Do You Prefer a Boss or a Leader?

Which approach to organization do you prefer — an equality-based one or a hierarchy-based approach? Most people would likely prefer an egalitarian approach. However, what we prefer cannot change what our society is. So what we’re going to look at today is this question: Are Malaysians more hierarchical or egalitarian? This is an important question, because we need to understand our own culture well before trying to understand others. This in turn will help us to accomplish our work effectively, without rubbing anyone the wrong way.

First of all, what is equality? An organization style based on equality would mean that the people prefer to be self-directed, have flexibility in their roles, have the freedom to challenge the opinion of those in higher positions, and treat both genders in the same way.

Let’s contrast this with a hierarchical approach. Normally, these people prefer to take direction from above, have limitations in their roles, respect and not challenge those in higher positions, enforce regulations and guidelines, and expect men and women to behave differently and be treated differently.

Now ask yourself which of these you prefer – hierarchy or egalitarianism. I’m not sure about you, but personally, though I may not think it is the best approach, I am more comfortable with the hierarchical one. Why is that so? Remember the illustration used in the previous post about how culture is our software, and how it is installed within us? What affects this software? Again, it is everything around us – our family, our educational system, our society, etc. Think about our family. We are taught to show respect for our elders, and we would never dream of addressing those older than us by name. We normally would include an honorific, such as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. There are even words in our languages to address our eldest uncle, the youngest aunt, and so on. Back when in school, we would rarely ever dare to challenge anything the teacher says. Even when called upon to ask questions, how many among us would actually do so? This is why I personally feel more comfortable with hierarchy. This is what my culture has programmed into me.

Boss vs. Leader

Typically Malaysian managers adapt a more “boss” like approach. Therefore, micromanaging is often expected rather than shunned.

Does this extend to your workplace? Think about it. Who makes the major decisions and gives instructions? Would you be comfortable with being told to do something without being given any guidelines? Would you address your boss by his/her first name, without any title? Most Malaysians would rarely ever use their boss’s first name, unless asked to, as this would not be showing the boss their due respect. They would usually leave the important decisions to the boss, and expect to be given detailed instructions on how to carry out tasks, out of respect for those in higher positions. If an employee makes a major decision and carries a task out without consulting their superiors, this would likely be frowned upon. However, in other societies where equality is more highly valued, such as Western societies, this action of taking the initiative would be viewed as commendable and desirable, and an employee who expects to be spoon-fed all the details would be viewed as incompetent. And in an egalitarian society, most people would be comfortable with using first names instead of honorifics.

The following picture shows the differences between employers in hierarchical cultures and those from egalitarian cultures. Of course, this is not true of every employer in each of those cultures, as individual differences exist, but it helps to emphasize the dissimilarity between the two.

In conclusion, learning the culture of those in your workplace is therefore important, and cross-cultural training can be of great value in this regard, as those from different cultures have very different approaches to their work. Understanding various cultures and how they come into play in the workplace can help us to use the right approach when dealing with others.


By:  Boleh Blogger