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COMPARATIVE LEADERSHIP MODEL: How Multi-cultural Variables Affect the Success of Mentoring

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Multi-cultural Considerations: Bio

Introduction

Global cultural factors can have a profound influence of the success of mentoring. An understanding of these factors is essential as leaders consider implementing a formal mentoring program, or even simply encouraging team members to engage in mentoring relationships. 


This page considers five important leadership elements and their influence on mentoring success. These five elements are power distance, individualist vs. collectivist, task vs. relationship, direct vs. indirect feedback, and time orientation.


The countries compared are Brazil, Italy, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Singapore.

The intention is to use the five leadership elements and five countries to demonstrate the impact these factors can have on a global mentoring program.

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The Multi-Cultural Model Explained

Multiple sources were used to score each country on the five cross-cultural variables. Hofstede (2021) was used for both the x-asis (indivdualist vs. collectivist) and the y-axis (power distance). The exception to this is that Zimbabwe is not available in Hofstede’s country comparisons. For Zimbabwe, various readings were done to estimate the degree to which that country follows similar norms. Individualist/collectivist and power distance were chosen based on their prominent role in determining mentoring success. 


In the model, each country is also  designated with a bubble size. The bubble size is determined based on the combined score for the remaining three factors of the model (task vs. relationship, direct vs. indirect feedback, and time orientation). The scores for these three variables were determined based on research published by Erin Meyer (2019).

The summary conclusion that can be drawn from the cross-cultural model is that the countries placed further up and to the right (collectivist and high power distance) with the largest bubble size (direct feedback, relationship-oriented, and flexible time) would create the best cultures for the success of mentoring relationships. 

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Variable 1: Power Distance

Hierarchical countries, counter-intuitively, are often collectivist and particularist. These dimensions imply strong relational obligations. In hierarchical societies, it is the person holding power that is expected to provide for the safety and security of the group. 

In this era, the dynamic between manager and employee is changing, and employee empowerment is particularly important for success in the twenty-first century’s Information Age

(Biggs et al. 2020).


A high power distance suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders; while a low power distance indicates the opposite. Cross-cultural analyses of phenomena relating to power such as relational and superior–subordinate communication tend to employ this cultural dimension as a means of comparison (Merkin 2018).

The relationship between power distance and mentoring can be seen as we conclude that high power distance includes the respect that the student is expected to have for the teacher and that the inequalities among people are often expected and desired (Hirshorn n.d.)

The highest power distance rankings for our five countries are Singapore, followed closely by Brazil, then Zimbabwe, Italy, and New Zealand.

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Variable 2: Individualist vs. Collectivist

Individualists view themselves as distinct from the organization. They believe they are hired for their abilities; they expect to be paid a salary reflective of those abilities and contributions; and they are prepared to leave the organization when better opportunities arise. In-group collectivists, by contrast, tend to come from societies with fewer structured rules and are more likely to be hired due to their relationships and social backgrounds. Consequently, we would expect their foremost loyalty to be to the manager hiring them.

As we’ve seen, collectivist societies often have a sense of reciprocal obligations premised on loyalty and trust. This sense of reciprocity is heightened in hierarchical as opposed to egalitarian societies, where those in power are expected to care for those lower in the hierarchy. Taking care of one’s employees is considered not just a professional but a moral responsibility (Biggs et al 2018).

The relationships between the variables that define the construct of individualism versus collectivism  at  the country level may not exist in the  same form across individuals. Thus, comparing specific individuals on complex constructs that are operationalized for studying societies and their cultures is a meaningless exercise. We may know a lot about how American society scores on various national value-based complex dimensions of national culture, but that does not allow us to predict any value scores for John Smith, a specific American whom we have met but have never studied (Minkov 2013). 

A collectivist culture would be a natural breading ground for strong mentoring relationships. In such a culture the members feel a greater sense of obligation to others and their prosperity (even a moral obligation toward subordinates), than would those who are more individualistic.

In our country group, those with a more collectivist culture rank in this order: Singapore, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Italy, and New Zealand.

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Variable 3: Task vs. Relationship

Meyer (2019) describes the spectrum of task vs. relationship orientation as a trust continuum. Correspondingly, trust between mentor and mentee is said to be the cornerstone of an effective mentoring relationship. It can take time and sometimes a little effort to build trust and rapport, but it’s worth the trouble (art of mentoring 2020).

Our five countries ranked from the most relationship-oriented to the most task-oriented are Zimbabwe, Brazil, Singapore, Italy, and New Zealand (Meyer 2019).

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Variable 4: Direct vs. Indirect Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of the mentoring process. We will struggle to keep our resolutions if we don't receive objective performance on our performance (Covey 1990), More indirect cultures, such as the British, use more “downgraders”, words that soften the criticism, such as “kind of”, “sort of” and “a little bit”. But this can create confusion with people from other cultures (Meyer 2019).

As we consider cultures where mentoring is set up to thrive, those cultures where more direct feedback is the norm would typically be more successful. In our list of the five countries included in our comparison, from most direct to least direct they rank in this order: New Zealand, Italy, Brazil, Singapore, and Zimbabwe (Meyer 2019).

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Variable 5: Time Orientation

The time orientation of a country's culture can be very impactful and the distinctions are profound. There are three primary time orientations. The first is linear, where time is a precious commodity, not to be wasted. Linear time oriented cultures prefer to work on a single clock-regulated activity at a time. Flexible time orientation cultures instead value relationships over schedules and are reluctant to adhere to a schedule. Cyclical time orientation is where nature controls time, time manages life, and humans must adjust to time (Hirshorn 2021).

The group of five selected countries have a great amount of diversity when it comes to time orientation. Brazil is very much a flexible time oriented country. Italy as well, but to a slightly lesser degree. Both New Zealand and Singapore are linear time oriented and Zimbabwe is a combination of flexible and cyclical.

As I considered the impact time orientation has on mentoring success, I turned to the importance of relationships in mentoring. It goes to reason that linear time oriented cultures would want to more quickly offer advice and find resolutions to issues. Advantageously, flexible oriented cultures would be able to do what Rolfe (2020) sees as an essential part of mentoring when she states, "Of course a mentor can offer information, opinion, suggestions and ideas. However, they must first listen, ask questions and aim to empower mentees by helping them gain insight."

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