To Lead or Not to Lead

Sheryl Takagi Silzer
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: 

Individuating cultural practices focus on the individual. What the individual prefers tends to take priority over the preferences of others.

Institutionalizing cultural practices focus on the proper way to do things or following a set of rules or procedures.

Hierarching cultural practices have a defined hierarchy and everyone supports the hierarchy.

Interrelating cultural practices have everyone 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.
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About the Author

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.