The Impact of National and Organizational Cultures on leadership

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The Impact of National and Organizational Cultures on leadership

    The Impact of Culture on Leadership Behavior:

    Case of Contracting Personnel

    Gulfer Topcu-Oraz

    Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey (email:

    Heyecan Giritli,

    Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey (email:

    Ela Oney-Yazıcı

    Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey (email:

    Emrah Acar

    Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey (email:


    Cross-cultural leadership studies have generally emphasized a strong connection between culture and leadership styles, but, not many have focused on the relationship of an industry culture with the behavior of individuals and organizations who consider themselves as part of the construction industry. Additionally, in comparison to other fields of research, studies that have been undertaken on the subject of leadership in relation to professional practice are very limited in the construction industry. This paper reports part of the study performed within a major research project which has been carried out in collaboration with CIB TG-23 “Culture in Construction”. One of the

    aims of this exploratory study is to examine leadership behaviors that are usually preferred and enacted in the Turkish Construction Industry. In the study, Hofstede‟s

    Values Survey Module (VSM) was used. A total of 723 professionals from 107 contracting firms evaluated their preferred and perceived leadership styles. Keywords: culture, leadership, power distance, contracting personnel

    1. Introduction

    The cross-cultural literature has generally stressed a strong connection between culture and leadership behaviors. Besides practical needs, there are important reasons to examine the impact of culture on leadership. The view of universality of leadership patterns is now being displaced with the knowledge that managerial attitutes, values, behaviors, and efficacy differ across national cultures [1], [2]. Many researchers have

    argued that the influence effectiveness of leaders varies considerably as a result of the cultural forces in which leaders function [3].

    Although strong evidence of the influence of national citizenship on leadership behavior was reported in literature, not many focused on the relationship of an industry culture with the behavior of individuals and organizations who consider themselves as part of the industry. Additionally, in comparison to other fields of research, studies that have been undertaken on the subject of leadership in relation to professional practice are very limited in the construction industry.

    The intent in this paper is to examine leadership behaviors that are usually preferred and enacted in the Turkish Construction industry. The results presented in the paper are preliminary results of a major research project which has been carried out in collaboration with CIB TG-23 “Culture in Construction”.

    2. Culture and Its Implications for leadership

    While some reseachers have pointed out that universal leader behaviors exist, e.g. [4], [5], others support a “culture specific” view of leadership indicating that unique cultural

    characteristics such as language, religion, and values call for distinct leadership approaches in different societies [6], [7], [8]. At the same time, however, the results of Dorfman [9] and Bass [10] give evidence for the validity of both universal and culture-specific perspectives in the study of leadership across cultures. To what extent are leadership behaviors culturally determined? A good way to approach this question is to use Hofstede‟s model of „national culture‟. According to Hofstede, countries can be categorized along four prominenet value dimensions: (1) individualism-collectivism, (2) uncertainty avoidance, (3) power distance, and (4) masculinity. These four dimensions were validated by data from completely different sources [11]. The analysis of the replications [12] showed that the differences predicted by Hofstede‟s dimensions were largely confirmed.

    Hofstede‟s concept of power distance provides some insight as to the type of leadership behavior that would be prefered within a particular culture. High power distance may lead to a very autocratic, controlling type of leadership, whereas a low power distance may give a rise to a more democratic approach. Hofstede [11] found that in countries with high power distance, employees preferred autocratic, the persuasive, or the democratic majority-vote manager. Whereas in countries with low power distance, individuals preferred a consultative manager.


Hofstede‟s second cultural dimension is uncertainty avoidance or the extent to which a

    culture tolerates ambiguity and uncertainty. High uncertainty avoidance may lead to a more bureaucratic and controlling leadership, whereas low uncertainty may lead to a more laissez-faire leadership.

    The individualism-collectivism dimension suggests that high individualism may lead to a more competitive type of leadership, whereas high collectivism may give rise to a more consultative behavior.

    High masculinity may give rise to a fairly maco type of leadership, where high femininity may lead to a more empathetic consideration type of leadership. In masculine cultures, there is a higher emphasis on assertiveness and the acquisition of money and other material things.

    Rodrigues [13] has described possible relationships among Hofstede‟s four dimensions

    and House and Mitchell‟s [14] four situation-linked leadership styles, namely directive, supportive, achievement, and participative. According to his theory, a directive leadership will be more effective in those societies with relatively high power distance, collectivism and uncertainty avoidance. A supportive style is suitable for societies with moderate power distance and collectivism while an achievement style can work in societies with weak-to-moderate uncertainty avoidance. Furthermore, a participative style can work well everywhere except in those societies with a combination of relatively high power distance, strong collectivism and high uncertainty avoidance. On the other hand, a distinction appears across developed and developing countries in leadership practices. In a study investigating influence behavior of leaders in Turkey, Fikret-Pasa [15] found that Turkish managers and leaders show paternalistic attributes. Paternalism includes elements of both autocratic and nurturant behaviors where the leader acts like a father to the followers [16].

    3. Leadership in Construction

    One of the most important research areas receiving relatively little attention in the construction industry is leadership [17]. Grant [18] and Djebarni [19] expressed their concerns on the under research of leadership in the construction industry. In considering leadership behavior in construction industry, the first thing that needs to be determined whether the construction industry is a special case. Firstly, the project-based nature of the construction industry will almost certainly have an influence on the managerial leadership behavior of professionals working in the industry.


    In the context of the construction industry, the leadership behavior changes as the project progresses through its life cycle. During the different phases of the design process, leader behavior may need to allow for more debates, fine-tuning and deliberation. Yet, during the construction phases, it may be more structured and dominant. During a concrete pour under adverse conditions, it may need to be tough, direct and even dictatorial. In settling disputes, it may need to be creative and conciliatory [20]. In this respect, one can say that construction professionals are in need of different leadership behaviors in different phases of the project life cycle. Furthermore, the environment in which leadership is exercised is influential in shaping the leadership behavior of people who occupy managerial positions in construction settings. For example, the state of the labor market, and in particular the level of unemployment, strongly influences the behavior adopted by the management. In this case, employees have less bargaining power due to high unemployment, and may have to accept whatever leadership behavior management adopts. This means that leaders in construction industry are able to impose more authoritarian behaviors [21].

     As noted previously, the influence of culture on leadership behavior is one of the most intensively examined constructs in cross-cultural research. In the construction context, cultural influences on leadership behavior also need to be addressed since a growing number of contractor firms initiate or expand cross-border activities. There is a growing awareness that success in the global construction marketplace calls for the knowledge and sensitivity of managers to cultural differences in leadership behavior.

    4. Research Methodology

    In order to measure the pattern and frequency of preferred and perceived leadership behaviors in Turkish contracting firms, a questionnaire was developed based on the work of Hofstede.

    A total of 107 contracting firms were sampled in the study. The firms were selected by judgmental sampling procedure. The judgment criteria used for selection were: (a) origin of nationality, with emphasis on local firms, (b) size based on number of emloyees and yearly work volume, with the emphasis on medium and large firms, and (c) industry position based on market share rates, with the focus on the 12 large firms. The sample consisted of 723 respondents (78.7% men, 21.3% women), ranging from managerial to non-managerial professionals. The age range was from 20 to 50 years and above. 40.2% of the respondents were from 40 to 50 years above.


    In the study, respondents were asked to evaluate the styles of managers whom they are familiar with as well as their preferred management styles. A description of four different types of managers is given in the questionnaire. Hofstede [2] defined an autocratic manager (coded 1) as someone who “usually makes his/her decisions

    promptly and and communicates them to his/her subordinates clearly and firmly.” A

    paternalistic or persusive manager (coded 2) “usually makes his/her decisions promptly, but before going ahead, tries to explain them fully to his/her subordinates.” A

    consultative manager (coded 3) “usually consults with his/her subordinates before he/she reaches his/her decisions.” A participative manager (coded 4) “usually calls a meeting of his/her subordinates when there is an important decision to be made” and

    “puts the problem before the group and tries to obtain consensus”.

    5. Results and Discussion

    In order to determine whether respondents‟positions had any influence on preferred and

    perceived leadership behaviors, respondents were divided into two groups reflecting the managerial positions (middle and first-level management) and professional but non-managerial positions (non-managerial professionals). A total of 112 respondents who were top-level managers were excluded from the analysis.

    Table I and II contain a summary of the analysis for managerial and non-management professionals in respect of their preferred and perceived leadership behaviors. Table I Percentage of Responses For Preferred Leadership

    Leadership Managerial Non-managerial

    Behaviors Personnel Personnel Total

    Autocratic 6.3 (34) 2.9 (2) 5.9 (36)

    Paternalistic 18.6 (100) 22.1 (15) 19.0 (115)

    Consultative 27.0 (145) 23.5 (16) 26.6 (161)

    Participative 48.1 (259) 51.5 (35) 48.5 (294)

    Total 100.0 (538) 100.0 (68) 100.0 (606)

    As is seen from Table I, the most preferred leadership behavior was participative (48.5%), followed by consultative (26.6%), paternalistic (19.0%), and autocratic (5.9%) leadership behavior. It is apparent that the majority in each group expressed a preference for working under a leader who usually calls a meeting of his/her subordinates when there is an important decision to be made” and “puts the problem before the group and tries to obtain consensus”. This finding failed to support Esmer

    [22], who found that the most preferred type of manager in Turkish Society was consultative, and was inconsistent with Kabasakal and Bodur [16] who reported that the


    ideal leader in society carries the behavioral characteristics of paternalistic and consultative leaders.

    This finding is also inconsistent with the contentions of others [23], [24] that within the context of construction, authoritative leadership behavior is more frequently preferred than all other behaviors. Yet, participative roles of leaders have a different meaning in the Turkish Society than some other parts of the world. Participation is used more to make followers feel part of the group than incorporating their ideas into the decision making process or seeking consensus [3].

    Table II Percentage of Responses for Perceived Leadership

     Leadership Managerial Nonmanagerial

    Total Behaviors Personnel Personel

    24.4 (131) 26.5 (18) 24.6 (149) Autocratic

    24.0 (129) 33.8 (23) 25.1 (152) Paternalistic

    Consultative 19.1 (13) 23.1 (124) 22.6 (137)

     8.8 (6) 16.9 (102) Participative 17.9 (96)

     10.6 (57) 11.8 (8) 10.7 (65) None*

    100.0 (225) 100.0 (68) 100.0 (605) Total

    *invalid or missing value

    Figures in Table II reveal that there are some differences between managerial and non-managerial positions. As is seen from the table, the most perceived leadership behaviors for managerial professionals were autocratic (24.4%) and paternalistic (24.0 %), followed by consultative (23.1%), and participative (17.9). For the non-managerial professionals, paternalistic was the most perceived leadership behavior (25.1%), followed by autocratic (24.6%), then consultative (19.1%), and then participative (8.8%) behavior. It is possible to explain this finding in light of the high power distance characterizing the Turkish Culture. Paternalism that was the most frequent perceived leadership behavior among respondents includes elements of both autocratic and nurturant behaviors where the leader acts like a father to the followers [16], [25]. The second most frequent perceived leadership behavior was autocratic type. Furthermore, participative behavior was reported to be the least prevalent in the context of construction. This finding is consistent with the early observations of the Turkish Society. As a part of a large cross-cultural study, Kabasakal and Bodur [16] found that Turkish leaders are either predominantly autocratic/paternalistic, or consultative, but not democratic. Furthermore, in a study conducted by Esmer [22] among 4824 people from all regions of Turkey, working respondents were asked to evaluate the styles of managers whom they are familiar with. Responses show that the most dominant


    management style was authoritarian (53.4%), followed by paternalistic (25%), consultative (1.6%) and democratic (8.5%).

    It is apparent that the high power distance, characterizing the Turkish Society, positively influences the autocratic/paternalistic behavior and negatively impact the participative leadership behavior. For exploratory analysis, the power distance index was computed as (Hofstede, 2001): 135 25 (mean score subordinates afraid) + (% perceived manager

    1 + 2) (% preferred manager 3). Here manager 1 is autocratic, 2 is

    persuasive/paternalistic and 3 is consultative. The PDI scores were: all respondents 81.6, managers 79.9, and non-managerial personnel 92.05.

    The PDI scores are notably higher than that for Turkey from Hofstede [2]. This evidence may be attributed to the characteristics of the construction industry. The higher score of contracting personnel seems likely to be due to the reflection of the precarious nature of the work environment. Additionally, the power distance index for non-managerial professionals is higher than that for managerial staff. This finding provides confirming evidence, which Hofstede [11] found lower power distance values for managers than for non-managers.

    6. Conclusion

    This study has examined the perceived and preferred leadership behaviors among contracting personnel within the Turkish construction industry. Effect of the position was also investigated.

    In the study, it was found that the perceived leadership behaviors for managerial and non-managerial staff are predominantly autocratic and paternalistic. Participative leadership was reported to be the least prevalent within the industry. There appears to be an alignment between the most frequently observed leadership behavior of respondents and the high power distance characterizing the Turkish society.

    The study also found that there is a similar pattern for preferred type of leadership among the levels of positions examined. Responses show that participative leadership is more frequently preferred than all other behaviors.

    The findings reported in this paper can only lend further support to the view that more attention needs to be directed toward cultural differences in leadership behavior.



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