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Cross-Cultural Studies. Paternalistic Leadership Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

Leadership belongs to one of the basic concepts related to the peculiarities of governmental organisation. Working with foreigners, it is of great importance to be aware of the most popular views on leadership in their native cultures since it helps to understand the expectations that they have as employers or employees. Thus, the post focuses on paternalistic leadership peculiar to collectivistic cultures and summarises its distinctive features.

Paternalistic leadership is among the styles that seem to join the unjoinable when it comes to the relationships between leaders and subordinates. Successful paternalistic leaders do not oppress other people, urging them to follow any directions. Instead, this style involves the establishment of trust-based relationships with employees and protecting their interests in case of conflicts with some external parties (Northouse, 2018). This approach is common in Asian countries since it is the embodiment of some Confucian principles (Chen, Zhou, & Klyver, 2018; Nie & Lämsä, 2018). Of course, in exchange for protection and help, paternalistic leaders expect loyalty and dutiful affection from their followers, which makes the style similar to traditional child-parent relationships.

Speaking about the style’s most interesting features, it is pivotal to focus on the aspects of life valued by leaders using it. This approach is peculiar to patriarchal countries that have strong traditions related to family life and high power distance indices (Wang et al., 2018). As a separate style, paternalistic leadership is believed to be based on a combination of approaches that are, to some extent, incompatible: “authoritarianism and benevolence” (Wang et al., 2018, p. 686). Given the existing conflict between these concepts (the former involves oppression, whereas the latter makes leaders care of their followers’ well-being), some researchers claim paternalistic leaders to “have two distinct faces” (Wang et al., 2018, p. 686). In this system, depending on their behaviour, people have an opportunity to see both masks of their leader.

Being popular in Asian and African countries, as well as in Russia, this leadership style is closely interconnected with the traditional understanding of family life. In particular, it can be based on the extension of traditional family values such as unity, respect, order, and the distribution of roles to the field of business (Wang et al., 2018). Based on the prevailing component, benevolence or authoritarianism, modern researchers distinguish between two types of paternalistic leadership – “benevolent and exploitative paternalism” that are predicted by the degree of self-control and freedom (Mansur, Sobral, & Goldszmidt, 2017, p. 702). Based on that, the features of this leadership style may vary depending on different cultures’ position in relation to people’s sense of responsibility and outside control.

To sum up, just like values and the notions of right and wrong, approaches to leadership are determined by culture. Using paternalistic leadership, people recognise the importance of stiff hierarchical structures, with all members understanding particular limitations related to their position. This approach to leading people is preferred in collectivistic countries with strong social hierarchies, but depending on the culture, it can be more authoritarian or benevolent.


Chen, Y., Zhou, X., & Klyver, K. (2018). Collective efficacy: Linking paternalistic leadership to organizational commitment. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-17.

Mansur, J., Sobral, F., & Goldszmidt, R. (2017). Shades of paternalistic leadership across cultures. Journal of World Business, 52(5), 702-713.

Nie, D., & Lämsä, A. M. (2018). Chinese immigrants’ occupational well-being in Finland: The role of paternalistic leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 39(3), 340-352.

Northouse, P. G. (2018). Introduction to leadership: Concepts and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Wang, A. C., Tsai, C. Y., Dionne, S. D., Yammarino, F. J., Spain, S. M., Ling, H. C.,… Cheng, B. S. (2018). Benevolence-dominant, authoritarianism-dominant, and classical paternalistic leadership: Testing their relationships with subordinate performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 29(6), 686-697.

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