There’s no question that leadership of any organization is grounded in culture. Those of us who have managed organizations in both the United States and China, for example, know there are distinct differences in employee expectations for leaders between these two cultures. The real difficulty comes when you are leading an organization that has strong elements in multiple cultures. Do you have different policies for Germany-based plants than you do for India-based plants? Benefits as basic as PTO, pay raises, and flextime can present real challenges when working across cultures.
This is Part I of a series on integrating the philosophies of leadership that you’d find in western or Eurocentric leadership cultures and some non-western cultures.
Aristotle—the ancient scholar and philosopher—articulates well the ancient Greek notion of the “Golden Mean”: virtue is found in the most desirable balance of excess and deficiency (Aristotle & Woods, 1992). Courage, for example, is the balance between foolhardiness (excess) and cowardice (deficiency). Justice is the proper balance between letter of the law (excess) and spirit of the law (deficiency). And piety, for example, is the most appropriate balance between self-righteousness (excess) and self-indulgence (deficiency). In other words, every virtue has not one—but two—opposites.
And that balance between two vices, we must remember, is not always the midpoint. In some circumstances, appropriate justice might favor the spirit of the law; in other cases, it might tend toward the letter of the law. Transparency in government operations provides another easily understood example. Transparency could be considered the proper balance between sharing everything and sharing nothing; who, then, would argue that in matters of developing national security protocols, sharing less is the wiser course—yet in matters of developing domestic healthcare policy, sharing more is the better way?
With this notion of Golden Mean as our backdrop, then, let’s look at the Managerial Grid—the basis of many, if not most, Western leadership models for the past half century.
Managerial Grid and its Global Management Gaps
Blake and Mouton (1964) suggest that success in organizational leadership is the proper balance between concern for people and concern for production. Their Managerial Grid model has experienced a number of revisions since its original introduction, and currently presents seven essential elements: Initiative (taking action), Inquiry (questioning and verifying), Advocacy (being a champion of ideas), Decision making (evaluating alternatives and resources, along with potential outcomes), Conflict resolution (resolving disagreements), Resilience (coping with setbacks and failure), and Critique (delivering objective feedback). The Managerial Grid model is presented as a series of either/or and “to what degree” options.
A strong example of pure Eurocentrism in leadership theory, this model lacks a number of attributes that have been proven successful in other cultures. For example, the Managerial Grid model demonstrates utter disregard for the Hawaiian notion of Kapuna. Kapuna represents a respect for parents, ancestors, and other communal leaders. It also represents respect for the cultural past, and is defined as a primary element for successful leadership in the Hawaiian culture (Kaulukukui & Nähoÿopiÿi, 2008). In this culture, leaders are expected to consult with the elders—be they organizational leaders, emeritus leaders, family members, or others—before making major decisions.
The Managerial Grid model also does not incorporate the Chinese notion of Yin-Yang. Hooker (1999) explains that yin-yang is based on astronomical observations and traditional Chinese belief in complementary opposites: male/female; life/death; hot/cold; and sun/moon. Yin is the traditional Chinese female trait, while yang is the traditional Chinese male trait. Yin is considered nurturing, passive, tranquil, soft, and sensitive; yang, on the other hand, is aggressive, competitive, active, forceful, focused, hot, and energetic.
The Managerial Grid, in a way, accounts for these opposites in its two extremes of concern for people versus concern for production, but these are not viewed as complementary opposites—rather, they are viewed as two extremes. In this sense, Blake and Mouton are advocating for Aristotle’s Golden Mean, as opposed to the Chinese yin/yang.
Contingency, Situational Leadership
Finally, the Managerial Grid model does take into account the Contingency Model (Fiedler, 1967) and its heir, Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model (Hersey & Blanchard, 1972), by calling on the leader to consider the circumstances surrounding various decisions prior to taking action. However, this consideration is not rooted in finding a balance or a harmony between the two, but rather in organizational profit, achievement of objectives, and concrete results. So, the Managerial Grid model, while capturing some of the yin/yang philosophy, does so almost unintentionally, and certainly incompletely.
Next time, we’ll look at a possible leadership model that accounts for yin/yang while also integrating the Managerial Grid, Kapuna, Contingency, and Situational Leadership theories, while also relying on Aristotle’s Golden Mean for a philosophical backdrop or framework.
Aristotle, & Woods, M. (. (1992). Eudemian Ethics, Books I, II, and VIII. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Blake, R., & Mouton, J. (1964). The Managerial Grid: The Key to Leadership Excellence. Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.
Chan, W.-t. (1963). The Way of Lau Tzu. New York: Prentice Hall.
Fiedler, F. E. (1967). Theory of Leadership Effectivenewss. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. (1972). Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Hooker, R. (1999). Han Synthesis. Retrieved from Washington State University: http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CHPHIL/HANSYNTH.HTM
Ibrahim, A. (1996). Malaysia’s middle way: growth with equity. New Perspectives Quarterly , 34.
Kaulukukui, G. H., & Nähoÿopiÿi, D. K. (2008). The Development of an Inventory of Exemplary Hawaiian Leadership Behaviors. Hülili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being.