Cultural Perspectives on Leadership Practices
Have you ever wondered why some leaders are very strong and authoritarian while others are very mild and not very authoritarian? Are you shocked when leaders tell you what to do and expect you to do it without questioning? Or are you shocked when leaders expect you to decide what you should do rather than giving you clear direction?
Leadership and followership misunderstandings are a major challenge for multicultural teams. Different cultural ideals shape different leadership styles. In working with leaders from another culture, it is necessary to first understand how your own style was shaped in your family and culture. Then you can learn how other styles were also shaped in their family and culture.
Mary Douglas describes four different cultural types that are shaped by everyday practices. The first one is Individuating cultural practices where the individual is in focus. What the individual prefers tends to take priority over the preferences of others. The second one is Institutionalizing cultural practices that focus on the proper way to do things or following a set of rules or procedures. The third type is Hierarching cultural practices where a defined hierarchy exists and everyone supports the hierarchy. The fourth type is Interrelating cultural practices where everyone is considered equal.
Each cultural type shapes a different style of leadership. In the Individuating cultural type, there is no one set way to do things but each person decides what is best for him or her. In the Institutionalizing cultural type, there are clear definitions of what the leader can and cannot do. However, if the leader has grown up in an Individuating environment, they tend to follow the rules of the system as they choose or prefer. In the Hierarching cultural type, the leader is the authority and everyone supports his or her decisions even though they don’t agree. In the Interrelating cultural type, everyone has a voice and decisions are made once a consensus has been reached. There is no specified leader as everyone is considered the same.
The scriptures have numerous verses on leaders. Two of them are:
Matthew 20:26 Not so with you, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.
Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
However, people from Individuating and Institutionalizing cultures tend to interpret these verses from their individual perspective while people from Hierarching and Interrlating culture tend to interpret these verses from their hierarchic or corporate perspective. Everyone needs God’s wisdom to be able to discern cultural differences so that the Gospel can be clearly presented through your leadership (and followership) practices.
by Sheryl Takagi Silzer
Sheryl is a multicultural consultant with SIL International. Her Cultural Self Discovery workshops enable multicultural teams to discover and address their multicultural team misunderstandings. Her workshop is based on Biblical Multicultural Teams: Applying Biblical Truth to Cultural Differences. She also team teaches a seminary class helping Asian Americans to identify and address their cultural challenges.
Antony Edge was studying for his Master’s degree in business at a university in Atlanta, Georgia. On a beautiful Spring day, he decided to change his study routine from the library to the scenic environment of a nearby state park, where thousands of acres of forest surround a huge, exposed mass of granite aptly named Stone Mountain.
Antony told his wife where he would be, and invited her to join him later in the day. He was not to be seen alive again. Tragically, his body was discovered the next day, having plunged six hundred feet (183 m) to his death. Yes, ultimately it was an accident, but only after repeated warnings had been ignored. Antony had to deliberately ignore a four-foot-high warning fence around the top of the mountain with signs that say: “Danger: Do not go beyond this point.” But, wanting to see more, and experience more, he had knowingly climbed over the fence to his own demise.
Now, the question that makes this relevant for us is this: Was this fence on Stone Mountain erected out of legalism or love? Was it placed there as a barrier to Antony’s enjoyment of life? Or, was it a life-preserving boundary to keep him safe from harm?
There is probably no fence more needed, or ignored, in our busy, multi-tasking lives than the fourth commandment: “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8). Those of us in the media-saturated, technological, Western world almost universally view it as a barrier to our freedom; a fence to prevent us from enjoying all the experiences we can grab. Seldom do we embrace it as a boundary to enhance healthy living, deeper worship, and more intimate community.
The Sabbath is modeled on God’s own behavior. Labor six days; then rest and reflect on your work. Here are three principles, stated negatively, that highlight the positive gift of rest, health, and worship that God intended for His Sabbath:
SABBATH IS NOT JUST A GOOD IDEA:
But that’s the problem. We too often put it in the category of just another good idea, kind of like organizing our closet, writing those thank-you notes, or visiting that ailing aunt in the nursing home. But this is God’s timeless moral rhythm built into the universe. We ignore it to our peril. Our calendars, stress-related illnesses, and lack of deep relationships bear evidence that we frequently climb over this fence seeking more excitement, but find only emptiness.
Don’t overly focused on the Sabbath day. Take the principle seriously. The core of this counsel is that we recognize who is God and who is not. The Sabbath principle is about ceasing and resting, not just for health, but because it is a “to the Lord your God.” We stop. We put down our tools, our competencies, or accomplishments, our busyness. We remember our Creator and our Master. It’s the best idea ever for practicing humility.
SABBATH IS NOT “GOING TO CHURCH:”
It may include corporate gathering, worship, and instruction. But this is not about checking a box. Cease working, whatever that means for you. For some, it will require going off-line, or shutting off the cell phone. For some, it will mean taking a nap or sitting under a tree with your favorite book. For others, it will include enjoyable physical movement, exploration, or creative projects. True rest is relaxing and recreating in ways that do not require extensive organization, deadlines, and production. Cease competing. Confess your worry. Put away anger and striving. Stop trying to accomplish. Play. Receive. Give thanks. Where are the spaces of time and place that create this rhythm for you?
SABBATH IS NOT NORMAL!
It is against our fallen and fleshly nature to let God be God. Rest is alien to self-sufficient humanity. Joy, rest, and play is what God gives, not what I manufacture. I have to trust Him and simply, humbly receive. But this is a cultural heresy. Sitting still, reading for leisure, lingering over a meal, or napping in a hammock appears to our frantic friends as wasting time. We will seem to be good for nothing if we aren’t producing, multi-tasking, and squeezing every drop of excitement from each milli-second. But we will be allowing God to take us away from our self-sufficiency and unbounded ambition back into His quiet, immense goodness where we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
The Sabbath is for shutting off the kingdom of noise, comparison, measurement, requirement, and hurry, and rediscovering what really brings us joy. Your Father knows what that is. It is found in being home with Him in the warmth of worship. It is savoring the ceasing and resting which declares Him to be the Master and I the recipient. It is slipping back into the healthful rhythm of creation, stepping back from the precipice of demands. The Sabbath is a time to actually enjoy, and be thankful for the fruits of our labor. It is looking at all we have not accomplished and recognizing that our frenzied efforts will never satisfy all our desires. So instead of pressing the accelerator, we park. We rest. Trust God that He has given us enough time within the boundaries of health and wholeness to accomplish all that is necessary. And, ultimately, we will enjoy more of the life, and savor more of the beauty, in the time God has given.
By Roger Thompson
Roger has a passion for seeing men discipled in the church and has invested his life into young leaders for several decades as a pastor. In the early '90's, he and his wife Joanne took my wife and me under their wings and mentored us into ministry for which we are forever grateful. Currently, he serves as the Area Director for Man in the Mirror in the Twin Cities.