Understanding cultural dimensions and their implications for leading
Realizing the important role of culture in shaping our values, thinking, and behavior, numerous scholars have sought to define different dimensions of culture to help address some of the problems common to all societies.
In 1954, Alex Inkeles and Daniel Levinson suggested that there existed three basic problems that held consequences for how societies functioned. These included:
- How individuals and groups within those societies related to authority
- How they viewed their concept of self and concept of masculinity and femininity, and
- How they dealt with conflicts and expressed their feelings.
In the 1970’s, Geert Hofestede, currently Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, developed a new paradigm to measure five different cultural dimensions using data collected from employees who worked for IBM and their subsidiaries in more than fifty countries. This was published in his book, Culture’s Consequences, in 1980.
After deciding that there was no universally accepted method to measuring such cultural practices, for conceptual reasons the GLOBE study in 1992 expanded on the work of Geert Hofstede and sought to validate nine cultural dimensions. These were: (1) performance orientation, (2) assertiveness, (3) future orientation, (4) humane orientation, (5) institutional collectivism, (6) in-group collectivism, (7) gender egalitarianism, (8) power distance, and (9) uncertainty avoidance.
Given the experience of Hofestede spanning more than three decades in the field of analyzing the relationship between national culture and organizations and having his expanded work published in 2010, I have chosen to limit some of my observations to the original five dimensions used by Hofstede, and contrast it with findings from the GLOBE study. These are:
- Power-distance, that measures inequality in societies
- Individualist versus collective societies, that measure the power of the individual or group
- Assertiveness versus modesty, that measures gender or masculinity-femininity as a dimension of societal culture
- Uncertainty avoidance, measures levels of tolerance in relation to ambiguity; and
- Long-term versus short-term orientation.
As each scholar has advocated, cultural dimensions are replete with values that program us to think, make judgments, perceive, and behave in particular ways.
For this reason, it is important for us to briefly consider some of the different characteristics of the five ‘Hofstede’ dimensions, which will also contribute to a greater understanding of how national culture can influence leadership and organizational culture.
We will see how each of these dimensions influences the tacit adoption of certain virtues, while at the same time causing misunderstanding, confusion and conflict in other cultures.
In his excellent book, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East, Singapore’s former Ambassador to the UN and President of the UN Security Council, Kishore Mahbubani, feels strongly about this issue; in particular the blindness of the West who he claims hold “the belief that Western interests and values are universal interests and values.”
We’ll be taking an individual look at all five of these cultural dimensions, and their implications for leading organizations. Stay tuned!
 A. Inkeles and D. J. Levinson, “National character: The study of modal personality and sociocultural systems,” in The Handbook of Social Psychology, 2nd ed. G. Lindzey and E. Aronson. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley), 4:447.
 Geert Hostede, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values (Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publications), 1980.
 Vipin Gupta, Mary Sally De Luque, and Robert J. House, “Multisource Construct Validity of Globe Scales,” Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies, eds. Robert J. House et al. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004), 154.
 Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind.
 Kishore Mahbubani, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 115.