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If I'm used to leading in Northeast Asia, how can I adopt a global communication style?

Over the course of a week, I sat in two different CEOs' offices. The first CEO said that being a good employee was “doing what the boss says.” The second CEO said being a good employee was “contributing with passion and creativity.”


Are these two CEOs from different cultures? No! They are both Taiwanese. One obvious difference between them is their age: one graduated from university 40 years ago, and another just ten years ago.


From this, we can see that cultural approaches to leadership - and communication in teams - are impacted not only by nationality but also by factors such as age, personality, and more.

Let’s take a look at how status and equality affect communication on national levels, keeping in mind that other factors such as the ones mentioned above also play a part.

Power distance is the power distribution in a society or a country and is considered to be the communication distance between the most powerful and least powerful person in a group. Western cultures in Northern Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand tend to be equal in structure and have lower power distance compared to Eastern cultures, for example, India, Japan, China, and South Korea. These cultures are more hierarchical in structure and are therefore considered to have high-power distance.


The concept of power distance, first written about by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, describes societies that favor high status and others that have a preference for egalitarianism or equality.


Focus: NortheastAsia

Example - on the Hofstede Insights website, using the country comparison tool, Taiwan gets a power distance score of 58 out of 100.


The tool goes on to describe Taiwan as follows:

“Taiwan has a relatively high score of 58 on this dimension which indicates that it is a hierarchical society. This means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat.”


For reference:

Taiwan at 58 is a relatively lower high score than:

  • South Korea at 60

  • Hong Kong at 68

  • China at 80


Sun Moon Lake in Nantou is the largest body of water in Taiwan: the east side resembles a sun whilst the west resembles a moon.

What does the country comparison tool say about a low power distance country? Now let’s take a look at Australia as an example:


“Australia scores low on this dimension at 38. Within Australian organizations, hierarchy is established for convenience, superiors are always accessible and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise. Both managers and employees expect to be consulted and information is shared frequently. At the same time, communication is informal, direct, and participative.”


How does this impact your cross-cultural communication as a leader?

Since most Northeast Asian countries have a relatively high power distance, let’s discuss how to cross-culturally communicate with people who are used to less power distance than you:

  1. Make sure your team members feel empowered - intrinsic motivation is key to their performance

  2. Avoid close supervision - give team members more freedom and working style options, for example, flexible working hours, hybrid, or working from home working models

  3. Focus on an inspiring and encouraging communication style, rather than an instructing or controlling one

  4. Show that you’re available and interested in sharing informal experiences together with your team

  5. Don’t expect automatic respect and obedience just because you’re the leader, also don’t get offended if you are respectfully challenged or take it personally if team members tell you that they disagree with your direction.

  6. As a team member, don’t always wait for orders or authority to act. Your leader or the team may be waiting for - and expecting - you to be proactive, so share your ideas and ask questions when appropriate in meetings, one-on-one discussions, or in written communication.

It’s up to you to assess - based on your own personality, preferences, and professional experiences - what power distance score you’d give yourself.


Once you’ve done that, the key point to remember as a leader or part of a team is that the other people working with you will possibly have different scores and that will impact how you can adjust your communication style in order to successfully reach your goals.


Perhaps one - or all - of the above six tips may make a huge difference in win-win outcomes!


Contact me here to set up a Discovery Call on how you can develop your own CulturalEQ communication skills for today's VUCA world.

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