There are Universal Leadership Traits

I had a heated debate the other day with a philosophy professor about the idea of universal ethics. He strongly stated the belief that a universal code of ethics existed, while I maintained that values are so culturally dependent that it was impossible to have a universally agreed upon set of ethical principles. Which started me thinking: are there universal leadership traits?

We were both wrong, er we were both right, at least when it comes to beliefs about leadership attributes. Research from the Globe project (a major study of the impact of culture on workplace organizations and leadership), shows that we have both universal views and culturally depended views of leadership.

There are several attributes that are universally believed to foster good leadership:

  • Demonstrating trustworthiness, a sense of justice and honesty
  • Having foresight and planning ahead
  • Encouraging, motivating, and building confidence
  • Being positive and dynamic
  • Being communicative, informed, a coordinator, a team integrator & builder

There are traits that are universally viewed as detrimental to the practice of good leadership:

  • Being a loner and asocial
  • Being irritable and uncooperative
  • Imposing your views upon other

And finally there are traits that are “culturally contingent endorsements of leader attributes”:

  • Being individualistic
  • Constantly conscious of status
  • Taking risks

Recently, I wrote a post regarding our ability to accurately judge the attributes of a leader merely by looking at the leader’s photos.  However, the American participants, while accurately judging the leaders traits, inaccurately measured the important of the various leadership traits in China, where risk taking is more important in terms of firm performance.

Understanding which aspects of leadership are universal, and which aspects are culturally determined is important when dealing with business leaders internationally. It can help us understand how to be more effective as leaders, whether globally or locally. Imposing your views on others is likely to be rejected anywhere in the world. Extreme dualism just doesn’t work in our world. Were aren’t global OR local.  We are global AND local.  Who’da thunk?

Source: Dorfman, duLuque, & House. In the eye of the beholder: Cross cultural lessons in leadership from Project GLOBE. Academy of Management Perspectives. 20. 69 – 70.

Categories: Leadership

Tagged as: , ,

2 replies »

  1. I agree we need to be global and local. It’s aspirational. But the local pull is so powerful…in our homes, communities and organizations…that lifting our heads and attempting both is really difficult.

  2. Interesting post. We do seem to have a core set of universally held values (that translate to ethics) that relate to physical and psychological survival. The safer a person, organization or society feels the higher they move up on the values pyramid (referring mostly to Barrett http://www.valuescentre.com/uploads/2010-07-06/The%20Barrett%20Model.pdf )

    I work with several First Nations groups and can definitely attest to cultural perspectives driving leadership choices. Focusing on shared values seems to work best overall. There are usually more values in common than not, just differing language and frames of reference around them.

    You got me thinking, thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s