Over the past decade, 'culture' has become a common term used when thinking about and describing an organization's internal world, a way of differentiating one organization's personality from another. In fact, many researchers contend that an organization's culture socializes people (Stein, 1985) and that leadership styles are an integral part of the culture of an organization. A culture-specific perspective reflects the view that the occurrence and the effectiveness of certain leadership behaviors (as well as constructs) is likely to be unique to a given culture.
In contrast, leaders in the culture-universal position contend that certain leadership constructs are comparable across cultures and that many universal leadership behaviors do exist. Only recently, based on the review by Bass (House, 1998), has the leadership research community begun to realize that universal and culture-specific leadership behaviors and constructs are not mutually exclusive categories, but can rather coexist in a single culture at the same time.
Conventionally the culture literature is divided into two broad streams (Smirchich, 1983). One stream approaches culture as an 'attribute', something an organization 'has', along with other attributes such as structure and strategy. Another stream of literature regards culture more globally as defining the whole character and experience of organizational life, i.e. what the organization 'is'. Here organizations are construed as cultures existing in, and reproduced through, the social interaction of participants. Some scholars view the 'organization as culture' approach as but one of a range of paradigms used in organizational analysis. From that relativist perspective, a global definition of organizational culture may be termed as the 'culture as metaphor' approach (Smirchich, 1983).
While the debate over "nature vs. nurture" continues, many authorities agree that some leaders are born while others can learn how to become effective leaders in an organizational environment. As in all these debates, the answer often lies in the simplistic premise that both are right, and both are wrong. In the past, leaders have been traditionally seen in many cultures as those who have been advantaged by their heritage, but current theorists and researchers view leadership as learned behaviors (Bernard, 1926; Blake, Shepard, & Mouton, 1964; Drath & Palus, 1994; Fiedler, 1967; House & Mitchell, 1974). Organizational culture is shaped by varying aspects of organizational life, such as strategies, interpersonal relationships, and context (Dension & Mishra 1995) which vary across and within cultures. Because virtually everything that characterizes a society is based on humanity, and a society's culture is based on what humans do, say, want and feel the relationship between organizational culture and the larger society in which it exists are absolutely inextricable.
In the increasingly multicultural society that exists in the United States today, these issues have assumed new relevance and importance. Touraine (2000) explored the question of how we might live together in a globalizing society in which our differences are being heightened, as communities increasingly define their identities against the encroaching forces of globalization. He argues that under the global conditions, our cultural distinctiveness increasingly risks being eroded by homogenized mass culture, making us increasingly introverted as we fight to defend ourselves against outside forces. As Fairholm (1994) pointed out,
Of all the new and pressing problems the chief officers in our large-scale organizations face day-to-day one stands out. It is the challenge of creating and maintaining an organizational culture, that fits the nature of the work done and the character and capacities of its growingly diverse workforce" (p. 7).
According to Parvis (2003), the issue of cultural diversity has received an increasing amount of attention in recent years for several reasons, including (a) "the melting pot" has been replaced by the term "multiculturalism"; (b) the influx of immigrants into many major metropolitan areas of the United States has generated multiple concerns. These concerns have advocates from civil and human rights organizations demanding unprecedented attention from local authorities; and - following the terrorist attacks of September 11,...
While it is reasonable to posit that everyone can contribute to the accomplishment of an organization's goals. But managing people to act in a common direction to achieve a common goal can be one of the hardest things mere humans every have to do in their lives, and when a number of different cultures are involved, the task can assume gargantuan proportions.
In the essay, "Of Reason, Morality, and Ethics: The Way of Effective Leadership in a 'Multicultural Society,'" Campbell (2000) noted early on that,
The concept of the United States being the 'Great Melting Pot,' creating a stronger whole from the diversity of its members. Not only is it no longer true, but the very opposite seems to be actively occurring: Differences between our citizens be they real, pseudo-cultural, substantial or insignificant are being used as catalysts to stratify the melting pot. Commonalties of our society are being ignored in favor of differences" (p. 23).
These problems, though, are certainly not unique to the School District in Miami-Dade County in the State of Florida. In the United States and across Europe in general; and the United Kingdom in particular, for example, multiculturalism is the theme and increasing social unrest has been the response. Connor (1994, 2004) was among the first to argue that an increase in international contacts is often accompanied by an increase in international conflict. Some contacts are bound to generate clashes, not encounters, and further separation, rather than the fusion of cultures.
Most change in complex systems is emergent; that is to say it comes about as a result of the interactions between the 'agents' in the system. In an organization the agents are people -- "themselves complex systems said Mihata (1997). The same forces that are inexorably driving globalization are also fueling these multicultural trends, and like it or not, the workplace of the early 21st century is going to be a vastly different place than what many people have experienced in the past. Consequently, Parvis (2003) first points out that, "In every society, community, and workplace alike, diversity is prominent," and then recommends, "We should not only focus on diversity within each culture, but also address cultural diversity as a national theme states (p. 37)
Most diversity experts believe that there is significant distinctions in culture diversity are race, ethnicity, culture, religion, language, nation of origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, occupation, and class" Parvis (2003, p. 37). Because all organizations exist and compete within a larger social and cultural sphere, this learner suggests that it is therefore important for organizations of all types to seek to reflect this diversity in their own workforces as well.
In fact, Bajdo and Dickson (2001) emphasize that the issue of gender is frequently overlooked in studies of organizational culture, and the fact that most organizational cultures have been shaped predominantly by men suggests that gender views of the larger society in which the organization competes will be mirrored in their organizations to assure equity and diversity.
Bajdo and Dickson (2001) stated the following:
Organizations tend to reinforce the value system of the dominant gender. For example, in cultures predominantly shaped by men, there is an emphasis on hierarchy, independence, and top -- down communication. In cultures primarily influenced by women, there is likely to be more emphasis on interpersonal relationships and the sharing of power" (p. 399).
Because of anti-discriminatory laws in the United States, more companies can be assured a likely pool of heterogeneous employees. Davidson (1999) claimed, "Above all, given the changes in today's world, we need to live our lives, and manage our workplaces to promote the benefits of diversity for humankind now and the generation to come" (p. 1). Unfortunately, most businesses ignore the consequences of global and local demographic changes on their business operations. Obviously, different organizations are at varying stages in this transformation of understanding the ramifications of diversity.
These are also other important considerations for organizational leaders who are already faced with an increasingly competitive marketplace and a shaky economy and many companies may not enjoy the luxury of experimenting with various combinations of cross-cultural workers to identify a perfect mix and there is no room for false starts and experimentation when people are involved. Indeed, these fundamental shifts in demographic composition have introduced a number of challenges to leaders of all types of organizations today. In doing so, identifying best practices becomes particularly difficult in view of the increasingly competitive and dynamic globalized marketplace in which these companies are competing. Certainly, it is possible and therefore desirable to discern some good examples from bad when it comes to effective leadership in various organizational settings in this environment today, and this relationship between organizational culture and the larger society in which it exists is the focus of the proposed study which is to be further discussed.
Because globalization has increased over the last…
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