By Michael A. Moodian (Ed.); Thousand Oaks; CA: Sage (2011); Reviewed by MICHAEL ADOMAKO
This book deals with two principal aspects of leadership and cross-cultural competence. The book focuses first on the understanding of the role of cultural diversity and intercultural issues in the modern workplace; secondly, the text demonstrates how cultural diversity can be used as a tool to build successful organizations. Though too often diversity is viewed as a liability within organizations, according to the writers the ability to embrace and adapt to diversity will pay dividends for the leaders of the 21st century.
Since organizations have shifted to a global context, learning about cultural differences, and embracing them and adapting to them, is imperative for international leaders or managers. The writers posit that any behavioral mistakes and misattribution can lead to dysfunctional relationships and can be a cause of poor organizational performance. The behavioral friction arises as organizations expand globally and embrace new cultures, hence, diversity. Diversity when managed well provides benefits that increase success. However, when ignored, it brings challenges and obstacles that can hinder the organization’s ability to succeed (pp. 35-36).
While many leaders are making efforts to become culturally aware culture is not a static phenomenon. Culture changes as people from other areas come into contact with different norms, beliefs and values. It contributes to personal belief systems and worldviews, which help foster values, create common bonds, and influence perceptions of and behavior toward others. By becoming aware, leaders can have foreknowledge of what to or not do in a particular culture. A complicating factor is that “today, only 10% of the countries in the world are racially and ethnically homogeneous” (p. 4). This means that cross-cultural dynamics are an increasing phenomenon also in the same country.
Intercultural communication competence is vital in order for organizations to survive in multicultural environments. Perhaps the greatest attribute of intercultural communication competence is that it makes it possible for employees who are culturally different to work together effectively (p.139). Diversity affects people differently. One individual will be energized with positive feelings when they encounter diversity, while another will have negative feelings of over- stimulation, unpredictability, helplessness, uncertainty, lack of situational control, or a threat of self- esteem. Only leaders who are competent in cultural communication can only foresee these signs of someone being under stress. Organizations would do well to consider all aspects of diversity, including methods to reduce stress (p.144), as part of cultural communication competence.
The writers also caution leaders about religious and spiritual diversity in the workplace. “Individuals bring their religion and spirituality, or lack thereof, with them to work” (p. 46). How the organization chooses to manage this aspect of diversity is vital. The authors speak against faith- based organizations which honor one religious or spiritual perspective and leave little room for other’s beliefs; rather, faith-friendly organizations should be commended for having the ability to manage and utilize a fuller array of religious and spiritual work- place traditions for the strategic benefit of their organization.
Finally, the writers gave their can did opinion on legal implications of cross-cultural leadership and trade. For them, “those who function across cultural milieu must be mindful of the cultural perspective of all players. When focusing on transcultural legal activities, from contract to litigation, that mindfulness becomes obligatory” (p. 61). Though organizational leaders face hazards of operating across differing legal and cultural systems, I agree with the writers that their only safety is to choose the domain of rule of law nations. The writers posit that operating within the rule of law nations will differ markedly from those in non-rule of law nations; hence, operating in the rule law nations is more predictable and reliable.
As much as I agree with the writers in their candid stance on diversity, I sensed some bias. Though some authors hailed from other countries, most if not all are living in the United States or have lived here before. As a result, their writings emerge from an American perspective. The following assertion was made in the book, which I believe is not wholly true as far as Africa is concerned:
Difference between Western, Asian, African and Arab leadership: Western leadership theories place a high value on empowerment, coaching, performance management, rationality, delegation, vision and strategic direction. In contrast, Asian, Arab and African countries place more emphasis on directive and authoritarian leadership styles. Respect and obedience are expected from subordinates and harmony is a key value of leadership in Asian, Arab and African leaders (p.117).
As an African myself (I’m from Ghana), I think this strong assertion lacks credibility. If they had talked about some Asian, Arab and African countries, they would have been accurate enough. But this broad statement is as inaccurate as it is unfortunate.
One of the key issues in integrating cultural awareness into a leadership curriculum design is that the leadership curricula is built on Western leadership models, based on Western research and examples, and focuses primarily on Western leaders (p. 117). This creates the impression that the indigenous values of non-Westerners render them unsuitable for leadership. This conveys to international students that the West is best, and, if they conform to the Western paradigms, they will be successful leaders (p. 117). This mentality is faulty. The author stated that “there is a heavy reliance on US leadership literature due to lack of material published by non-US sources” (p. 117). Could not the authors have searched more carefully for more information from places other than the United States alone?
In conclusion, despite my reservations, I believe Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence is logically coherent and that the contributors remained fully focused on the purpose of the book which was to explore “the role of diversity and intercultural issues in the modern workplace and how diversity can be used to build successful organizations” (p. 3). They appear to have done justice to the fundamental issues of cultural diversity and cultural competence by providing a concise and pragmatic analysis to support their work.
Michael Adomako, from Ghana, Africa, is a D.Min. student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.