Globalization and Multicultural Leadership

Changing World, Changing Business
According to an article by Andrea Durkin, principal of Sparkplug, a consulting firm based in Washington D.C., globalism has taken root in the hearts of millennials, becoming a new status of "cool." Borders are being erased and immigrants are flooding into western countries by the millions. Circumstances dictate actions, therefore businesses are compelled to respond properly or become a relic of the past. Regardless of personal opinion against or for globalism, the erosion of the nation state is occurring. The question is, 'how are you going to respond?'
With great change comes great opportunity. The migrant crisis is an opportunity for business to grow and expand. Migrants require housing, jobs, clothing, and many other necessities for living. For the leaders of the construction industry, the migrant crisis is an opportunity for government housing contracts, cheap labor, and cultural expansion. Immigrants bring various opportunities to the table, not the least being their particular insights and cultural distinctions. By respecting their native culture and learning from it, American construction leaders can gain a powerful edge in business over foreign competition.

Exploring Multicultural Leadership
            What is multicultural leadership? Simply put, multicultural leadership is a leadership framework that respects the differences between cultures and attempts to make room for different cultural perspectives within the context of the organization. Multicultural leadership is not limited to widely diverse cultures: it can also be used within sub-cultures. For example, in the United States, we all share a cultural superstructure despite ones location, race, or gender. However, differing regions and metropolitan areas articulate American culture differently, thereby creating microcosms of culture or subcultures. These microcosms create a variety of subcultures that can be used to create a multicultural organization.
            An example of the differences and similarities of two American cultures is seen in the comparison between northern California and Detroit, Michigan. Comparing these cultures allows us to grasp the immensity of the gap that must be bridged among cultures even on our own soil. The cultures from California to Michigan are vastly different, yet both still have the same base DNA. The cultural differences between these two areas can cause conflict if not properly understood and utilized. Both cultures have powerful assets to offer while suffering from certain liabilities.
            The difference between cultures is even starker when they are compared across the globe. Multicultural leadership can take on an even greater breadth when examining cultures that have radically different ideals. According to the GLOBE study, many east-Asian cultures strongly believe in a collective mindset, while in the United States, a rugged individualistic mindset is vaunted. Bridging Chinese and American cultural values takes great effort due to the distance between cultural values, however, a synthesis of both cultures creates a cultural alloy stronger than either on its own. In order to obtain and maximize the effectiveness of a multi-cultural leadership structure, certain principles must be attended to. 

What can Multicultural Leadership do for my Company?
            What can multicultural leadership do for your company? Diverse peoples create diverse solutions to problems, and when these groups work together, novel solutions are produced. In the construction industry, any given problem can be solved a number of different ways, and often the best solutions are those created by a team of leaders with varying backgrounds and cultures.  
            Creativity is influenced by one's culture. An American is apt to bring preconceptions to the workplace and tackle problems differently than an individual from Columbia. The American way may be to address a problem with a more expensive solution than someone from a country that lacks readily available resources. Notwithstanding, an individual from China or India may bring vastly different influences when addressing a problem.
            The blending of many cultural influences can create solutions more creative and ingenious than any one culture or society could produce on its own. By combining diverse cultures, ingenious solutions can be manifest with greater clarity and potency. Anyone can learn something from another culture.

Multicultural Leadership/Followership Principles
            Becoming a multicultural leader is not easy, nor is engaging in followership alongside people of other cultures. Human beings are naturally disposed to prejudice and stereotyping. Ethnocentrism is a natural process that results from having an appreciation of ones own culture. Overcoming one's biases and preconceptions can be difficult: however, to gain that competitive advantage in the workforce today, becoming a student of other cultures and ways of life can be extremely rewarding. A multicultural leader is not simply a facilitator of other cultures, but the leader’s goal should be to forge a new culture among all followers thereby encouraging multicultural followership: not creating a fractured workplace but synthesizing the strengths of multicultural followers in a positive way. The new common culture should be a melting pot of the various cultures of one's followers. Your company culture should have notes and accents of other culture's best and brightest.
            There are three basic principles to keep in mind when transitioning from an ethnocentric leadership/followership model to a multicultural leadership/followership model. One: A multicultural leader or follower must set aside preconceptions and biases and work toward the genuine appreciation of another culture's way of doing things. Two: By respecting another culture's way of handling problems, the multicultural leader must embrace and execute a wide variety of leadership styles while the follower must be receptive to various leadership models. Three: A leader must have the ability to take the best of other cultures and melt these concepts into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Appreciation for Other World Views
            To become a great multicultural leader or follower, one must abandon prejudice and some core biases that result from tribalism; a result of human nature and the respect for ones own culture above others. Every culture has something that it thrives at, however, because a culture is good at one thing does not make that culture superior to other cultures in every way. The multicultural individual must see the way other cultures work and respect their particular ways of doing things. When a leader is doing business within that culture, the leader or follower must adapt to the culture's way of handling certain situations.
            When a leader is building a business within the context of any culture, the dominant culture needs to be the foundational or base layer of the company’s culture. When building a business in the United States, the undertone of the business’s culture should be a reflection of American values. However, when building a business in Japan, the leader, even if American, must use Japanese culture as the foundation of the business's culture.
Embracing a Wide Variety of Leadership Styles
            Different cultures lead differently. Americans believe that leaders must make quick and accurate decisions, while in France and Germany leaders are expected to think slowly and through any and all possibilities. A leader in the United States can learn a variety of leadership styles by studying immigrants and cultures from various parts of the world. By equipping one's self with a variety of leadership styles, the leader is able to lead affectively in multiple countries and across multiple cultures all over the globe.
            Leading in a new or different way is intimidating for a leader. Often, leaders have a style of leadership they are already comfortable with and are usually hesitant to attempt a different style. The micro-manager fears delegation, the solicitous leader fears authoritarian decision, and the peacemaker fears leading in battle. While I encourage a leader to be excellent at one style of leadership, a leader should be expected to be proficient at many leadership styles.
            Situational awareness will illuminate exactly what kind of leadership is required. For example, when attempting a cultural reformation within a company, it may be best to let the idea grow organically, soliciting input from others. However, when the time reaches critical mass, a dictatorial decision may be required to move the company along. Perhaps the greatest danger for a leader is to pigeonhole one's self into a single type of leadership. A leader is required to adapt and overcome, and without the requisite leadership skills, the leader's adaptability is in jeopardy.  
            A follower, conversely, should have the ability and foresight to adapt to multiple leadership styles. A multicultural follower must know when to speak up, when to protest, and when to follow quickly and without hesitation. Just as different situations cause a leader to lead differently, a follower must have the requisite skill to follow under various conditions.

Diversely Forging a New Culture
            In the construction industry, the implementation of diversity can be a problem. For example, some cultures enjoy taking a siesta in the middle of the day, while others would prefer to start work later in the morning. A jobsite can quickly become a scene of pandemonium when a leader attempts to accommodate every aspect of every culture. The wise leader will take the best of diverse cultures and forge a smarter, 'more than the sum of its parts' kind of culture.
            When pushing for diversity in the workplace, the goal should never be to hit a 'quota' of various cultures. The goal should be to 'steal' the best of the other cultures. This utilitarian, pragmatic way of viewing multiculturalism is the key to bringing diversity into the construction environment. A multicultural follower will understand that when creating a new culture, certain practices of one's own culture must be subject to the newly formed culture established by the whole.
            Pragmatism should be the driving force behind any multicultural push. Simply put, if it works, do it. A pragmatic individual uses diversity and has the ability to work within various fields across many cultures. This leader and follower retains the ability to forge a complimentary culture wherever the leader may be. The ability to adapt and forge a culture should be a key ability in the repertoire of any leader.

Two Cautions
            Two major challenges should be carefully monitored when attempting to create a multicultural workplace: discrimination and communication failure. Each issue will feed from the other, and either issue will cause the other to be birthed. A strong multicultural organization can be destroyed quickly by failing to monitor both of these inevitable issues.
            Discrimination is caused by ethnocentrism or prejudice. Humanity gravitates toward like-minded people and the different, rebellious, or non-conformists are shunned. To form a multicultural company or leadership structure, differing views and ways of doing things must be celebrated and encouraged. When a manager or leader begins to be surrounded by people who think and act identically, discrimination on some level is taking place. A leader should take proactive steps in order to allow a group to maintain a multicultural membership.
            Multiculturalism can and often does lead to communication failure. Even if both parties are using the English language, nomenclature is often the product of regional peculiarities, thereby confusing even simple, routine tasks. This communication failure, if not monitored will lead to discrimination and fracturing within the group. For a multicultural organization to thrive, communications must be monitored and clarity must be achieved.

What does this mean for the Construction Industry?
            The rise of globalism brings many challenges, but also great opportunity. A multicultural workplace brings strength, creativity, and effectiveness, along with its share of challenges. As different cultures begin the process of globalization, businesses must adapt to the challenges and overcome the obstacles, emerging stronger and more profitable than before. The quicker and more affective the American workforce can multi-culturalize, the sooner it will gain a powerful edge over its competitors around the globe.

Hoppe, M. H. (2007). Culture and Leader Effectiveness: The GLOBE Study.

Durkin, A. (2016). Why millennials believe that globalization is hip.   Retrieved from

Lewis, J. The advantages of multiculturalism in the workplace.   Retrieved from

KEA Affairs (2009). The impact of culture on creativity.   Retrieved from