Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence
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Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence

Exploring the Cross-Cultural Dynamics Within Organizations

Michael A. Moodian

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eBook - ePub

Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence

Exploring the Cross-Cultural Dynamics Within Organizations

Michael A. Moodian

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About This Book

Featuring contributions from some of the world's most renowned cross-cultural management theorists and commentators, this breakthrough text explores the cross-cultural dynamics within organizations. The book examines the evolving role of cultural diversity in the workplace, the application of cultural comprehension to organizations, and the measurement of various aspects of intercultural competence.

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An Introduction to and Overview of the Textbook

Michael A. Moodian

In the 21st century, leadership success may be unattainable without intercultural competence. Concurrently, in today’s global environment, contemporary leaders must display a keen ability to interact effectively with individuals of different cultures. This book specifically focuses on two principal aspects of leadership and cross-cultural competence. First, the text will focus on the understanding of the role of cultural diversity and intercultural issues in the modern workplace. Second, the text will build on this understanding to demonstrate how cultural diversity can be used as a tool to build successful organizations. Too often it seems as if issues of diversity are viewed as a liability within organizations. However, as stated so eloquently in the introductory commentary, an ability to embrace and adapt to diversity is one that will pay dividends for the leaders of today.
In recent times, there have been tremendous advancements in both societal and managerial responses to cultural diversity. For example, in Managing Diversity, Gardenswartz and Rowe (1998) explain that affirmative action alone is not an adequate management philosophy. Instead, there is now a three-part approach that includes affirmative action, the valuing of differences, and the managing of diversity. In Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication, Bennett (1998) counters the Golden Rule of treating another as one would want to be treated with the intercultural philosophy in which differences are not minimized and one who is truly inter-culturally competent is able to practice mutual adaptation and integration within various cultural settings.
To apply this to organizational studies, take an example such as the process of employee engagement. Perhaps the most critical element of the success of a high-performing organization is the level of engagement among the organization’s employees. It goes without saying that a leadership commitment to empowerment and an embracing of concepts such as equifinality will result in an increase in individual motivation on a micro level and an engaged workforce on a macro level, ultimately positively affecting bottom-line results (Tubbs, 2006). Those organizations that are highly political and ridden with fear and distrust will ultimately receive apathetic conformity among the employee base, similar to what Freire (1970/2003) refers to in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as the result of the “banking concept of education.” An oppressive environment results in a lack of passion and accountability for the purpose and vision of the organization.
However, there is one particular area of emphasis that is growing rapidly in its importance—an organization’s response to a culturally diverse employee base. Today only 10% of the countries in the world are racially or ethnically homogeneous (Harris, Moran, & Moran, 2004). This means that in an increasingly global environment, the cross-cultural dynamics of an organization can no longer be approached as a liability. Ultimately, to create a high-performing organization with an engaged employee force, a total commitment to diversity and inclusion must be prevalent throughout all levels—from senior management to hourly labor.
This contrasts with the historical response to issues of diversity, which has focused on assimilating individuals into the ideological philosophy of the majority. This response transitioned to a structural/system imbalance approach in the 1980s, in which diversity was stressed, but at a superficial level. Today we realize that the optimal management of a diverse workforce is achieved through an intercultural approach or through one of mutual adaptation between leadership and employees (Hammer, 2002). Employee engagement may be unattainable without a focus among leadership on incorporating cross-cultural competence training.
How much is lost in major organizations owing to a lack of cross-cultural competence among leaders? In the United States, for example, concepts such as “thinking outside of the box” and risk taking are valued and considered vital to success (Hofstede, 1980). However, maintaining an ethnocentric leadership philosophy among a diverse workforce will offer negative consequences when trying to engage employees and will ultimately downgrade the performance of the organization. If leadership is a primary effect on behavioral engagement, a complete commitment to diversity and continued training related to intercultural competence development will play a vital role in engaging employees and aligning them toward the organization’s goals.
In many chapters, this book will utilize specific definitions for the concepts of leadership and intercultural competence. Northouse (2004) defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 3). Meanwhile, Bennett and Bennett (2004) define intercultural competence as “the ability to communicate effectively in cross-cultural situations and to relate appropriately in a variety of cultural contexts” (p. 149). Developing inter-cultural competence is not something that can easily be accomplished simply through exposure to an international assignment (Moodian, 2007); there are various factors that must be implemented for this to occur. The point at which the two concepts intersect is the focus of this book.

Evolution of the Textbook

The idea for this text was first spawned after I participated in the Intercultural Development Inventory workshop (presented by the Intercultural Communication Institute) in Portland, Oregon, in 2005. Originally, the vision of the text was one in which there would be a compilation of chapters that related specifically to instruments used in intercultural training (an expansion of Paige’s [2004] chapter in the Handbook of Intercultural Training). However, after further conceptualization, it was determined that the instrumentation component was one piece of a much larger puzzle. Thus, the instrument chapters evolved into Part IV: Measuring Intercultural Competence. Parts on understanding cultural diversity’s evolving role and applying cultural comprehension to organizations were added to provide an all-encompassing overview of topics.


Many chapters are presented from the view of an organizational leader in the United States; however, the goal of this text is not to be centered on an American perspective only. There are components of multiple chapters that focus on effective leadership from a global perspective. The principal approach of the book is to blend theory with practical applications. The intended audience includes graduate-level MBA, international business, human resource management, organizational behavior, educational leadership, public administration, and organizational leadership students, as well as senior corporate managers, human resource practitioners, and government leaders.
The textbook is organized into five separate parts—Part I contains the introductory chapters, Part II focuses on understanding the evolving role of cultural diversity in the workplace, and Part III focuses on applying cultural comprehension to organizations. The focus of the book will shift in Part IV, where various chapters that detail specific tools to measure intercultural competence are presented. Part V contains the final chapter and a concluding commentary.


In a world embedded in ethnocentrism and androcentricity, this book is intended to contribute to the growing body of literature related to the understanding and development of intercultural competence. The growing importance of fostering such competence within the world’s leaders is vital at a micro level and will help advance the leadership process at a macro level for many years to come. A noted philosopher once said, “Three things make the superman [or superwoman] and they are the greatest gifts of divine generosity: a fertile mind, a deep understanding, and a cultivated taste” (Gracian, 1637/1993, p. 173). The theories, insights, and philosophies of the accomplished contributors to this text are intended to help nurture such a fertile mind, promoting this deep understanding and cultivated taste among both emerging and experienced leaders.


Bennett, J. M., & Bennett, M. J. (2004). Developing intercultural sensitivity: An integrative approach to global and domestic diversity. In D. Landis, J. M. Bennett, & M. J. Bennett (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural training (3rd ed., pp. 147–165). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Bennett, M. J. (1998). Overcoming the Golden Rule: Sympathy and empathy. In M. J. Bennett (Ed.), Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Selected readings (pp. 191–214). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Freire, P. (2003). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum. (Original work published in 1970)
Gardenswartz, L., & Rowe, A. (1998). Managing diversity: A complete desk reference and planning guide (Rev. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gracian, B. (l993). The art of worldly wisdom: A collection of aphorisms from the works of Baltasar Gracian (M. Fischer, Trans.). New York: Barnes & Noble. (Original work published in 1637)
Hammer, M. R. (2002). The Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory: Increasing competence across the cultural divide. Ocean Pines, MD: Hammer Consulting.
Harris, P. R., Moran, R. T., & Moran, S. V. (2004). Managing cultural differences: Global leadership for the twenty-first century (6th ed.). Oxford, UK: Elsevier-Butterworth-Heinemann.
Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Moodian, M. A. (2007). An analysis of intercultural competence levels of organizational leadership doctoral students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA.
Northouse, P. (2004). Leadership theory and practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Paige, R. M. (2004). Instrumentation in intercultural training. In D. Landis, J. M. Bennett, & M. J. Bennett (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural training (3rd ed., pp. 85–128). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Tubbs, S. L. (2006). A systems approach to small group interaction. Boston: McGraw Hill.



Dharm P. S. Bhawuk, Dan Landis, and Vijayan P. Munusamy

Learning about cultural differences is important for international managers, because behavioral mistakes and misattribution can lead to dysfunctional relationships and can be a cause of poor organizational performance. There are many definitions of culture, and our goal here is to present some ideas that business practitioners may find useful when thinking about culture. We present seven perspectives that may help practitioners deal with cultural differences effectively.
1. Culture often entails a knee-jerk response to behavioral settings.
A teacher walks into a class in South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka), and students stand up. This is unlikely in Western societies. The behavior of South Asian students is automatic, and the meaning—that students are showing respect to the teacher—is to be deciphered in further thinking about why this behavior occurred. Another example that Westerners often find amusing is the spontaneous behavior in Eastern cultures of one taking the full responsibility of paying the lunch or dinner bill. The meaning here is that Easterners nurture relationships and view them as long term where reciprocity is founded in unequal exchange. In short, we may not find the same behavior in every culture, given the same behavioral setting. Thus, culture shapes human behavior. Behaviors are the visible part of cultural practices, and the reasons behind behaviors, which constitute the underlying values and belief systems, are the invisible part of cultures. What people do in a culture can be observed; why they do it needs to be learned by further reflection and often asking questions of people of that culture. Behaviors often offer concrete instances of cultural differences that can be observed and studied, and it is a good place to start the examination of culture.
Generally, people act in a certain way or perform a task in a certain way in a culture because it is often efficient to do so. Cultural practices are backed up by years of experience in a given ecology. The type of clothes people wear (cotton versus wool), the food people eat (often directed by what is grown in a certain area), the way houses are constructed (facing south in cold climates, having steep roofs in areas where there is snowfall, etc.), and so forth are guided by environmental conditions and are inherently efficient for the most part. Cultural practices are effective in solving environmental problems and thus help reduce anxiety. Simply put, cultural practices capture years of experience of what works. Thus, people find behaviors that are different as odd and surprising and often disapprove of such behaviors, leading to cross-cultural misunderstanding and conflicts. What works leads people to believe that their way is the best way, and thus all cultures socialize people to become ethnocentric. Accepting that we are ethnocentric makes it easy to learn new behaviors when we visit another culture. The emotional attachment to one’s own cultural behavior can be attenuated by accepting that all cultures are workable systems in their own ecosystem.
2. Culture constitutes a distribution of behaviors.
The mean of any behavior can be viewed as the cultural norm (Triandis, 1994), and cultural differences can be examined by comparing the means (see Figure 2.1). Thus, in one culture the mean of a particular behavior—say, starting a meeting, when men or women get married, when adult children leave their parents’ home to start their own home, and so forth—may be higher than what is found in another culture. Not only the mean, but the variance for a particular behavior could also be different across cultures. In some cultures, ...

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