Is there a Universal Leadership Style for Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime?

Authored by Victoria Roos-Olsson, FranklinCovey Senior Leadership Consultant and author of The Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices For Leading A Team (

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I have had the privilege of living and working in 10 countries in all kinds of positions, from intern to the director on an executive team. I’ve also had the pleasure of developing leaders from over 50 different countries. So yes, it makes sense that I get quite a few questions on what leadership styles work for various cultures and if there is a common “universal” style that is the best one to use.

My own observations are as follows:

  1. Deep down, taking away the superficial layers, and even the cultural “mores,” we humans are much more alike than different. There are universal similarities that connect us more than anything. But you might not see this at a first glance. Our bias to look for evidence of what we recognize sometimes hinders us from seeing this.
  2. Still, you don’t want to underestimate the importance of understanding different cultures, especially to avoid unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.

 Working with people from different cultures is a brilliant way to challenge your own paradigms.

If you lead or are a part of a team with members from differing backgrounds and cultures, my advice to you would be to practice the following steps:

1) Tune in and listen, as listening and learning from different cultures is a brilliant way to developing your empathic listening skills.

2) Be even more intentional about using appropriate leadership tools for the environment and situation. You may wish to even exaggerate and be very specific as to how you lead, rather than to go with your usual “gut feeling” or reacting quickly and being spontaneous. For example, thoroughly follow the steps on how to give feedback and work extra hard on creating that culture of feedback in your team. Another might be to carefully share the process of change which may be occurring in your organization with your team and spend time clarifying your expectations, as well as theirs, etc.

I’ve learned this the hard way. For example, while working in Dubai with an extremely multicultural team, I learned that I needed to clarify to the team that when I was brainstorming ideas and “thinking out loud” during a team meeting, I was not ordering them around and delegating tasks to them to do. I was simply trying to create an environment in which everyone on the team could contribute, brainstorm, and discuss ideas, together. And I encouraged everyone on my team to constructively criticize and give me feedback as the leader, along with everyone else on the team. I was working hard on setting the culture and norm for how we would make decisions.

If you lead a multicultural team, my most important advice to you is to build your own team culture. If you are clear and intentional on HOW you work together as a team, how you give each other feedback, how you set goals, how you communicate, and how you execute, you will eventually create an optimal, strong workplace culture. Certain leadership skills are truly universal.

Last summer I relocated to the USA. Yes, this is the10th country in which I have lived. Working for a global company such as FranklinCovey, with its head office here, once in a while I have received comments from European participants who attend our live training, such as “Well, that’s great, but that will only work in America.” So, this fall when I was facilitating a workshop for young leaders here, I had to hide the smile on my lips when one participant said “Hey, Miss, this is great and it might work from wherever you come from, but it ain’t working over here.”

Wherever you are, think about the culture that you want to create on your team and in your organization. You have the chance to create a new and better way. A way that leads you and your team where you want to go.

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