[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Leadership Blog

Article Archive

Lessons Learned

Related Links

About Us

Mission, Vision
and Guiding

Contact Us

Stay tuned with
our newsletter

Leading and Motivating At TheCross-Cultural Level
By Timothy J. Rentfrow

The world is changed (Imdb, 2007). The simple statement has significance as “the 21st century may very well become known as the century of the global world” (House, 2004, p.3). It is within this emerging global world that leaders will be required to adapt, culturally, to influence people toward a common goal “as economic borders come down, cultural barriers will most likely go up” (House, et. al., p.1). As a student of cross-cultural studies at Regent University a discovery was made that my practical experience in Michigan, as a former ABB area manager, applies to motivation and leadership at the cross-cultural level. The article investigates principles and methods, utilized in Michigan, and their application to cross-cultural leadership and motivation.                  

Principles for Cross-cultural Leadership

The contemporary world positions leadership as a difficult concept, one that House and Dorfman term the leadership enigma (House & Dorfman, 2004, p.51). The time at ABB provided answers to the leadership puzzle which is to be a person described as a giver and to position one’s self for service. The fundamental principles that governed success are uniquely based upon Matthew 20: 25-26 and Luke 6:38.     

Principle One  :           Servant of the people             (Matthew 20:26)

    25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. (Emphasis mine)

Principle Two:            The Ability to Give                (Luke 6:38)

    38 Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Emphasis mine)

It is the position of the author that engagement of these two principles at the cross-cultural level, when done with the heart of a servant, will yield maximum performance from people and their corporate systems of service. 

Michigan Methods Link to Cross-cultural Leadership

Michigan Method One:         Servant of the People

Servant Tactic Result

The servant tactic uniquely positioned ABB as a benefit service in contrast to being an additional sales burden. The approach produced increased customer interest in the product as the distributor sales force worked to promote the components due to a clear understanding that the manager was willing to make a heavy investment of time, talent, and corporate resources into their ability to meet their personal and corporate sales goals.

Servant Approach

The servant approach utilized in Michigan is best described by the secular definition of a fellow servant: an employee working with another employee under such circumstances that each one if negligent may expose the other to harm (Merriam-Webster, 2007). As a former manager the fellow servant description is extremely accurate as the manager and distributor sales force were dependant upon each other for success.

Situational Analysis of Service

The task was to motivate a distributor channel that had been sorely neglected and staffed with a full commission sales force that was indifferent to the product. The only positive was that the distributor sales force had been tasked, by their corporate management, to significantly increase sales of the product within the trade area utilizing existing resources. The situational analysis called for immediate action with a plan to engage the sales force to discover how one could best serve their existing business model and to increase the mind share at their OEM customers and within the distributor sales force.

Michigan Method Two:         Ability to Give

Giver Tactic Result

The significant investment, of time and resources, came back to the corporation in a greater measure than the initial outlay of assets. The financial payback was a growth in revenues from $90,000 to over $1.2 million.

Giver Approach

The giver-service approach used in Michigan is reinforced by external leadership research exampled by Goleman’s affiliative approach to leadership. The affiliative style advanced by Goleman matched the approach in Michigan which was to “build emotional bonds with the focus that people come first and is a good approach when trying to build team harmony and improve communications” (Goleman, 2000, p.84). The process proved that leaders who establish strong relationships, with channel personnel; servicing, the people by investing time and resources into their success; and working to develop a team environment, producing open communications to overcome sales obstacles will yield outstanding results.

Cross-cultural Leadership Links

Performance and Humane Orientation

In working to discover a cross-cultural connection to the Michigan results and the Goleman study I was directed to the cross-cultural research entitled The GLOBE study of 62 Societies. The GLOBE study confirmed that building personal relationships in-order to develop and/or lead a team based on open dialogue and clear goals is a valid cross-cultural approach. As stated by House: In all cultures, leader-team orientation and the communication of vision and values were found to be highly effective leader behaviors (House, et. al 2004, p.7). The research, termed the GLOBE cultural dimensions, revealed two cross-cultural leadership links to the Michigan methods namely performance orientation, that stresses continuous improvement with high standards of performance; and humane orientation, as the degree of concern, friendship, and support extended to people at the organizational and leadership level.

Cross-cultural Link One:       Performance Orientation

The Michigan sales performance was achieved, in part, by analyzing the situation and taking action to clearly communicate achievable goals with an expectation of success in contrast to motivation by fiat. The Michigan performance approach agrees with cross-cultural participants’ who have a “universal view that performance orientation is a highly effective characteristic for leaders” (House, et. al 2004, p.267). The approach is successful due to the manager’s ability to “act as a role model convincing the participants that the standards are very high, but achievable” (House, et. al 2004, p.268). In essence the manager must work to build confidence in the sales force, which may be indifferent due to neglect; establish trust, by delivering on promises; and provide rewards, based on team-work.

Cross-cultural Link Two:       Humane Orientation

The GLOBE study aligns with the Michigan method of a caring leadership style. The caring leader is preferred as “societies included in the GLOBE study indicated a strong desire for more humane orientation in their cultures” (House, et. al 2004, p. 592) in contrast to a leader who is described as self-protective and/or coercive as either approach to management was “usually perceived to be an inhibitor of effective leadership” (House, et. al 2004, p.711). The Michigan method worked to emphasize outstanding service, to the distributor channel; and the building of close personal relationship, creating a team approach and opening the lines of communication to solve the problem of low market share. Once this environment was established the sales growth began to positively increase as the manager assisted the distributor salesman to meet their individual sales goals, which directly correlated to their financial compensation; and providing a caring leadership style, in contrast to a coercive approach that demanded immediate compliance.

Culture Adaptation

An important caveat when working to adapt to a culture, in-order to position one’s self for service, is to not lose your unique cultural traits as provided by Ekkehard Rathgeber, president of Bertelsmann Direct Group Asia:

    If you simply adapt yourself to the local habits, then you lose a lot of advantages. First choose your battles, insisting on only truly necessary changes and second, work patiently.  (Fernandez and Underwood, 2006. p.17)

The cross-cultural viewpoints obtained from Rathgeber and the GLOBE study reveals that the successful combination of one’s unique cultural traits with the culture of the target country is essential as “managers placed in cross-cultural situations face problems associated not only with rapid change in their industries, but also associated with multicultural misunderstandings” (House, et. al 2004, p.709).

Leadership Traits for Successful Cultural Adaptation

The Michigan methods revealed that motivation of others through service will be achieved once one has culturally adapted. The cross-cultural manager, in-order to successfully adapt, must exhibit leadership traits exampled by listening, patience, and a commitment to learn the culture.       

Trait One: Be good at listening

In working to bring ABB back as a valid option to the distributor sales channel it was imperative that one would listen to the people. The approach worked to reveal how best to approach the problem of motivating a sales force that was indifferent to the product due to neglect. The cross-cultural link is told by Du Pont China president Charles Brown who stated: The first thing you have to do is listen and try to understand your customers and employees (Fernandez and Underwood, 2006, p.13). The result of listening to field sales was that one gained a clear vision of how ABB impacted the local sales process which enabled the manager to adapt the ABB corporate system to yield maximum positive results with the sales channel.

Trait Two: Engage in patience.

The leader will need to engage in a “calm, steady, long-term approach” (Fernandez and Underwood, 2006, p.19). The statement accurately reflected the position with the Michigan distributor sales force. The situation called for patience, as channel sales had been neglected, and required time to build a working relationship in-order to gain trust. The demand for immediate attention and action, at that time, would have crushed future opportunity and positioned ABB for continued neglect by the distribution sales force.

Trait Three: Commit to learning the culture.

The Michigan lessons taught that one had to learn a new corporate culture in-order to discover the best approach to correct the sales stagnation. As people in the distribution channel gained an understanding that the managers role was to patiently listen and learn communication lines were opened revealing the shortest distance to success. The time and energy required in obtaining sales success was reduced due to listening and engaging the corporate resources that had unique market knowledge. The cross-cultural manager who desires to lead must have a commitment to learn about the host country, especially its business practices.  As stated by Charles Browne, president of Du Pont China: You should try to understand the foreign culture and the language.  It is your understanding of the customers and employees that really matters. Don’t ignore that (Fernandez and Underwood, 2006, p.13).


The discussion reveals that being a leader who engages as a servant with traits of humane and performance orientation allows for cultural barriers to be overcome in-spite of cultural differences. The manager who desires to lead and motivate at the cross-cultural level must work to learn the host culture by positioning oneself as a servant of the people. This is best achieved by realizing one’s own limitations and the need for building personal relationships with the people you want to influence toward a common goal. It is essential, when adapting to the culture, to learn the host country’s customs and practices without losing your own unique cultural identity. The path to cultural adaptation consists of listening, to understand your customers and employees; engaging patience, to allow a clear business path to develop; and a commitment to learn the host cultural, to earn the trust and goodwill of the people whom you will serve.     

About the Author

Tim Rentfrow works for ABB, Inc. as an Account Development Manager working to expand key OEM accounts that require low voltage drives and controls. He is presently working to complete his MBA, from Regent University, specializing in Marketing and International Business. E-mail: timoren@regent.edu      


Goleman, Daniel. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results, Harvard Business Review,
Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, Publication Number R00204,                          2000, Page 78, 83

Fernandez, Antonio Juan and Underwood, Laure, (2006). CHINA CEO, Voices of Experience from 20 International Business Leaders, 17, 18

House, J. Robert., Hanges J. Paul., Mansour, Javidan., Dorfman, J. Peter., & Gupta,
Vipin. (2004). Culture, Leadership, and Organizations, Illustrative Examples of                                    GLOBE Findings, p.3, 1, 51, 709, 711, 275, 592

Imbd, (2007). Memorable quotes for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 6/11/2007, Located at                       http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120737/quotes

Luke 6:35-38 (New International Version), Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 6/14/2007, Located at                                                                                                                                http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%206:35-38&version=31

Matthew 20: 25-26 (NASB) Holy Bible, King James Version, Electronic Edition STEP Files Copyright © 1998, Parsons Technology, Inc. Retrieved from Quickverse Version 7.01 by Findex, Inc.

Merriam-Webster, (2007). Merriam-Webster On-Line, Definition of a Fellow Servant, Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 6/14/2007, Located at http://mw1.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/servant

Article published October 2007.
Comments about this article? Would you like to contribute an article ?

© Copyright, EmergingLeader.com 1998-2008 All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy