THE CROSS-CULTURAL LEADER: THE APPLICATION OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP THEORY IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT Maureen Hannay Troy University ABSTRACT Leadership theories have evolved from a focus on traits, to behaviors, to contingency theories, to more contemporary approaches including servant leadership theory. This paper provides an overview of the principles of servant leadership and identifies characteristics displayed by servant leaders in the workplace, with special emphasis on the importance of empowerment in defining a servant-leader. It also addresses the application of servant leadership in a cross-cultural context utilizing Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions as a framework. This paper concludes that servant leadership is best applied in a culture with low power distance, low to moderate individualism, low to moderate masculinity, low uncertainty avoidance and a moderate to high long-term orientation. Key Words: Servant Leadership, Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, cross-cultural management, empowerment, leadership styles
The Cross-Cultural Leader, Page 1
Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies
Introduction Leadership has been and continues to be a topic of considerable interest in the management literature. While there is no universal definition of leadership, there is agreement on the fact that leadership involves an influencing process between leaders and followers to ensure achievement of organizational goals. Early studies in the area of leadership focused mainly on trait theories in the hopes of identifying the personality characteristics of the ideal leader. When they proved unsuccessful, research moved on to the examination of behaviors that would differentiate leaders from followers. But again, researchers were unable to define a universal theory of leadership. Contingency theories, which essentially said that the most effective leadership style depended on the situation, the followers, and the leaders, replaced the search for the “one best” leadership style. More recent research has focused on charismatic and transformational theories of leadership. This paper discusses the application of another contemporary theory of leadership, servant leadership theory, and examines its application in the cross-cultural context. An Overview of Servant Leadership Before discussing the cross-cultural applications of servant leadership an overview of the basic philosophy and tenets behind the servant leadership model is necessary. In 1977 Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of servant leadership. According to Greenleaf (1977) servant-leaders are driven to serve first, rather than to lead first, always striving to meet the highest priority needs of others. Greenleaf identified the principal motive of the traditional leader as being the desire to lead followers to achieve organizational objectives. On the other hand, the driving motivation of a servant-leader is to serve others to be all that they are capable of becoming. De Pree (1989) defines the nature of servant leadership as serving not leading. By serving others, leaders lead other people to the point of self-actualization. While most traditional leadership theories are behaviorally based, servant leadership emerges from a leader’s principles, values, and beliefs (Walker, 2003, p. 25). Before publishing his seminal work on servant leadership, Greenleaf spent 40 years in the business world as an executive at AT&T (Spears, 1996). Therefore his leadership model combined theoretical as well as practical principles regarding the most effective methods of influencing and developing followers. However, Greenleaf was certainly not the first to introduce the concept of servant leadership. Its origins are clearly traced back to the bible and stories of Jesus Christ. Service to followers is demonstrated in many of the acts Christ performed, most famously by his washing the feet of his disciples. In...