Differences in global leadership styles

Leadership differs globally and can be a cause of tension in a workplace. If you are working with people in multinational organisations, it is important to understand leadership within their culture and how this may differ from your own style.  

Richard D. Lewis, a linguist from the United Kingdom, has charted the differences between the leadership styles around the world. Mr Lewis explains that it is important to remember that not every leader from a culture will exhibit the same style, however, some interesting patterns do emerge upon further consideration. 

“Determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception. There is, however, such a thing as a national norm,” Mr Lewis told Business Insider Australia in January 2014.

“Even in countries where political and economic change is currently rapid or sweeping, deeply rooted attitudes and beliefs will resist a sudden transformation of values when pressured by reformists, governments or multinational conglomerates.”

Mr Lewis outlines 24 different leadership styles around the world. Australia and some of its closest trading partners, including China, Japan, India, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), show a range of leadership approaches from structured individualism in the US to ringi-sho consensus in Japan. 


Australia has a relaxed style of leadership, where the leader likes to be thought of as 'one of the mates' and egalitarianism is valued, according to Mr Lewis. A 2007 white paper by Peter Berry found that Australian CEOs are also more competitive, visionary, greater risk takers, dynamic and have a greater sense of urgency. Lewis describes the Australian leadership style as “semi-Americanised”, because they do not necessarily assert rank but they will exert their influence to make quick decisions. 


In China, leadership is not an individual process, and decisions are made as a collective. In a 2007 study conducted by the Hay Group of 37 Chinese organisations, it was found that social responsibility coupled with best business outcomes was of high importance to Chinese CEOs. Examples of social responsibility reported by the CEOs were: supporting increased legislation within their industry, unwillingness or refusal to engage in 'unfair' business practices and limiting one's profits for the greater good of the industry or society. 


Ringi-sho consensus is important in Japan and is a bottom-up approach. Decision-making is a collective process which involves a document called the ringi-sho. The ring?i-sho is shared around departments and annotated and amended as everyone in the decision-making loop has the chance to have a say. The consensus of the group is important and everybody should be satisfied with the final decision. Ideas are passed up to a central figure to ratify the consensus, but has little to do with the day-to-day running of the organisation.


Leadership in India is also people-oriented. In a 2010 study discussed in the Harvard Business Review of Indian CEOs, leaders identified the people within the organisation as their source of competitive advantage. It is a traditional structure, where family and loyalty to the group are highly-valued. Trade groups also have a hand in policy making in India according to the Business Insider Australia. 

United Kingdom 

The UK also has a casual leadership style, similar to that found in Australia, according to Mr Lewis. Leaders in Britain tend to be more diplomatic, casual and willing to compromise, but still maintain traditional ways of thinking. 

United States 

Leadership in the US is characterised by structured individualism – in other words, the individual is important but so too is the paperwork. American managers tend to be goal and action oriented people who value instant mobility and decision making.