Leadership In The USA

leadership in the USA

The significant characteristics of good leadership in the USA are creativity, courage and high motivation. A manager’s bearing should be strong and clear. Superiors should inspire their staff – usually under time pressure – to achieve top performance. In doing so, one always assumes that the best is still to come and the fastest will reach this goal. For this reason, mistakes are tolerated and excused for the sake of innovation. American bosses are fair and tolerant. If a conflict arises, they are often not aggressive but friendly. Everyone is given a second chance.

The Job Of A Manager

If you are new to a particular role as a leader, you will be given the chance to prove yourself in an American company. By communicating politely, giving clear instructions and distinctly acknowledging good results, you will gain the respect of your staff. Define precisely the scope for decision-making and taking action. You can be sure that everyone will keep to your guidelines. The best policy is to document work procedures exactly so that matters are quite clear for both sides.

Your employees will expect regular feedback talks, in order to learn where they stand and what they need to change, if anything. Feedback is given in private, whereby negative comments are made according to specific rules.

First the person is praised for who he is and for his performance; appreciation is expressed. Then an explanation is given as to what went wrong. The next step is to suggest how the assignment could be handled better in future. Offer your support. Above all do not forget the first step. Always show sufficient approval!

Boundaries Between Manager And Team

In many American companies with a low-profile hierarchy, everybody can speak to everyone. The boss wants to be seen as a friend, a regular guy. Nevertheless, American managers definitely have the last say in a matter. Especially in owner-operated firms, the boss confers with his team but he alone is the one who makes the decisions. Broad agreement is not an issue.

The boundaries between work and personal life are different in the USA than in many other countries. First names are used which reduces the distance. The boss might well invite his staff to his home for a BBQ. There they will get to know his family. However, such events are a very superficial affair and rarely lead to a closer friendship.

As a manager from abroad, new to leadership in the USA, you will doubtless be observed closely. You will be given all the information you need and all your questions will be answered. In return, show some interest in your staff. Invite them to a garden party, but not to a sit-down meal. That would be too formal and the employees would wonder what you were trying to achieve. Whether you meet your colleagues after work for a drink depends entirely on the team. You should not expect it as a matter of course. There are a lot of companies where the employees go straight home after work and where there is little private contact between them.

Political Correctness

Comments which are not politically correct (Not PC) in the USA, have the potential to cause conflict. You should not make remarks or tell jokes which are aimed at a particular group even if you think your listeners would find the remark equally amusing. This could very easily damage your reputation and your leadership in the USA. If you hear someone speaking in a politically incorrect manner, perhaps making racist comments, just pretend you do not understand.

You should definitely learn the type of language which is considered to be politically correct in your area of work. That is sometimes a little inconvenient but you will be respected for doing this. It is best to only mention appearances if they are relevant for information. Here are a few examples which refer to the background or appearance of a person: instead of ›Chinese‹ say ›Chinese American‹, instead of ›Black‹ use ›African American‹, instead of ›immigrant‹ speak of ›newcomer‹. Do not address female colleagues with ›Miss‹ or ›Mrs.‹, use the neutral form ›Ms.‹ – unless the person in question tells you how she wishes to be addressed. Do not use any words to describe someone unless you are sure that it sounds positive. Did you know that ›big‹ means corpulent? If you want to refer to someone’s height you should use the word ›tall‹. Weight is a taboo subject.

Employee Motivation

American employees are mainly motivated by being given interesting assignments. In addition, they expect a bonus for good results. This might be a share of the turnover, shares in the company, a short trip away or an upgrade to a company car, mobile telephone or other electronic gadgets. Employees’ loyalty and their bond with a company depend greatly on the economic situation and the success of each branch of industry. If you work with High Potentials or Talents, it is a very important part of your leadership in the USA that you always create sufficient incentives. What these may be, depends on the branch you work in and on the personal targets of your staff. Speak to them directly. Find out what motivates them and what their career ambitions are.

Choosing Your Staff

Job applications in the United States are expected to be without a photograph and often without an address so that everyone has exactly the same chance in the selection procedure. This prevents someone from being judged by his sex, appearance or background – the address could be an indication – and the associated prejudice. Americans present themselves and their achievements very enthusiastically – and they like to exaggerate. It is, therefore, worth scrutinising what they maintain in their applications and contacting the reference providers (referent). Your American applicants will not bring any work certificates with them, but in their CV you will find the name and contact details of one or more people who are willing to supply information on the applicant. The standard of qualification depends a lot on where the applicant took his exams. You should therefore collect some information on the reputation of the schools, colleges and universities involved. Check to see what the applicant’s responsibilities were in his last post and let someone explain what successes he had. This will enable you to gain a better picture of his capabilities. Americans are more all-rounders than specialists. It is assumed that someone who has obtained a university degree will be able to familiarise himself with the work in different specialist areas. Furthermore, there is no job training as such in the USA, e.g. a three-year apprenticeship, as in some other countries. People learn on the job, which means they often do not have the whole picture. If employees or business partners recommend friends or relatives for a job that is advertised, these people undergo the same application procedure as all other candidates. You have no obligation to anyone. If the person meets the criteria, no one can accuse you of favouritism. You draw up a work contract with your new employee ›at will‹. This means that, apart from a few exceptions, both sides can terminate the employment contract without notice. 

Johanna Marius
Extract from Business Culture USA, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag 

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