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Stephen Hawking: Visionary and Cross-Cultural Leadership Coursework

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Updated: Jul 4th, 2020


Being an efficient leader is not an easy task, mostly because there is no book – the choice of the strategy depends on the situation, and being flexible and resourceful is the key to successful leadership. However, in the realm of the present-day world, flexibility does not seem to be enough. In the world where the globalization process is taking place, a leader must be able to develop the communication skills required for cross-cultural dialogue, as well as analytical skills required to address the emerging conflicts properly and solve problems efficiently. Though Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned scientist, is differently-abled due to the motor neuron disease resulting from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he has proven to be one of the most successful leaders in not only teaching but also the popularization of science and scientific research.


Scientists are rarely viewed as leaders. The way an average person sees them, scientists are engulfed in research to the point where their anti-social nature turns them ostracized by the rest of the world. The truth is quite different from the myth, as it often happens; in fact, scientists, especially those that popularize science, often prove successful leaders, and the world-renowned Stephen Hawkins is one of such people.

By incorporating the elements of visionary and cross-cultural leadership, he manages to succeed as not only the man that makes science evolve and become understandable to those interested in it but also the leader of a research team, the MIT students, and a variety of scientific projects. By incorporating the elements of two leadership styles to create a transformational one (Kaifi & Mujtaba, 2010), Hawking facilitates a radical change in the academic environment (Conceicao & Altman, 2011), the realm of science and the everyday world by analyzing the current tendencies and incorporating his communication skills to create the language that everyone can understand.

About Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is one of those people that have a dozen biographies written about them. There are no facts about the scientist that hare left undiscovered, and it is quite complicated to reveal something about him that has not been known yet. Born in 1942 in Oxford, he attended the St. Albans School and then Oxford College. After retrieving the degree in Natural Science, he enrolled in Cambridge to study Cosmology. In 1979, he became the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge. Hawking has been researching the laws that the Universe is governed by and has written to a range of both academic and popular articles regarding the subject matter (Brief biography, n. d., para. 1–5).

Visionary Leadership

Tough, traditionally, there is a thick line drawn between a leader and a scientist for an average citizen, a scientist has a range of advantages for becoming a visionary leader (McLaughlin, 2001) compared to the representative of any other profession, including managers and business people, and Stephen Hawking is a graphic example of that. According to the existing definition of a visionary, the latter must be able to make forecasts and assumptions based on the tendencies that can be observed currently: “A vision describes the ideal future that the leader wants to create; it is articulated in what is referred to as a vision statement” (Kirkpatric, 2011, p. 1615).

Indeed, a closer look at Hawking’s philosophy will show that he obviously has a clear vision of what the future of science and its popularization among ordinary people should look like; more to the point, Hawking is working hard on bringing his vision to life, which aligns with the key concept of a visionary leadership (Cardenas & Crabtree, 2009). As the scientist explains, it is only through the acquisition of knowledge (YouTube video: Visionary leadership, 2006) and its careful analysis that the humankind can move forward; therefore, Hawking promotes lifelong learning and academic progress among his students and colleagues.

Cross-Cultural Leadership

Through visionary leadership style is clearly the most important ingredient of the approach that Hawking adopts as a researcher and an academic leader, there are also quite tangible traces of cross-cultural leadership in the strategy that he adopts. The necessity to include the aforementioned type of leadership into the general strategy is quite evident; in the realm of an unceasing process of globalization, it is important to be able to develop relationships with the representatives of other cultures and ethnicities. However, because of considerable differences between different nations, a culture clash is inevitable in practically every case of intercultural communication.

Herein the necessity to work on the skills of a cross-cultural leader lies, and Hawkins knows it very well. As a scientist, who must be aware of the mathematical theories that may emerge in every corner of the world, he needs to be able to communicate with the representatives of different cultures efficiently; more to the point, as a teacher, one must provide students with the guidance and support that they need, which is quite complicated once a culture or a language barrier stands in the way. Not only does Hawking understand how to get a specific idea across to the representatives of other cultures, but he also designs his own strategy of cross-cultural interactions based on his experience of communication.

Though analytical skills and the art of communication seem to be lying too far apart from each other to be related, in fact, the ability to carry out a logical analysis does affect the communication process in a very positive way. Apart from the fact that the process of negotiation is carried out in a much more successful manner and with the outcomes that are very close to the desirable ones, analytical thinking allows for a very fast and satisfactory conflict solving process (Hofstede, 1993). Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that a person with the skills of an analytical thinker, like Stephen Hawking, is a perfect candidate for being an aspiring leader. When it comes to intercultural communication, it is essential to be a good analyst and to keep the key specifics of the opponent’s culture in mind, which cross-cultural leadership facilitates.

Contradictions and Analysis

Naturally, it would be wrong to claim that Hawking follows the concepts of visionary leadership fully without making a single step in a different direction. Quite on the contrary, some of the choices that the scientist makes are quite questionable from the perspective of visionary leadership.

This deviation from the traditional concept of a visionary leader, however, does not belittle the influence that Hawking has on his students, the people, who work under his supervision in his projects, or the science itself, for that matter. Quite on the contrary, the aforementioned refusal from following the pattern for visionary leadership creates the chance for blending the two leadership styles together and retaining the skills of a teacher and a researcher.

As a range of sources points out, there are quite tangible problems with visionary leadership, particularly with its focus on the future and the lack of consideration for the current situation. People need to be grounded in the present day in order to make the best use the resources that are currently within their reach, whereas a visionary leader always looks ahead and is never able to consider the current situation, with the advantages that it has to offer and the threats that need to be eliminated. Hawking, in his turn, has found the perfect balance between being focused on the present moment and making forecasts for the future of humankind.

At this point, the issue of cross-cultural leadership should be brought up. As it has been stressed above, apart from following the principles of a visionary leadership (Appelbaum et al., 2004) theory, Hawking also resorts to the concepts of cross-cultural leadership. As a result, it becomes possible for him to analyze the current situation and incorporate the factors that affect the present-day science popularization so that forecasts for the evolution of science and the humankind could be made (Waldman et al., 2006).

More importantly, Hawking understands the necessity for a leader in evolving, and clearly uses cross-cultural leadership as the key strategy for developing new qualities, which he can use as a teacher and as a researcher. Hawking is clearly working on developing the new character traits, which will help him progress as a leader and as a researcher in accordance with the principle of cross-cultural leadership theory:

There is evidence of cross-cultural differences and similarities in the leadership proto-typicality of various traits, indicating that some traits may be endorsed universally as prototypical of effective leaders, whereas the endorsement of other traits may be culturally contingent. (Casimir & Waldman, 2007, p. 49)

Therefore, cross-cultural leadership allows Hawking to fill in the gaps created by his unwillingness to follow the standard pattern for a visionary leader (YouTube video: Vision, leadership, and organizational improvement, 2007). While, due to the specifics of his work, he has to focus on the future developments and on the prognoses for the following decades, Hawkins manages to coordinate the current actions of the members of his team, as well as guide his students through the learning process, with the help of the cross-cultural leadership.


Having to be directed both in the future, i.e., the evolution of the mathematical theories and the analysis of regular occurrences in order to discover the nature and mechanisms of substance and matter, and to be grounded in the present-day world, with its unceasing communication with the team members, the students and the rest of the people around him, Stephen Hawking has to resort to two leadership strategies simultaneously; as a visionary leader, he is capable of making forecasts and looking into the future, whereas the cross-cultural leadership strategy allows him to take an active part in the process of daily communication It is quite peculiar that none of these styles works alone in his case; it is the combination of the two that creates unique chemistry facilitating the environment for Hawking to be an efficient leader in.

Reference List

Appelbaum, S., Bartolomucci, N., Beaumier, E., Boulanger, J., Corrigan, R. & Dore, I. (2004). Organizational citizenship behavior: A case study of culture, leadership and trust. Management Decision, 42(1/2), 13-43.

Brief biography (n. d.). Web.

Cardenas, J., & Crabtree, G. (2009). Making time for visionary leadership. College and University, 84(3), 59-63.

Casimir, G., & Waldman, D. A. (2007). A cross cultural comparison of the importance of leadership traits for effective low-level and high-level leaders: Australia and China. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 7(1), 47-61.

Conceicao, S. C., & Altman, B. A. (2011). Training and development process and organizational culture change. Organization Development Journal, 29(1), 33-44.

Hofstede, G. (1993). Cultural constraints in management theories. Academy of Management Executive, 7(1), 81-94.

Kaifi, B. A., & Mujtaba, B. G. (2010). Transformational leadership of Afghans and Americans: A study of culture, age and gender. Journal of Service Science and Management, 3(1), 150-159.

Kirkpatric, S. A. (2011). Visionary leadership theory. Encyclopedia of leadership 16(2), 1615–1619.

McLaughlin, C. (2001). Visionary leadership. Web.

Waldman, D. A., Luque, M. S., Washburn, N., House, R. J., Adetoun, B., Barrasa, A., … & Wilderom, C. P. M. (2006). Cultural and leadership predictors of corporate social responsibility values of top management: A globe study of 15 countries. Journal of International Business Studies, 37(6), 823-837.

YouTube video: Visionary leadership. (2006). Web.

(2007). Web.

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