Leadership Development - Maslow, Motivation and Cultural Differences

in Culture

When talking about leaders and leadership it's not very long before motivation as a topic arrives in the discussion and when you ask people what they know about motivation,  Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs will show up fairly soon.  There may be some discussion about whether his name's pronounced "Maslov" or "Masloe", some head scratching about what order the categories come in and possibly some sniggering about whether or not Sex is really a basic physiological need but generally we take it as the basic truth about human motivation.  The problem is many cultures do not see the world that way and as we find ourselves in emerging markets some of our truths may need to be challenged or questioned.

The key issue or dimension of culture here is how people view themselves and their role and relative value in society.  Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars both use an Individualism v Collectivism dimension in their models of culture.  This addresses people's thinking about teams and individuals including which is more important and how to measure achievement.

Maslow was brought up in the USA, a classic Individualist culture.  Thus the top of the pyramid is Self Actualisation - you've made it when you have achieved your personal potential and discovered the real you.  People from more Collectivist cultures find this strange.  What about your contribution to your group, team, tribe or society?  Surely that is a higher purpose than this selfish notion of achievement?  Even the the lower order Belonging and Safety needs are in service of "me" not "them" - and Esteem is, of course, entirely about me and my value in the eyes of others.  The strong US focus on Individualism perhaps explains why team sports are more about groups of individual star performers and why "Show and Tell" doesn't work in a UK classroom - our mothers told us not to show off...and to always say it was the team not me that deserves the prize.

 On our leadership programmes we ask leaders to give a two minute presentation entitled "Why should anyone be led by you?".  US, UK and other European managers mostly talk about their achievements and why that makes them such a good choice as a leader. I shall always remember the dawning of realisation as the Japanese manager stood and, with head bowed and lowered voice, offered his services to the group for approval....not "the way we do things round here" to paraphrase Deal and Kennedy's definition of culture.

The "Nine Conversations in Leadership" intervention includes a conversation on Community - about the only model I know that does. However we have to be careful that we don't just take that to mean "look after them so I'll get what I want when I need it".  The topic has much more to offer and must respect the culture in which it is discussed.   The leader's highest achievement in a Collectivist culture is to serve the community and to help people to make their best contribution to the collective good.

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Clive Hook has articles online

Clive Hook is co-director of ClearWorth - a leading provider of bespoke learning and development solutions for leaders and senior managers in corporations all over the world.  ClearWorth believe in learning by design not by accident and their corporate clients rely on them to design, develop and deliver bespoke solutions in the fields of leadership development, executive coaching, team building.  For more information on leading across cultures, resources and free downloads visit the ClearWorth website

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Leadership Development - Maslow, Motivation and Cultural Differences

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This article was published on 2012/05/22