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Posted on August 19th, 2012, by

Today, servant leadership is growing more and more popular today and its popularity is, to a significant extent, determined by its relatively high efficiency. At any rate, it is obvious that the leader who tends to be a steward is likely to develop positive relationships with his subordinates than an authoritarian leader that controls his subordinates and limits their autonomy (Fidelus, 2003). On the other hand, it is necessary to remember about certain risks that accompany servant leadership. To put it more precisely, this is the problem of formal and informal leadership which put under a threat the effectiveness of servant leadership since the presence of informal leaders in organizations can undermine the authority of formal leaders who exercise servant leadership (Koch, 2004). As a result, servant leadership can be effective on the condition when the leader combines both formal and informal authority and manages to balance his stewardship and good positive interpersonal relations with his high formal authority as a leader of the organization (Noble, 2005). In such a context, it is necessary to take into consideration cultural background of employees from Greece, Singapore, Germany and Iran to maintain the authority of the leader and let employees work relatively autonomously from the leader.

On analyzing the multicultural context, in which the leader is supposed to work, i.e. the presence of employees from Greece, Germany, Iran and Singapore, it should be said that the leader should be able to deal with a highly controversial cultural environment. On the one hand there are more liberal and democratic Greek and German employees, who get used to the democratic management style and equality of employees, as well as employees and managers. On the other hand, there are highly conservative Iranian and Singaporean employees, who have a totally different cultural background and are not prepared to work in the European or American cultural environment. At any rate, all the employees need to change and adapt their cultural traditions and norms to work together in a multicultural environment.

In such a situation, a servant leader should demonstrate his ability to be tolerant and understand cultural needs of employees from different countries. First of all, it is necessary to identify major specificities of each cultural group which the leader should not only take into consideration but also avoid violating these cultural specificities in order to avoid conflicts within the organization. For instance, Greek employees are accustomed to the liberal and democratic management style, but they are unlikely to perform their functions and duties or tasks set by the leader precisely and accurately. Germans, in contrast, tend to accuracy and precision in their performance that is very important since they are very concerned with the proper performance of their functions and tasks. As for Singaporean employees, unlike Germans and Greeks, who are highly individualistic, they tend to be more concerned with the organizational performance rather than with their personal achievements and progress. At the same time, they need to maintain face, in spite of possible losses in their professional career, for instance. Iranian employees also have a very specific cultural background, which is consistently affected by their religious beliefs that define their professional and personal life. In this regard, it should be said that Iranians are more conservative in inter-gender relations, especially compared to Europeans, and, in addition, they need to observe their religious traditions, which can affect their work. For instance, they may need to have some extra days off to celebrate some religious holiday.

Obviously, a servant leader should pay a lot of attention to all the aforementioned cultural specificities in order to meet cultural needs of all employees. Hence, the attention to cultural peculiarities can make a servant leader successful. To put it more precisely, the leader using servant leadership primarily focuses on the development of positive interpersonal relationships with employees. This goal is achieved through the development of the specific leadership style, servant leadership, when the leader becomes a steward (Fidelus, 2003). In such a way, employees feel confident in their leader since the leader is perceived as an ordinary person, who is able to understand needs and interests of employees and protect them (Greenleaf, 1986). In response, employees work more productively and effectively since they believe that the better they work the more they are appreciated by the leader. In such a situation, positive interpersonal relationship and stewardship of the leader become essential conditions of the loyalty and devoted work of employees because servant leadership contributes to the formation of rather democratic relationships than authoritarian relationships (Fidelus, 2003). Today, democratic and liberal leadership style is more effective because it provides employees with larger autonomy (Noble, 2005). As a result, they can work relatively independently and, what is more they can realize their full potential. In such a way, servant leadership increases the flexibility of the organization and improves its performance (Fidelus, 2003).

However, servant leadership exposes a leader to a serious threat of losing his authority because his stewardship is perceived by his subordinates and employees as weakness and inability of the leader to head the organization and lead it to success (Noble, 2005). In such a situation, when a conflict between formal and informal leaders begins, servant leadership becomes a serious drawback since it makes the leader vulnerable to his authoritarian opponent. On the other hand, it is necessary to remember that, under normal circumstances, when an organization develops steadily, servant leadership can be consistently more effective than any authoritarian leadership style because it encourages employees’ enthusiasm, autonomy and makes the organization more flexible to external influences (Fidelus, 2003).

In order to avoid internal conflict within the organization, prevent the loss of the authority by the leader and increase the effectiveness of organizational performance, it is necessary to meet cultural needs of all employees. In this respect, it is possible to recommend the formation of formal relationships where the servant leader has to balance professional and good interpersonal relations between him and his subordinates. What is meant here is the fact that the leader should be friendly, quite democratic but he should not surmount basic cultural norms which could have been offensive for representatives of more conservative cultures, namely Singaporean and Iranian employees. To put it more precisely, the leader can support and encourage his employees but he should not close the formal distance between him and the rest of employees (Lussier and Achua, 2005). He should always remain a leader, whatever happens within the organization and in his relationships with his employees. As a result, his supportive behavior will be quite helpful for Greek and German employees, while Singaporean and Iranian employees will feel the authority of the leader due to the distance he maintains as he keeps the distance in the communication with employees and in his support of employees emphasizing his leadership. However, the leader should not be haughty since it will produce a negative effect on German and especially Greek employees who would interpret it as tyranny or, at least, as a trend to the autocratic power.

To avoid this, the servant leader should engage employees in the process of decision making. For instance, he can discuss some important issues or decision he is going to take with employees. At the same time, he should make decision on his own and he should show that it was him who took the final decision, though he should also demonstrate that he took into consideration of employees. In other words, the ultimate decision is taken by the leader but he should show employees that he agreed with some of their suggestions concerning the decision. In such a way, Singaporean and Iranian employees will keep viewing him as a strong leader, while German and Greek employees will view him as a leader that takes into consideration the opinion of employees. Hence, he will be quite democratic for European and he will maintain his authority for Iranian and Singaporean employees.

Furthermore, it is important to establish clear and comprehensible rules of relationships between employees. The leader should introduce a code of conduct which could be elaborated together with employees, but this code should take into consideration cultural specificities of all cultural groups of employees. For instance, employees, especially representing different gender, should maintain the respectable distance to avoid situations which could be embarrassing for some employees (Hesselbein and Cohen, 1999). In addition, it is necessary to provide employees to have possibility to have a day off on occasions of religious holidays or similar important events, but all employees should have the same amount of days off. A part of the days off would be fixed, while a part would be variable. The latter means that employees will choose on their own those days when they prefer not to work and stay at home or celebrate their religious holiday, for instance. Finally, the servant leader should set clear goals the employees should achieve and suggest possible ways of the achievement of the set goals. However, the leader should allow employees either to follow his recommendations, which are more the characteristic of Singaporean employees, or choose their own way of actions to meet the set goals, which is more typical for Greeks and Germans.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the servant leader working in a multicultural environment, consisting of Greek, German, Iranian and Singaporean employees should follow the aforementioned recommendations in order to achieve a positive organizational performance. In fact, the organization will not function effectively, if cultural norms and traditions of employees are ignored. Moreover, the ignorance of cultural traditions of employees can evoke internal conflicts and opposition to the leader. Hence, the adaptation of the organizational culture to multicultural environment is an essential condition of an effective organizational performance.

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