Developing Multicultural Leaders: The Journey to Leadership Success

Jeffrey D. Yergler (Olympic College, Bremerton, Washington)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 28 September 2011




Yergler, J.D. (2011), "Developing Multicultural Leaders: The Journey to Leadership Success", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 32 No. 7, pp. 755-757.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Global leadership development is a topic of increasing importance for individuals seeking to prepare for international service, for organizational leaders within multinationals, as well as for academicians who work in the discipline of leadership studies. Leadership training and development, long a specialty of the West, is a growing concern for global cultures that are uniquely interested in how their own leaders are developed, shaped, and influenced by their own distinctive cultures.

Muna and Zennie's (2010) book specifically addresses how their research, based on data drawn from semi‐structured interviews that took place with 310 leaders, within 129 organizations, from 12 Middle Eastern countries, has shaped leaders in these regions. Furthermore, throughout their writing, Muna and Zennie describe how their findings are similar to and yet different from research drawn from the West that addresses major themes in leadership development. The authors found that while there were dissimilarities between Middle Eastern and Western leaders, the themes that created leadership success were, in many ways, comparable. Further, their insights can inform international business operations which are seeking to expand into new global markets.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one focuses on macro themes that guided the research. Part two speaks to the leadership formation process beginning with childhood. Part three addresses what leaders do to show themselves as exceptional and competent within organizational‐corporate settings. There are three appendices that contain information about the research process. The book concludes with a detailed References section. Overall, Muna and Zennie's writing style is crisp, clear and engaging. Moreover, the information provided can be immediately operationalized.

Throughout the book, Muna and Zennie attempt to answer five questions about the key cultural components that contribute to and influence leadership development. These themes include childhood influences, important life experiences, specific factors contributing to outstanding leadership, critical pathways exceptional leaders follow, and the particular competences and practices of exceptional leaders (p. 1).

The utility of Muna and Zennie's book is expressed from four different perspectives. First, this work is an attempt to show how approaches to leadership and leadership development are different from Western‐based approaches. It is important, the authors argue, for leadership development discourse to be globally centric and locally based and to move away from leadership discourse that has been traditionally rooted in Western‐based leadership development hegemony.

A second perspective highlights the ways leaders develop within a Middle Eastern context. Muna and Zennie note that the avenues by which leaders develop and the pathways to the exercise of leadership within organizations are, in many ways, singularly unique when compared to other global environments. The Middle Eastern leadership incubator must be accurately understood by those within that culture who seek to understand and engage in leadership development, by expatriates working within the Middle Eastern culture, and by Multinational businesses rooted in the culture.

A third perspective highlights that while leadership development within a Middle Eastern context is unique, there are also similarities that seem to cross cultural boundaries. Muna and Zennie's observe that what is effective leadership execution within a Middle Eastern organization would also be considered effective leadership execution in other countries. This reviewer sees this perspective as particularly valuable. While Muna and Zennie note that areas such as emotional intelligence, decision‐making, excellence in execution, accountability are vital to leadership development within a Middle Eastern context, these same areas of competence would also be required in a variety of organizational settings across cultural boundaries.

A fourth perspective speaks to the recruiting, retaining, and developing of leadership talent. Muna and Zennie spend considerable time exploring how multicultural leaders are intentionally cultivated. This information would be particularly helpful for soon‐to‐be expatriates preparing to work in multinationals as well as for Middle Eastern leaders seeking international opportunities. The authors offer a number of suggestions to help prepare leaders for cross‐cultural leadership. A sampling of these suggestions includes: seek or request international positions, engage in international graduate education, career development that includes a multicultural mentor, study and read about organizations doing business in particular cultural contexts of interest, learn an foreign language, take vacations overseas, and volunteer with international non‐profit organizations (pp. 155‐157).

In summary, Muna and Zennie have done an excellent job of exploring how multicultural leaders are developed within a particular cultural context. Using the insights gained from their research, they provide clear affirmation of leadership development processes that apply within and across a variety of cultural environments. Most importantly to this reviewer, their work is a powerful resource for any organization doing work internationally and which takes seriously how best to prepare their own employees for international service.

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