This week the discussions moved on to how culture mediates leadership. The key term in much of the interactions was contingency: it all depends on so many factors. The sheer number of variables involved makes it difficult to state with certainty any position. I became a touch negative during the course of the week as a reaction to the definite statements produced by many of the cohort members. Suffice to say that no one responded to my initial post in which I contested leadership theory at both the ontological and epistemological levels: never mind the venture into methodology of discovering the impact of culture on leadership success.
The argument that effective leadership is contingent upon culture and context rests upon a number of premises: that good leadership results in performative success (Middlehurst, 2008; Pinnow, 2011), a criterion that differs depending on the aims and purposes of the organisation (McCaffery, 2010); that effective leadership actions cannot be prescribed in advance due to the unstable nature of the circumstances in which modern leaders operate (Drew, 2010), resulting in the recognition that leadership is both a product and a process (Middlehurst, 2008); and that the context of organisational culture impacts on the efficacy of leadership actions (Lee, Scandura, & Sharif, 2014; Middlehurst, Goreham, & Woodfield, 2009; Nwibere, 2013), a condition based on the notion of pluralistic ontologies of organisational culture (Latham, 2013).
However, each of these premises can be contested at the epistemological levels which in turn leads to questions concerning the resultant ontologies. For example, Latham’s (2013) grounded theory study of fourteen COEs delivered five categories of effective leadership. Leadership effectiveness was defined as being a recipient of the prestigious Baldrige Award. Although Latham made strong claims about the universality of the categories, the Baldrige Award contains many inbuilt assumptions about the nature of good leadership, and, in effect, Latham merely demonstrated the qualities required to win a Baldrige Award, while accepting those assumptions that undergird the award. The wider question remains open regarding the goodness of fit between the Baldrige Award criteria and that of effective leadership, a point worth considering when top revenue generating operations like Steve Job’s Apple could not and have not won an award. A similar objection can be levied against Kok and McDonald’s (2015) mixed-methods study of HEIs in England. They selected fifteen departments in which to conduct their research based on four criteria; the institution’s research assessment exercise score, matriculating students’ UCAS tariff score, graduate employment scores and student questionnaires. At best, these figures acts as proxies for effective leadership, at worst, they may be historical and contextual flukes. For example, English red-brick HEIs enjoy higher prestige than post-1992 institutions on account of their heritage (Hopkins & Rae, 2001), even though the newer HEIs often place higher in The Times HE ranking tables (Times Higher Education, 2016), allowing for the possibility that students’ UCAS scores, for example, are higher in certain HEIs due to historical factors and not relevant to the criteria for excellence selected by Kok and McDonald.
The problems relating to the issue of national culture’s moderation of leadership efficacy variables may be seen readily in the studies of Confucius Heritage Countries (Beh & Kennan, 2013; Kok & McDonald, 2015; Lee et al., 2014; Tjeldvoll, 2011). Lee, Scandura and Sharif (2014) readily appropriated Hofstede’s (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010) power distance and collectivism scales in their comparative study of leadership in the US and Korea without heeding Hofstede’s (2011) own caution that within each culture the individual variation is much wider than the inter-country variation, echoing the observation that cross-cultural differences explain around only one-third of the intra-culture differences (Allik, 2005).
Yet, the broader brush of cultural difference, both national and organisational, does seem to impact on the notion of effective leadership (Beh & Kennan, 2013). However, the epistemology selected to discover those facets needs to be contextually sensitive to exhibit appropriate methodologies that address the situational contingencies of the study (Yang, 2014).
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