Leader Traits and Cultural Background

Traits can help or hinder a leader, just as culture can help or hinder a leader. Different characteristics can come from “gender, race, ethnicity, intelligence, sexual orientation, culture, nationality, religion, marital or parental status, position, department, union/nonunion” (Begeç, 2013, p. 64). A leader’s traits, like national culture, can impact how a leader guides the followers. Each person has different tendencies, which means not every leadership trait cannot be universal (Sanchez-Runde et al., 2011). Traits can vary based on the experiences and perceptions of a leader.

A minority leader may have a different experience or perception if the followers are of the majority group (Waters, 1992). The perceptions of a leader, whether the leader is part of the majority group or the minority group, could be from observing the actions and culture of another person (McGregor, 1994). The leader sees another’s behavior, weighs it against his or her previous experience, and then behaves accordingly (McGregor, 1944).

The leader’s behavior is exhibiting the leader’s traits or characteristics, which stems from the leader’s beliefs and values. Other influences such as the situation could modify the behaviors of a leader. The situation is a reflection of the behaviors of other people (McGregor, 1944). Therefore, recognizing diversity in another person can enhance the leader’s “inclusion of all individuals” (Gilbert et al., 1999, p. 61) and thus promote diversity. The leader needs to understand his or her characteristics and having such self-knowledge will enhance the leader’s inclusion of all individuals. The leader is self-aware of potential biases and notice other’s diversity.

Leadership in times of cultural diversity requires respect for another’s culture, but not losing the leader’s own culture in the process (Bueno et al., 2004). Based on experiences, being a self-aware leader can help the leader better respect different national cultures of those around the leader. For example, leadership in the west is a positive advantage, but in the east, leadership is correlated with cruel dictatorships (Sanchez-Runde, et al., 2011). Valued leaders in western cultures (Europe and the Americas) are “visible, and assertive” (Sanchez-Runde, et al., 2011, p. 207). In comparison, in Asian and far-eastern cultures, those characteristics offend followers.

A minority cultural background can differ from majority backgrounds (Ragins, 1997; Waters, 1992). Gilbert, Stead, and Ivancevich (1999) note even if organizations recruit minorities as followers, most likely those groups will assimilate into the majority culture because of the situation. A leader, as part of the majority, may conduct themselves in a way that is normal for their national culture. Sanchez-Runde et al. (2011) provide the example of an agenda for a meeting. Americans set agendas for meetings, and meeting participants leave the meeting with clear actions to perform. Meanwhile, Chinese do not set agendas, and instead allow objectives to naturally come out within “the flow” (Sanchez-Runde et al., 2011, p. 210) of the situation. If the American is the minority leader in China, the response from the followers may be different than at home. With knowledge of a diverse national culture, the American would quickly understand the need to wait, be passive in giving direction, and allow the “natural evolution of events” (Sanchez-Runde et al., 2011, p. 210). Determining if the characteristics and cultural background of a leader in a context unlike the leader’s own culture can move the person from being a manager to being a leader.


By understanding their own characteristics, cultural background, and the situation, a leader can raise a team that is ready to be successful. Leaders can promote diversity as a key element to any team success because the diversity creates new thoughts and solutions to complex issues.


Begeç, S. (2013). Effective diversity management initiatives.International Review of Management and Marketing, 3(2), 63.

Bueno, C. M., Antolin, G., & Tubbs, S. I. (2004). Identifying global leadership competencies: An exploratory study. Journal of American Academy of Business, 5(1/2), 80-85.

McGregor, D. (1944). Conditions of effective leadership in the industrial organization. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 8(2), 55-63. doi: 10.1037:h0056439

Ragins, B.R. (1997). Diversified mentoring relationships in organizations: A power perspective.Academy of Management The Academy of Management Review, 22(2), 482-521.

Sanchez-Runde, C., Nardon, L., & Steers, R. M. (2011). Looking beyond western leadership models: Implications for global managers. Organizational Dynamics, 40, 207-213.

Waters Jr., H. (1992). Minority leadership problems. Journal of Education for Business, 68(1), 15.

© 2020, Mollie Bond


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