In 2008, Clipper Corporation was a privately held, business that had been in business for 14 years and generated roughly $30 million in revenue. The company was started and led by its President and Chief Executive Officer who immigrated to the United States from China just two years prior to establishing the company in 1994. The chief executive officer was the face of the company but was not truly involved in the company’s day-to-day operations. Day-to-day operations were managed entirely by the executive management team consisting of a Controller, Sales Director, Operations Director, and Vice President. These four individuals operated fairly autonomously, with very little guidance or support from the chief executive who did care how directives were achieved as long as they were achieved. There was no personal interaction or communication between the CEO and non-executive staff; lower level employees communicated directly with their immediate managers and the CEO communicated directly only with the executive team. Further, the company lacked a formalized vision or mission and no clearly defined company objectives.
From an organizational culture standpoint, long working hours were a rule, not an exception. It was not uncommon for managers and executives to work in excess of ten to twelve hours daily having lunch at their desks or skipping lunch altogether in order to complete projects. Management team meetings were held afterhours so as not interfere with business operations. The culture was one where executives, management, and staff, alike, felt overworked and undervalued. Executive leadership was unable to work collaboratively and productively which lead to a general lack of distrust among management and caused an inter-departmental divides and strained working relationships. The company, although still profitable, was also seeing its profit margins shrink.
All of the aforementioned behaviors are, by all means, indicative of negative leadership behavior. Howard (2005) defines leadership as “the process of communication (verbal & non-verbal) that involves coaching, motivating/inspiring, directing/ guiding, and supporting/counseling others” (p. 385). The chief executive maintained a rather passive in her approach to leadership by allowing her executive team to manage company operations. She directed, yet she did not motivate, inspire, guide, support or counsel, as required by Howard’s definition. In regard to the lack of clearly defined company objectives and the lack of a formalized mission or vision, Clark (2010) writes that “Good organizations convey a strong vision of where they will be in the future” (Clark, 2010). Clipper Corporation’s chief executive clearly fails the vision test as well.
Although there are several negative behaviors to be addressed within Clipper Corporation; however, these behaviors all have a single underlying cause— the failure to understand and embrace the cultural diversity within the organization. Clipper Corporation’s chief executive’s leadership style is based upon Chinese cultural values which are vastly different than American leadership values. Rarick (2007) explains that China is a collectivist society and American culture is more individualistic (p. 23). Also, Chinese culture is high context where communication involves more than verbal or written words. American communication is low context where the written word is the most important. Chinese culture is also very tradition-based whereas American culture focuses more on the present and future. These cultural differences translate directly to differences in leadership style as well as subordinate expectations. Thus, the behaviors displayed by Clipper’s CEO, are extremely negative from an American leadership perspective; however, that leadership style is quite common within Chinese culture. In fact, Steers, Sanchez-Runde and Nardon found that when leaders of American and other Western