Not All Leadership Styles Are the Same

Leadership style and culture is contextual. At least this is my experience.

As NewThing has continued to grow internationally, I have had to learn (sometimes the hard way) that leadership culture varies from one global context to the next. The diversity of leadership styles is a beautiful thing but can be difficult to manage.

(Please note the following observations are anecdotal and based on my personal experience.)

Not long ago we hosted three leadership residents from Kenya at Community Christian Church. I had a front row seat to watch how they were taught to lead and how it was different from how I was taught to lead.

For example, American leadership values buy-in. Leaders don’t lead through command and control, rather they lead by casting a compelling vision casting and negotiating what that looks like. There is a high value on collaboration. We collaborate. We need to get the team to ‘buy-in’ and cooperate. We can’t lead through command and control.

In Africa, it’s different. What I’ve learned about leadership in Africa (specifically East Africa) is that leadership is hierarchical. There is a LEADER who leads down and if you’re on the leaders team you simply carry out what the leader asks you to do. While collaboration isn’t valued as much, African leaders are incredible at focusing a team and moving quickly to achieve results despite the circumstances.

An African leader once told me that in Africa, you never delegate upwards. This leader explained that you never ever create more work for the people above you. Your job is to do the work or figure out how to do it. This can sometimes lead to challenges of workload.

Leaders from the West have no problem coming to their leaders and asking for help to get certain jobs or projects accomplished. It’s been more than one season that I’ve felt overwhelmed by all the work coming my way.

It’s important to note that no leadership style is better (or worse for that matter) than any other. Leadership varies and that’s all there is to it. So if we’re going to become effective global leaders, we need to embrace this fact.

So when you’re working cross-culturally it’s important to acknowledge this and prepare yourself to work through it.

Let me know your thoughts and opinions on this topic. It’s important the church gets this one right. 

6 Ways You Can Be A More Effective Global Leader

As NewThing grows, cross-cultural leadership has become a critical component of our missional effectiveness. I am convinced, the better our leaders lead cross-culturally, the more fruit we will see. As our leaders are learning how to lead in different cultures and context, they are reporting back to me.

I am grateful to all of our global partners at NewThing who are helping learn all of these valuable lessons.

Here SIX a things that I think all cross-cultural leaders must demonstrate:

  1. Communicate. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Realize that effective communication is the heart of leadership. Ensure you understand how to communicate in the culture you’re working or the leaders you’re working with.
  2. Humility. This is all about learning to be open. Be open to new paradigms of leadership that may be very different from the one you know. It all also means acknowledging that leadership varies by culture and country. Your way of leading might not work in all contexts.
  3. Patience. Be patient with leaders from other cultures who lead in your context. Be patient with yourself as a cross-cultural leader. Learning to lead cross-culturally takes time and practice. Accept the other leaders who you are leading with and be patient with them.
  4. Learn. If you have the privilege of working with leaders from other cultures, take time to learn about their culture and context. This will help you lead better together. Good learners are good listeners. They know how to ask questions. If you don’t understand something or why a leader says or does something, ask them to explain. Never stop learning.
  5. Seek to Understand. You need to understand the culture you’re going to lead in. (Or in our case know the culture of leaders who will be visiting you.) There is nothing better than friends on mission together the glory of God. You must see your leadership counterpart from another culture as an asset and as a teacher. They have just as much to teach you as you might teach them.
  6. Serve. Never forget that to lead like Jesus is to serve others.

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