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Are you a progressive leader?

Updated: Apr 3

Based on the recent elections held in few states in India, CSDS-Lokniti did a survey and found that what mattered more to the voters was the political party to which the candidate belonged than the candidate itself. This is very typical of a “collectivist” society.

Picture quoted from "The Hindu" newspaper published on May 04th 2021

One of the aspects of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions that fascinated me was individualism vs collectivism. Now why would I want to write about it? With many things we took for granted being changed by an invisible creature, its important to understand this dimension, especially from the context of remote working.

As shown in several studies including Hofstede’s research, India has a collectivist culture. A collectivist culture is one where “we” is better understood than “I” in simplistic terms. However, there are other characteristics as well that need to be understood
  • People tend to associate themselves to a group and bonding within the group is higher. E.g. at the workplace, bonding within a department or within members of a project is very high with the “group interest” playing significantly higher than the “individual interest”

  • Hiring practices include HR or Managers to evaluate where the applicant can bond well with the team to deliver the output. This is given more weightage than the absolute skill or capability one brings as an individual. E.g. preference is given to people from a particular city/region/mother tongue/community/caste

  • Maintaining cordial relationships within the team is more important than the task to be completed. E.g. little to no negative feedback during appraisals.

  • Employees tend to work long hours while the time spent on actual work could be around usually expected 7-8 hours. E.g. intermittent breaks for coffee/tea, long lunch breaks, socializing at workplace during work hours

An individualistic culture lays more emphasis on individual accomplishments, high regard for individual privacy, open to sharing ideas within a group that is divergent from group thinking and expectation of rewards for individual brilliance. Individualistic cultures are expectedly more comfortable in remote working conditions as they prioritize individual outputs and rarely practice workplace socialization.

A big challenge to many businesses is that the collectivist characteristics have been shattered by remote working. Group bonding is severely impacted as most team meetings are on audio and many employees not having video appropriate infrastructure at home resulting in little face-to-face interactions.

Feedback mechanisms are worse to say the least without face-to-face communication and workplace socialization is thrown out completely.

Compounded by a “high power distance” culture, managers have started micro-managing and many companies have crawlers installed to check if employees are indeed working or not.

While some elements of “individualism” has become acceptable due to MNCs and IT services companies bringing in western cultural practices, these are few and far really.

What should business leaders do in the current context?

  • Leaders should make an earnest effort to build a rapport with their teams and have more direct communication. No delegation to next-in-line when it comes to communication.

  • Communication should focus on what employees want to hear and what would keep them motivated.

  • With the blend of individualism kicking in, employees are not really looking for supervision, they seek guidance and need coaching. Leaders should equip themselves to be a coach rather than a “remote director” looking to supervise the work.

  • C.K.Ranganathan, Chairman of CavinKare, once told in an interview that leaders should spend atleast 15 minutes everyday with every employee who joins remotely until they settle down.

  • Listen without judgement. This is extremely difficult to practice and many leaders have opted to be coached into acquiring this skill. Employees do have many needs in a remote work environment and they really need someone in the leadership that can hear them out.

Leadership focus has clearly shifted from task management to output/outcome management. Leaders who are adept in managing remote teams will be the progressive leaders of the future!!


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