The currencies of leadership around the world

I have that wallet issue again. Different currencies from countries far away, leftovers of recent trips, are piling up inside it and I am looking for the best way to make use of them. I look at those foreign notes, many of them very colorful and much more interesting than our dull Euros, and I realize how pretty they are, and how much of a culture’s identity is expressed in its currency if you take time to study it thoroughly (well that might also be a reason why I find Euros boring – do we really have something like a European identity?).

There are also differences in what types of pictures and symbols go on currencies. Those pictures convey things that are important in the respective country and culture. The US notes all feature past presidents, the founders of the republic. As a non-American, this reinforces my impression about the leadership in the US being heavily person focused, influenced by ideals and ideas, and the importance of an entrepreneurial attitude. Euro notes all feature bridges, emphasizing the need to build bridges across the many boundaries between the different cultures in Europe, as well as the pride in creating something based on craftsmanship, art and a joint vision. Brazilian Reais display regional fauna, showing the role of nature in this vast country, and on the other side a human effigy wearing laurels – but an effigy of a fictitious persona, the republic itself. I take this as a sign that in Brazil, the currency reminds us that institutions and ideas can transcend the importance of any individual person alone.

As different as their currencies are these cultures’ ideas about leadership. Just think how differently leadership happens in a culture that glorifies leaders of the past, versus a culture that only depicts a fictitious head of the republic, or a culture (if you can call it that) that doesn’t depict any humans whatsoever? Research has shown that there are vast differences in the expectations people have around the world regarding how outstanding leaders act, think, communicate, and interact. There simply isn’t one best way of leadership that works everywhere.

In the Center for Creative Leadership’s new 360-degree assessment, Global6, we capture these differences by asking raters about their expectations of outstanding leadership–before asking them to rate a specific manager. The assessment then contrasts how perceptions of a specific manager are aligned to raters’ expectations of leadership.  And guess what–those that have the highest alignment get the best performance and promotability ratings. I am excited about this assessment as it offers a totally different approach to assessment for development – looking at “what people want” in a leader, rather than racing to get the highest scores on some specific competencies.

I’d also love to hear what your experiences are with leadership in other cultures or contexts. What insights did you have? What glorious mistakes did you make? Let’s share and learn together!


About Gina Eckert

Regina (Gina) Eckert joined the Center for Creative Leadership in 2006 as a researcher in the EMEA region. Gina's academic background is in social and work psychology. Her work focuses on global and cross-cultural leadership, managerial development and careers of women and men across countries, and leadership for organizational responsibility and sustainability. Currently, Gina is managing research into Careers in 21st Century Europe and the creation of a new 360-degree instrument, the Global Leader View.
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4 Responses to The currencies of leadership around the world

  1. avatar nance goldstein says:

    Hello. The hotlink to research that demonstrates the variety of expectations of leaders depending on culture of origin leads only to the GLOBE homepage. It’s impossible to tell where the research you reference is. I would really appreciate a title and author or url to link to the research findings. thank you.

  2. avatar Gina Eckert says:

    Hi Nance,

    thanks for the request on research background – here is more info on the GLOBE study:

    All publicly available details on the GLOBE study are available here:

    and if you’re really into reading, you can buy two books on GLOBE:

    have fun!

  3. avatar Jay Sample says:

    Hi Gina.
    I served in the U.S. Navy in the 80s and remember European currency before the Euro. Francs, lire, and peseta all had faces, too. It was only after the introduction of the Euro that objects took focus.
    The U. S. has not rebooted its currency, choosing to retain images used for more than 100 years. This decision may have more to do with familiarity than making a statement about leadership. To be sure, the U. S. has been person-centric in its approach to leadership, but I think this is shifting, especially in large metro settings where intercultural competency is becoming more important.
    And this observation may follow an interesting trend in leadership theory. What began with Great Man, has morphed through traits and behaviors, to include contexts and followers. This expanding perspective on leading may best be illustrated in Meg Wheatley’s excellent “Leadership and the New Science” which draws attention to grand interconnectivity. At least that is what I take away from these observations.
    What seems clear is we have not figured out a formula for making leaders and probably never will. There are qualities that matter (intelligence, ethics, inspiring others, etc.), but contingencies frustrate formulae.
    I’m just a hack at this stuff; just thinking. And you made that happen today.
    Thanks a bunch!

  4. avatar Gina Eckert says:

    Hi Jay,
    thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I agree the nice thing about the currency metaphor is that the pictures can change – and that change (or lack of) is also indicative of cultural values.
    I like your reference to interconnectedness – in our endeavor to simplify things we categorize and reduce them to some of their attributes, overseeing the connections and ties between them. I personally love those contingencies and hidden connections (even though they’re frustrating) as they are what makes life so interesting and playful!

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