J. House put it in one of his books, “Vision, foresight, providing encouragement, trustworthiness, dynamism, positiveness, and proactivism are universally valued leadership characteristics.” Indeed, these traits are valued by, say, Chinese employees as much as they are by U.S.-American ones.

In a world where team members from all over the planet are commonplace, that is good news. If your globalized job left you uncertain about how to adjust your own style to employees from different countries, don’t despair: it is not all that important how your personal traits or cultural preferences influence you as a leader.

Yes, culture-specific expectations matter and you will benefit greatly from paying attention to those of the people you lead. When push comes to shove, however, what matters most will be those of your leadership behaviors that are universally powerful, regardless of whether they come dressed up as soft or tough, humble or assertive. Great leadership may come in many disguises–but we all “know it when we see it,” regardless of our own cultural background.

This article is also available in PDF format  (requires Adobe Reader ).

Book Of The Quarter
Conflict across Cultures


A group of researchers presents their guide through the minefield of cross-cultural conflict.

(click title for full book review)



Web Site Of The Quarter


This business-to-business site offers a huge collection of resources and links for importers and exporters.

(click title to visit this web site)



Quote Of The Quarter

The world is the best
of all possible worlds,
and everything in it
is a necessary evil

Francis Bradley















Leadership Crossroads
is a competent resource for

  • Global Business Training & Coaching
  • Global Negotiation Training and Assistance
  • Global Project Management
  • Organizational Learning and Development
    across Cultures
  • Executive Coaching

Serving clients world-wide since 2004

Blended Online Training:   Working Effectively across Cultures

This highly interactive online training includes individual self-paced learning and webinar-style exchanges of experience with the facilitator and others in the class.   Check out our  module preview  to get an idea of how much fun online learning can be!
  • Can be spread over as little as two days and as much as two weeks.
  • Flexible schedules allow learners to get most of their normal work done.
  • Online access from anywhere facilitates multi­cultural learning.
  • Webinars can leverage client’s normal environ­ment.
  • Newsletter informs learners of next steps.
  • Password-protected site provides self-paced modules, course information, and additional materials.
Working Effectively across Cultures
Please  contact us  if you would like to know more about this innovative online training.

International Business

The Global   
Business Culture Guide

Negotiating International Business book

Kindle E-Book

The Global Business Culture Guide book

Kindle E-Book      

All 50 individual Country Sections from Negotiating International Business are available online for free. Download Country Section PDF files now.

Lothar Katz

Lothar Katz is the founder of Leadership Crossroads.  He has helped many clients achieve productive cooperation across cultures and drive business success on a global scale.
A seasoned global executive, he regularly interacted with employees, cus­tomers, out­sourcing partners, and third parties in numerous countries around the world.

Contact : info@leadershipcrossroads.com
Leadership CrossroadsSM, 2015

Global Business Practices:
Ten Tips for Doing Business in Portugal

  • The country’s official languages are Portuguese and Mirandese, with the latter being less common. Some Portuguese take offense if addressed in Spanish.
  • Taking time to build strong relationships is vital. People here tend to distrust people who are “all business.”
  • Many Portuguese businesses are family-owned, so prepare for dealing with different family members and try to build relationships with all of them.
  • Respect everyone’s honor and personal pride. Never criticize someone in public.
  • Hierarchies tend to be formal in this country and managers can be very authoritarian. Never go around the chain of command.
  • The Portuguese may sometimes appear negative and demotivated. Don't read too much into this cultural trait.
  • Punctuality is crucial with people who outrank you. However, prepare to be kept waiting in this case.
  • Business may not be discussed at all over meals. If anything, wait for your host to bring up the subject.
  • Keep eye contact frequent, almost to the point of staring, as doing so conveys sincerity and builds trust.
  • Be prepared for people to stand closer to each other than what you might be used to.

Our newsletter is a quarterly publication about all aspects of International and Cross-Cultural Business Management.  Past issues can be found in our  newsletter archive.

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