Traits of a Successful Leader & Entrepreneur: a Comparison of Western & Asian Styles

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Research has shown that major cultural differences exist between Western and Asian cultures and this essay seeks to show that adapting a leadership style preferred by that culture will attract the greatest number of followers. This essay will also demonstrate that the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs are consistent amongst Western and Asian entrepreneurs. Firstly culture will be defined using the four dimensions as detailed by Geert Hofstede. These will be illustrated using a comparison of Asian and Western cultures. Secondly, a discussion of leadership and the way it is affected by culture will be presented. To support this view, a comparison between Chinese and US leadership styles is used. The case study of Lenovo and Yang Yuanqing is then used to show how leadership styles are changing as China becomes host to more global capitalists. Finally the traits of successful entrepreneurs are discussed and the cases of Li Ka-Shing and Steve Jobs have been used to show the consistency amongst entrepreneurs of Asian and Western cultures.

Culture is acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and generate social behaviour. This knowledge forms values, creates attitudes, and influences behaviour (Darlington, 1996). Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher, defined culture as “...the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (Hofstede, 1980, p. 25) . This implicitly implies that there will be differences between Asian and Western leaders and leadership qualities as there are differences in their background, ethnicity, education and family values. Hofstede’s research leads to the identification of four initial dimensions of culture that help explain how and why people from various cultures behave as they do (Hofstede, 1980). The four key dimensions that Hofstede examined were (1) power distance, (2) uncertainty avoidance, (3) individualism, and (4) masculinity.

Power distance is “the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organisations accept that power is distributed unequally” (Hofstede & Bond, 1984, p. 419). In high power distance countries such as China, subordinates expect superiors to act autonomously and the laws and rules differ for superiors and subordinates. The Chinese system is very rigidly structured thus allowing superiors to have an autocratic or paternalistic role. In contrast many Western cultured countries such as the US have low power distance where it is common for the same laws and rules to apply to both superiors and subordinates.

Uncertainty avoidance is “the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these” (Hofstede, 1980). The higher the uncertainty avoidance, the less people are open to change and taking risks. Generally Western cultures are more risk venturing whereas many Asian cultures, with the exception of Singapore, prefer harmony and stability.

Individualism is the tendency of people to look after themselves and their immediate family only (Hofstede, 1980). The higher the individualism the more independent and competitive people are. Whereas the lower the individualism, or higher the collectivism, the more people collaborate and consult each other. Asian cultures are generally more collective and Western cultures are more individualistic.

Masculinity is defined by Hofstede as “a situation in which the dominant values in society are success, money and things” (Hofstede, 1980, pp. 419-420). Cultures with a high masculinity score such as Japan, place greater importance on material things and individual achievement. Whilst feminine cultures are more modest and place a greater emphasis on the needs of employees.

The differences in cultural values are slowly becoming less distinct as people in Asia are becoming more westernised and assimilate with Western values. Effective leadership is heavily...
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