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Contextual and Cultural Factors in Leadership (Final Paper part 2 of 4)

This post is the continuation of the first part of my final paper for Critical Issues in Leadership. This part picks up where the first part left off, so Enjoy!

The next piece of the leadership puzzle is looking at the contextual and cultural factors that are going to play a role in the type of leader we decide to be. It may not be a surprise to anyone that when it comes to leadership where you are in the world is going to play a part in the type of leader that one would see. What this really comes down to is that a leader must know the history of the area they are going to lead if they want to be successful. Different areas of the world have different values and ideals. Different leaders, and types of leadership, have been brought about because of the personal history that the area has. Though leadership is most often associated with organizational culture, personal culture also plays a significant role in leadership. According to Global Mindset, “a leader’s personal background including items such as religion, history, geographic location and even ethnicity shape the leader’s style.”[1] Leaders who hail from a collectivist culture might implement more group-oriented practices and incentive plans, and leaders from an individualistic culture such as the United States might favor individual incentive plans such as sales quotas and pay-for-performance programs. In addition, a leader’s personal background might help shape the nature of the leader’s strategies, with some leaders adopting more aggressive, profit-oriented approaches and others promoting a gentler growth or service-oriented strategy. Personal culture also can affect whether a leader promotes a participative organizational culture, and organizational decisions based on personal history can have a significant effect on the organization’s success.

Look at the personal history of, arguably, the culinary field’s most important chef: Georges Auguste Escoffier.  While credited with revamping French Cusisne much of Escoffier’s technique was based on that of Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the codifiers of French haute cuisine, but Escoffier’s achievement was to simplify and modernize Carême’s elaborate and ornate style. Escoffier took the cultural influences around him and implemented a system or hierarchy of leadership for the kitchen that is still used today. Escoffier’s Brigade de cuisine used references from the military to create a system where every employee had a place and a job to do. “This system helped the kitchen leaders because it prevents a doubling up of work that streamlined the process of cooking for a large number of people. Under this system, each position has a station and defined responsibilities. In smaller operations, the classic system is generally abbreviated and responsibilities are organized so as to make the best use of workspace and talents.”[2] A shortage of skilled personnel has also made modifications in the brigade system necessary. The introduction of new equipment has helped to alleviate some of the problems associated with smaller kitchen staffs, because this new equipment has allowed the staff to combined many of the stations together into a job one person can do.

Escoffier is simply one of the first to be credited with using the cultural influences around him to create change in his industry. However with all of the changes that constantly happen in the hospitality and culinary industry Escoffier is not alone. There have been many leaders that use the cultural influences around them to come up with new ideas about leadership. Hospitality leaders like Danny Meyer, Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, and the James Beard Foundation have all set out to define what it means to be a leader in this industry. In a recent interview with INC.com Danny Meyer talked about his approach to leadership:

“Constant, gentle pressure is my preferred technique for leadership, guidance, and coaching. It’s the job of any business owner to be clear about the company’s nonnegotiable core values. They’re the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly flowing stream. Riverbanks need not hinder creativity, and in fact I leave plenty of room between the riverbanks for individual expression and personal style.”[3]

An interesting note about all of the leaders mentioned above is that they all had to learn about leadership from the culture around them. They didn’t take classes but used the influences around them to make the right choices for the situation they were in at the time. Eric Ripert actually got his ideas about leadership from watching dog sledding. “It’s one leader, the first dog, and then you have 25 dogs behind. If the first dog makes a mistake, they bark a little bit the first time. Second time, they all bark quite a bit. Third time, they bite the dog”[4] The point that Eric Ripert is trying to make is that you are the leader when your team follows you. This could be why Danny Meyers adapted his idea of 51%er’s. A 51%er is a person who is 51% personality and 49% skill. Danny Meyer‘s idea is that a leader can train skill but you can’t train personality. If the personalities of your team match up well together then it is more likely that your team will follow you.

With all of the different cultural and theoretical application of leadership that are present in the modern world how we apply them makes all the difference. The application of leadership theory with an understanding of how the culture is going to react to these theories is one of the bigger challenges that a leader faces. The cultural impacts on these theories are the edge pieces that make up the framework for the greater leadership puzzle. The real meat of the puzzle itself is the application of leadership theory in the hospitality industry. Each culture is going to put the pieces of the leadership puzzle together differently but as a whole it will still make the same picture.


[1] Developing Successful Leadership Styles across Borders

[2] Guide to the Kitchen Brigade System.

[3] How to Be an Effective Leader

[4] What Have You Learned about Leadership

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