Conventional wisdom would say that the outliers from the dominant culture — the multicultural workers, the more junior people, or perhaps the young, entry-level team members — should work to get their styles, values and communication in sync with their managers and feel empowered enough to close the power gap. However, conventional wisdom might not be right and may not always work. We’ve seen that the same dynamics repeat themselves time and time again as the unique perspectives of different groups are not understood by their managers, to the frustration of both sides.
As we examine the power gap dynamics, it is helpful to note the management and communication styles that exist at either extreme in the spectrum. Hierarchical management styles depend on standardized systems, value a great deal of control, and expect integration of others into the established system or order. Great deference is given to people in authority, and decision making is generally top-down. Hierarchical management styles roughly mirror traditional corporate company structures.
Egalitarian management styles are based on the doctrine of egalitarianism. In general, in a flat organizational environment, workers may share fairly equal authority in decision making. Egalitarian employees may feel comfortable questioning the manager and interacting less formally with him or her, whereas employees who are more hierarchical might wait for the manager to assign work, and maintain a safe distance.
The more hierarchical your culture or background, the greater the power gap is apt to be. This is because hierarchical cultures reinforce the differences between managers and employees.The effect is that any power gap that exists is magnified through the lens of this dimension. A greater power gap can result in decreased communication as well as increased misunderstandings and conflict, potentially leading to missed opportunities for building significant business and career relationships.
But when managers choose to close the gap and meet their employee partway, they are not giving away authority or respect. Closing the power gap need not make a leader more vulnerable; in fact, it can do the opposite, creating trust and communication where before there was only conflict and poor performance.
Understanding the power gap dimension is the must- have survival skill in the high-stakes game of leading in the new age. As you move along your journey toward fluency, we encourage you to shift your mindset from the fear-based and conflict-avoidant model of the past and adopt a fluent leader’s curious, proactive investigation of the new American workplace.