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International Business Report (IBR)

What type of leader are you?

Francesca Lagerberg

The leadership differences driven by region and gender

Wherever I go in the world, I’d rather be walking a dog than stroking a cat. Some things are the same wherever you are. But does this include business leaders?

Working with senior business people across the globe, I’ve found they do share a lot of traits – valuing integrity, a positive attitude and the ability to communicate – even across wide cultural divides. But, these cultural divides do create differences; the harder you look, the more variation you can see. In some parts of the world, there is a much stronger appetite for new ideas and new approaches, and a hunger to develop as leaders.

On Monday, we released research from our that identifies two very different types of business leader: Modernists, who place a higher value on creativity and intuition and are open to coaching; and Traditionalists, who appear less open to coaching and place less emphasis on those traits. Modernist leaders tend to be found in markets like Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Traditionalists are more prevalent in European economies like France, Germany, Spain and the UK.

Interestingly, it appears that qualities like creativity and intuition are considered much more important by business leaders in the emerging markets. Nine in ten southeast Asian leaders think creativity is important, compared to just 57% in Europe. I’ve often found businesses here in the UK operate differently than in Brazil, for example, so it’s fascinating to see that the approach of leaders in those countries, and the traits they value, differ too. Why, though?

There are many factors, but I’d argue that leaders in the emerging markets have had the advantage of being able to look at the West and see how management techniques have evolved, before adding their own twist to the best examples to suit their local markets. The insight that stood out for me in our recent study of Chinese leadership, ‘The Thoughts of Chairmen Now‘, was this idea that leaders are  looking to blend management techniques and approaches coming out of the West into the ‘Chinese Way’, rather than copying and replacing.

We also noticed an interesting correlation in our research – the split we identified on traits like creativity and intuition aligns with where in the world we see more women in senior roles. Research we released earlier in the year revealed that 32% of ASEAN business leaders are women, compared to just 25% in Europe. I don’t think this is a coincidence; women appear to show greater openness to coaching, place greater emphasis on more creativity and intuition and are also more willing to delegate.

There is a wealth of research suggesting greater gender diversity positively impacts on decision-making at board level. And there are lessons to be learned here for the Traditionalists from the diversity and openness to new ideas and techniques displayed elsewhere in the world. If companies led by Modernists are making better decisions, it will ultimately result in stronger growth. Europe, you have been warned.

is global leader for tax services at Grant Thornton.