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Multicultural leadership: The costs of its absence in organizational conflict management

Alberto G. Canen (COPPE/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Ana Canen (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 15 February 2008




This paper aims to contribute to the understanding of organizational conflict management from a multicultural perspective in the context of higher education institutions (HEIs).


Besides a theoretical discussion about multiculturalism and leadership, a case study based extensively, but not exclusively, on oral history has been undertaken within a unit of a HEI in Brazil. The case study, which illustrates the cost when multicultural leadership is absent, is based on a combination of first‐hand information and facts reconstruction.


The research discussed in this paper showed that the system of constructing “otherness” and isolating it can actually be characterized as workplace bullying condoned by extremely mono‐cultural leaders. An alternative scenario with more multiculturally competent leaders is discussed, providing possible tools and avenues for organizational conflict management.

Practical implications

HEIs should be viewed as multicultural organizations, not only for the purpose of developing multicultural curricula but also for reviewing the impact of institutional practices and leadership on the organizational climate. Leaders should be ethically and multiculturally accountable for ensuring an institutional identity that is open to cultural plurality and to the challenge of the institutionalization of differences.


This paper goes beyond multicultural issues restricted to individual and group identities and incorporates institutional cultural climate and the role of multicultural leaders in organizational conflict management in the context of HEIs, hitherto not much discussed, which may open up new debates in the area.



Canen, A.G. and Canen, A. (2008), "Multicultural leadership: The costs of its absence in organizational conflict management", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 4-19.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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