Cross-Cultural Engagement: High vs. Low Power Distance in Leadership



In every society, certain people have more power, status or influence than others, and each society creates its own cultural values to deal with this issue of power distance. Plueddemann describes power distance, “in high-power distance cultures both leaders and followers assume that the leader has more authority, respect and status symbols. The leader has the right to make unilateral decisions that will be obeyed without question… Leaders in low-power-distance cultures prefer a consultative participative or democratic decision-making style. Power is delegated to team members or to subcommittees.”[1]

The United State is a low-power distance culture. In addition to the widespread belief in the United States that every person should be treated with the same level of respect regardless of race, gender, economic class, and education, according to GlobeSmart, “U.S. Americans typically have a deep-seated distrust of hierarchy.”[2]

While Guatemala is a high-power distance culture, and there is an established and accepted hierarchy to the social structure. GlobeSmart describes the hierarchy in Guatemala as one in which “there is great respect for age, experience, rank and status. Decisions tend to come from the top down. The traditional leadership style in both families and business has been autocratic.”[3] Latino leadership, as discussed earlier, validates the acceptance of a high power distance. Leaders have proven their character, their commitment to the community through results and relationships which indicates they can be trusted in the high power distance role.

North Americans need to be aware of the very different status of leadership in each culture. If care is not taken, damage can be done to the existing community leader and the long term relationship.

[1] Plueddemann. Leading Across Cultures, kindle 910-915.

[2] GlobeSmart., “Core Values and Implications for Business”

[3] GlobeSmart., “Core Values and Implications for Business”



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