Leading effectively in multicultural groups and organizations requires knowledge and cultural sensitivities that often take a great deal of time and resources to acquire. There are, however, compensatory measures that a leader can use to overcome the cultural unawareness, ignorance, or ethnocentricity that can negatively impact a leader’s effectiveness and performance. Some of the measures a leader can take to better lead multicultural groups and organizations include becoming aware of their own ethnocentricity, and that of their subordinates and colleagues. Additionally, it would be helpful to gain some familiarity with the desired leadership behaviors of the culture clusters the individuals being led belong to, or originate from. These techniques help leaders reduce, if not eliminate, their prejudices toward their own culturally familiar leadership preferences.
The challenge is in becoming aware of one’s own ethnocentricity. When I watched The State University of New York’s SUNY Global Center video entitled, “How to Reduce Ethnocentricity” featuring Dr. Robert Rosen, CEO of Healthy Companies, and author of “Global Literacies” (Rosen, 2011), I was shocked to discover my own ethnocentric assumptions of how much my own beliefs and values would be represented around the world! In his talk, Dr. Rosen challenged students to imagine a village of 100 people that represented the entire population on the Earth. Then he asked the participants to ascribe a percentage of the population among various attributes ranging from their geographical location of origin to religion. I was astounded to witness myself assuming my views would be represented by a much larger percentage of the population than they were. This is a great exercise both male and female leaders could utilize to point out their own ethnocentricity. According to Northouse, “Ethnocentrism can be a major obstacle to effective leadership because it prevents people from fully understanding or respecting the viewpoints of others” (Northouse, 2012, p 385). The problem with unrecognized ethnocentricity is its accompanying unrecognized prejudice. Being a skilled leader requires the leader to be sensitive to the cultural tendencies of others, while still remaining true to their own cultural identity (Northouse, 2012).
The Center for Creative Leadership featured a podcast entitled “The Big Balancing Act.” which suggested some very helpful tools for balancing local and cultural needs (CCL, nd). They used a term called “glocal” which represented a combined decision-making strategy that thought of the local and global needs of organizations together when making policy decisions that would affect the company. Global needs were a foremost concern, right along with local needs, and so they would be thought of in an integrated manner with every cultural need in mind. Using strategies like these could help a leader navigate their company in a way that considers the entire workforce from a cultural perspective, and not just a local one.
CCL. (n.d.)The Big Balancing Act. Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/podcast/BigBalancingAct.mp3
Northouse, P. G. (Ed.). (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc, 02/2012. VitalBook file.
Rosen, D. (2011). How to reduce Ethnocentrism. Retrieved December 8, 2014, from http://vimeo.com/23688340