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Effective leadership of knowledge workers: results of an intercultural business study

Ingo Bildstein (Chair in International Management, University of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, Liechtenstein)
Stefan Gueldenberg (Chair in International Management, University of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, Liechtenstein)
Hora Tjitra (Department of Psychology and Behavioral Science, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China)

Management Research Review

ISSN: 2040-8269

Article publication date: 1 January 2013




The purpose of this paper is to link Peter F. Drucker's seminal theoretical conceptions with empirical insights on what constitutes perception of effective knowledge worker leadership in an intercultural environment. Both a fundamental shift of mind in theorizing and much more empirical research is needed, to fully understand the underlying view of leadership as a socially distributed activity. However, in a true Druckerian spirit, to take this new lens on leadership is neither magic nor rocket science – but it constitutes a road visible but not yet seen.


The authors link key recommendations on expert leadership from the timeless 1999 Drucker paper on knowledge worker productivity to the results of qualitative in‐depth interviews with over 100 top‐level leaders and their direct reports in China, Indonesia, and Singapore. Because leadership is all about influencing other people, the authors are especially interested on what constitutes good leadership from the followers' point of view.


One of the key findings is that perceived leadership effectiveness heavily depends upon fit to followers' expectations. As a result, a leadership style, which is effective in one country can wreak havoc when unreflectively transferred into another cultural environment. Hence being able to step back and to reflect on the appropriateness of one's leadership behavior is the key element of a globally successful leader.

Practical implications

Too many experts are currently sent to foreign assignments without proper preparation for good adaptation of their leadership behavior. A new leadership conception informed by psychological consideration provides expert leaders with recommended action on how to best deal with the group dynamics resulting from dealing with the twenty‐first century's most valuable asset entrusted to their care. This mind‐shift will overcome leadership barriers to international business, and optimize knowledge work results.


This contribution is one of the first studies about perceived knowledge worker leadership effectiveness in Asia. Integration of the paper's findings with recent Western leadership conceptualizations focusing on sharing and distributing leadership responsibilities will help build a richer understanding.



Bildstein, I., Gueldenberg, S. and Tjitra, H. (2013), "Effective leadership of knowledge workers: results of an intercultural business study", Management Research Review, Vol. 36 No. 8, pp. 788-804.



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Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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