Some time back I attended a reception hosted by the Colombian embassy where I met the Minister Consul of one of the African embassies. The man, to me, seemed quite ‘high up’ but referred to himself as "The Obedient Servant”.
So how does hierarchy, or lack thereof, effect the work environment?
In hierarchical societies subordinates expect to be told what to do. They do not speak without being spoken to and they tend to do what they are told, even when they may not necessarily agree. In egalitarian societies on the other hand, subordinates expect to be consulted in the decision making process. They are expected to show initiative and come up with ideas themselves. Disagreeing with the boss is not uncommon. These are two very different ways of working, and fine if everyone is playing by the same rules. But what happens when you have a hierarchical boss and egalitarian subordinate? Or an egalitarian boss and hierarchical subordinate? Terms such as “disrespectful”, “bossy”, “rude”, “improper”, “cowardly” and “servile” come into play. Misunderstandings about expectations, and misinterpretation of behaviour on both parts are two of the many problems that can arise from such situations. Being able to recognise the role that culture is playing, and reconcile such differences is crucial when both reporting to, and managing those from a different culture.