Leading Across Cultures - The Lewis Model of Culture

Lewis model of culture

Demonstrating leadership competency across cultural boundaries is no easy task.  Hundreds and often times thousands of years of cultural nuances have impacted the way each civilization operates.  Nuggets of wisdom, passed from generation-to-generation come together to form the slowly evolving backbone of a society. 

As a leader, you certainly do not want to clash against a deeply entrenched culture.  In order to succeed, leaders must understand and embrace the culture of the people they intend to lead.

For example, a Japanese leader would be culturally inclined to lead through consensus.  This is often referred to as ringi-sho leadership, in direct reference to a document that culturally Japanese leadership would circulate from the lower levels of management on up seeking sign off from individuals all the way up the ladder.  This contrasts sharply to the American cultural view of leadership that relies more heavily on individuality and direct influence.

This begs the question, “how do you know what leadership style is best for a specific culture?”

In the early 1990s, British linguist and cross-cultural communications expert Richard Lewis developed a model that helps to shed some light on the way that different cultures communicate.  It provides a great, generalized definition that leaders can use to adjust their leadership style to meet the cultural needs of their people.

In the model, Lewis draws a triangle between three distinct ways of interacting.  They are:

  • Linear active – task-oriented and very organized planners who are data-oriented
  • Multi-active – people-oriented and talkative interactors who are dialogue-oriented
  • Reactive – introverted and respectful listeners who are listening-oriented

In between each of these three points are degrees of difference that make up a continuum of cultures.  Lewis maps different cultures along these lines to provide an easy way to understand the cultural nuances of a particular country.

When looking at his model of cultural types keep in mind that these are generalizations that can be made about a specific culture.  Remember this caveat: individual sub-groups within the culture or even differences from team to team will exist.  The model is simply the backdrop behind which individuals operate.

For a closer look at the Lewis model of culture, visit Richard Lewis Communications at http://www.crossculture.com/services/cross-culture/.