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How Culture Affects Our Expectations of Leaders

Gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic biases affect how we lead and follow.

All leaders have strong preferences, even about leadership, that are shaped by social and cultural location. Missiologist James Plueddemann states, “The ultimate purpose of the leadership is to bring people into full relationship with their Creator. We are created to know, love, and glorify God.” Beyond that, though, leadership style and practice are culturally located. Before we can look at how to share leadership, we need to understand the dynamics of leading, following, and inviting crossculturally.

Leading Crossculturally

What is the role of a leader? Is a leader’s job to tell people where they are going (casting vision)? Is it to delegate tasks (manager)?

While having a conversation with a young African American gentleman about good leadership, he said that a good leader would tell his church, “This is the vision God has for us, and here’s how we are going to get there.” This, he said, would create a sense of security for the leaders under that pastor. I laughed because if I had ever done that with student leaders (particularly white students), I would have had an exodus on my hands. Millennials, especially those coming from places of privilege, do not want to be told what they are going to do and how to get there. That would be a huge turnoff and maybe would even set off alarms. So, who’s right?

In an urban setting where there are many insecurities (safety, food, etc.), and family bonds are often broken due to housing, incarceration, or long work hours, the community is looking for someone—a parish priest, influential schoolteacher, or father figure—to provide stability. John Zayas, pastor of Grace and Peace Church in urban Chicago, says, “They want to know that someone knows what’s going on!” Expressions of leadership develop within the context of the leader and his or her followers. It is also anchored in values of hierarchy. The kind of leadership Pastor Zayas speaks of would be counterintuitive to my context as a campus minister equipping and mobilizing student leaders. The context or role I had was to delegate and coach them. The goal was not providing stability but opportunities to test and grow them into leadership.

These questions go back to issues of culture—not at the level of behavior but at the level of values. There are many ways to differentiate leadership values: egalitarian versus hierarchical, individualism versus collectivism, low context versus high context. One helpful tool I’ve used to help people consider leadership and culture comes from Plueddemann’s Leading Across Cultures. He overlays Henry Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Chart with crosscultural values to come up with a new Multicultural Situational Leadership Chart. Plueddemann states that expectations for leaders and followers should change in a crosscultural setting:

March31, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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