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Just like cultural values, languages, and landscapes differ across borders, so too inevitably do management styles.

And with such a vast variety of cultures in today’s globalised world of international business, we were keen to find out how management styles differ from country to country, and whether there’s a single ideal management style that can be applied internationally.

We spoke to an Imperial College Business School professor and Global Online MBA students to get their thoughts.

Nelson Phillips – Associate Dean of Faculty and Research, Abu Dhabi Chamber Chair in Strategy and Innovation, Imperial College Business School

Q: How do you think management styles differ across borders?

A: We know quite a lot about cultural difference and how that impacts effective management styles in different countries. And the short answer is that different cultures require managers to adopt different management styles. For example, differences in conceptions of time (how long is “soon” when asked about the delivery of a project) and the relative importance of relationships versus rules mean that what constitutes a successful management style will differ greatly from one culture to another, and that managers must adapt their styles to the culture in which they are managing. This also means that management recipes or practices that work well in one cultural context may not work at all in another cultural context. 

This raises particular challenges when managing multicultural teams, of course. In those cases, care must be taken to ensure that a one-size-fits-all approach does not lead to demotivated team members whose cultural frameworks lead them to experience the same management style in very different ways. While these problems are not all solvable, starting out with a sensitivity to cultural difference and some clear ideas about how cultures differ can help a manager to be much more effective in these situations.

Q: Do you think there is an ideal management style that can be applied internationally? How would you describe it?

There is no one best management style that works everywhere. Managers have to adjust their management style to the group they want to manage.

At the same time, managers who are sensitive to the reactions of others, who hold judgement until they fully understand, and that are respectful of other cultures will generally be more successful.

If that can be combined with a willingness to understand and adapt, and to seek out feedback, then the manager has the maximum chance of success. 

Gerald Hanna – Asset Manager, Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd, Singapore

Q: Could you please briefly explain your role?

A: My role as asset manager consists of looking after the development of residential and hotel projects, from strategic planning to operations and financial performance, being in charge of all income-generating assets of the company. 

Q: How would you describe the management style in your workplace?

I work independently without close supervision and report on a weekly/monthly basis to my leaders.

The structure is pretty horizontal, with little levels of differences, and the environment is very collaborative. 

Q: Do you think this management style is effective in achieving organisational goals?

A: It is efficient in a sense that we are able to take more initiative and develop a go-getter attitude in our daily tasks. It may be a challenge for efficient decision-making processes.

Q: Taking into consideration your current location and the local culture, do you think an autocratic or democratic management style is best-suited to your workplace?

A: We need a bit of both. Autocratic when implementing changes and democratic when it comes to decisions affecting our employees’ daily job and providing them with the tools they need to perform in their job. 

Nikolaos Papazachariou – Head of IT Planning, OPAP S.A., Greece

Q: Could you please briefly explain your role?

I lead IT Planning, a new function within the IT Unit of OPAP which was established after the firm’s full privatisation in October 2013, which came as a result of the international bailout agreement for Greece. This new department covers the areas of IT architecture, change management and release management under its remit, reporting directly to the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Q: How would you describe the management style in your workplace?

The full privatisation of OPAP and arrival of a new CIO with an international background and experience has released creative forces within the IT Unit, in the same way the new management has for the entire organisation. A new management style has emerged which could be described as one demonstrating confidence and trust in subordinates, listening to them whilst controlling decision-making, motivating by reward and involvement, and using ideas and opinions of subordinates constructively.

Employees are not micro-managed and are in fact actively encouraged to work independently. It could be described as a participative management style, pushing involvement down to lower levels of organisational hierarchy whilst in parallel maintaining decision discretion at chief officer-level to ensure cohesion and coherence in decisions made across the board. This strikes a very strong contrast against the previous regime before privatisation, when management was showing a condescending, only superficial trust in subordinates and reward systems were actually non-existent.

Q: Do you think this management style is effective in achieving organisational goals?

I believe that financial results of the firm in the past couple of years speak for themselves. Against the backdrop of an extremely severe financial crisis in Greece, with unprecedented international media coverage, OPAP has managed not only to maintain its leadership position in the industry, but also to greatly improve on value delivered to shareholders. This is to be credited to the management style the new Czech executives have introduced, which has proven remarkably effective in dealing with a heavily regulated and politically dominated industry such as gaming, particularly in a country like Greece.

Moving forward, the challenge is to adopt this new approach further down the chain of command by identifying talent and investing in its development. As new management has taken the commanding heights of chief officer-level executive management only, it’s important to support adaptation of the new approach at lower levels via trusted individuals who have demonstrated commitment to personal development and will to succeed.

Q: Taking into consideration your current location and the local culture, do you think an autocratic or democratic management style is best-suited to your workplace?

A: Taking into consideration the Greek cultural frame of reference, one could argue that an autocratic management style may prove effective for very short periods of time, but is hardly sustainable over prolonged periods. On the other hand, always adhering to a democratic approach may lead to an impasse in decision-making and stifle managerial action.

A fine balance needs to be achieved in the autocratic – democratic (participative) continuum of management styles, whereby the leader does engage all interested parties and affected stakeholders without ever relinquishing the right to make the last call. A fine boundary always needs to be in place between the area of authority of the manager and the area of freedom for subordinates – and its delineation may in fact be a dynamic process. The manager should calibrate for each case, but a tendency towards any of the two extremes on a more permanent basis would prove least effective in the Greek cultural context.

Gerald Hanna and Nikolaos Papazachariou are currently studying the Global Online MBA programme offered through Imperial College Business School. Find out more about the Global Online MBA programme.

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