After reading about culture and leadership, my trips abroad to Costa Rica were the firs things to come to mind. I spent two summers living in, and studying in San Jose, Costa Rica and I really immersed myself into the culture while I was there. Although I thoroughly enjoyed getting to experience Latin American culture, it can be quite different in some ways from our culture here in North America, particularly the United States. These differences can impact the effectiveness of global leadership when a leader is not educated on the cultural differences he/she is likely to encounter, and especially when the leader does not lead with an open mind.
Geert Hofstede is the researcher that set the bar for studying world cultures with his identification of the dimensions on which cultures have been found to differ (Northouse, 2013). I was curious as to whether his findings about the culture of Costa Rica confirmed what I felt to be true, and how those findings compare to the United States. I accessed The Hofstede Centre website and conducted a country comparison between The United States and Costa Rica. The comparison provided data for both countries on four different dimensions. These are Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance. Below, is a visual that charts these four dimensions for both countries.
Hofstede (2010) defines Power Distance as, “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. Power Distance is the dimension on which the United States and Costa Rica scored most closely with one another.
The two scores for Individualism fell at opposite ends of the spectrum, which came as no surprise to me. Costa Rica is a very collectivist culture, meaning that they highly value interpersonal relationships, loyalty, and family. They base their decisions and shape their lifestyles around the needs of their families and loved ones. The United States on the other hand, is a very individualistic culture. We highly value independence and are more concerned with our self-image and the fulfillment each one’s own personal goals.
The U.S. and Costa Rica are opposites as far as their degree of masculinity as well. Costa Rica scores as being one of the most feminine countries and, “the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life” (Hofstede, 2010). They are also very accepting of women in the business world and promote gender equality. The U.S. scores on the masculine side, which consists of the values of competition, success, hard work, etc.
Lastly, the U.S. and Costa Rica differ on their dimensions of uncertainty avoidance. The U.S. is relatively open to new ideas and trying new things, and has a tolerance/acceptance for the freedom of speech. Costa Rica is much more conservative with a need for clearly established rules and laws, and they are less keen on accepting ideas different from their own.
Due to the fact that three out of four of these dimensions differ substantially between U.S. and Costa Rican culture, a U.S. leader that wishes to have a successful and productive relationship with subordinates or team members of Costa Rica needs to be aware of the differences and needs to adapt his/her leadership style. Northouse (2013) lists Charismatic/Value-Based Leadership, Team-Oriented Leadership, and Self-Protective Leadership as the three styles that are most desirable to those from a Latin American culture. The Charismatic/Value-Based Leadership style fits with the culture’s feminine orientation, The Team-Oriented Leadership style fits the culture’s collectivist nature, and the Self-Protective Leadership style fits the culture’s tendency to avoid uncertainty.
Regardless of what cultures are involved, if you find yourself in a situation where you will be leading team members of different cultural backgrounds, it is important to do your research and understand their background. Being prepared will help reduce culture shock and help foster more effective communication.
Hofstede,G., Hofstede, G.J., Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. (3 ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill USA.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.