Leadership. A key to success in today’s business world. It seems like everyone knows what it means to be a leader, what skills to work on to be a better leader, how to work with people to be perceived as a good leader. But is it really?
It’s time for the Leading dimension of the Culture Map today. What you can find out from this one is how do you perceive and relate to authority, what do you understand by being a good boss, in what circumstances you can skip hierarchical levels while communicating to your colleagues.
Here is my part of the self-assessment that I did, in comparison with statistical average Polish and English position on that scale.
I am the white point there and as you can see I’m somewhere in between Poland and UK on the scale. It’s partly the matter of individual preferences for sure. However I have the impression that because of living in London, some preferences have changed for me and I started leaning more towards the British way of leading. Still adapting, you know! Let me give you some examples of how the Polish and British differ on this scale.
In Poland, you have a strong respect for authority and you would very rarely address your boss by their first name. Typical way of doing that is by Mr LastName or if you’ve worked together for a while it may also be Mr FirstName. An interesting thing to raise here is that this has changed quite a lot in the recent years, especially for the people in the corporate world. Because of working in an English-speaking environment it’s more common to apply the British or American rules rather than traditional Polish approach. Some of the smaller companies also begin to take this approach. In the public sector however it’s more popular to stick to titles and more traditional, hierarchical ways.
I have experienced it myself at the beginning of my corporate journey. I remember my first days at work, when I was introduced to everyone and it was all on the first name basis. As much as it made sense for me to use first names when speaking to the colleagues who were only slightly older than me, it was hard for me to get used to addressing older and much more experienced and senior Polish managers by their first names. It wasn’t at all a problem in case of abroad managers though, because we were communicating in English. Switching languages can really switch the way you see and address the world. Speaking English made it much easier for me to be more informal in contacts with people who were higher in the firm hierarchy.
When it comes to addressing various issues within the team, the typical Polish way would be to contact the person directly above you. It wouldn’t be accepted to contact a person two or three levels above you as it might be perceived as wasting their precious time.
Another thing that might be useful to know in a business environment is who is actually perceived as a good leader. It is also very relative and depends on which cultures we’re comparing with each other.
In a highly hierarchical culture, a good leader is someone who can make decisions, be accountable, his or her status is important and nurtured, usually has their own office, he/she might ask for opinions of other trusted employees, but should be able to make the decision themselves and communicate them to the team.
Average Polish approach to this is quite to the right on that scale, however there are cultures which are even more hierarchical, for example China, Saudi Arabia, certain African and South American countries as well. It makes sense, as the hierarchy is very much related to the relationship with elders and how you perceive authority. In such cultures older people (who are usually also the bosses) are treated with a lot of respect, are taken care of, are the source of wisdom and relationships with them are very important.
It was an interesting experience for me to move to London. It probably varies from company to company as well, but my experience is that I can speak to very senior people on the corridor or in the canteen and that’s absolutely fine. It’s not called wasting the time here, it’s called networking and building relationships. That is I think one of the reasons why I moved a little bit more to the left on this scale. What’s more, I can even address office or global managers by their first names and it’s normal! English language is reeeaally helpful here.
What is also quite common, although doesn’t refer to all situations so you need to be careful and get to know your local company’s rules, is skipping hierarchical levels while communicating to others. You can easily contact a manager two levels above you if there’s an exact thing you know they can help you with. You don’t need to waste your time for going through your direct leader, waiting for them to contact the manager for data and then wait again for passing that information back down to you. Really handy in many cases, I think.
So who would you say is perceived as a good leader here in the UK? There is no one correct answer to this question, but most probably a person who gives some freedom to his/her employees at the same time being present in case any obstacles that need addressing happen. They should be quite easily approachable, without the need to book their time weeks in advance. They should also take their team’s opinion into consideration and loop them in to important strategic discussions if possible.
It’s all relative
As UK is somewhat in the middle of the scale it’s hard to describe it in a way that shows the country’s way of being best. Remember that I am still mostly taking the Polish perspective on working in the UK. If you asked Scandinavian people about their opinions and experiences with the British, they would probably describe them as very hierarchical, as Scandinavian countries lie on the very left of the Leading scale.
The differences between the cultures are all dependent on which of them we are comparing, it’s all relative. If we get the general understanding of the issues that might arise when working with other cultures, we might be able to adjust better and faster and understand our colleagues’ behaviours more easily.
When trying to adapt to your foreign team apart from taking the above into consideration make sure to also consider the company’s culture and your team’s personal preferences. Be as transparent about your working style as possible and try to come up with the way of working that works for everyone.
Top tips for leaders working with a more egalitarian culture than their own:
- Don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas for discussion. They will be valued and considered by your boss and the team. It might of course happen that they will not be accepted, but your boss will most probably not take offense if you challenge their opinion in front of the group.
- Try to meet your colleagues of different corporate levels, maybe invite them for a quick catch-up or a coffee, sit in one cluster with them, have an open door policy if you have an office at all. Build relationships. It’s ok to contact a person a couple of levels below or above you.
- Let them be, be prepared that your subordinates will not come to you to approve all their little tasks. That’s why getting to know them and building trust is so important, it simply gives you some peace of mind. If you’d rather keep control of what is happening in the team, make sure to agree on a certain way of working with them – you might for example ask your team to meet up weekly to discuss the goals for the upcoming days and address any doubts that you might have. As long as you agree that it can work for both you and your team there shouldn’t be much fuss about you being too bossy or control freak.
Top tips for leaders working with a more hierarchical culture than their own:
- Respect the authority and use titles to address older people. Same applies to people higher in the hierarchy. If they tell you that it’s ok to address them by their first name (the “egalitarian way”) then feel free to, but it’s better not to risk it if you don’t know the person yet.
- Make decisions for your team. Otherwise you might be perceived as weak or incompetent – that’s what bosses are for, to make decisions right? Make sure to consider the scale positions of the two cultures involved in this case as well not to go beyond what’s accepted! It may be that you will only need to be slightly more decisive, so try to get the feel for the situation first 🙂
- Keep your status. Don’t give up your office and sit with your team. Don’t get angry if they are checking lots of things with you or asking for approvals. That’s just how they work and you need to accept it. You da boss.
This post is another one of the Culture Map series. See the descriptions of other scales as well!