Culture and leadership in Africa:
a conceptual model and
Department of Business Studies, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
Purpose – The paper aims at identifying the knowledge gaps in the existing African leadership
studies and argues in support of further research in the ﬁeld with a view to establishing the link
between African culture and leadership practices and their implications for economic growth on the
Design/methodology/approach – It reviews the mainstream perspectives in leadership literature
in general and African leadership literature in particular as a basis for the development of an
integrated goal-behaviour-performance model.
Findings – Previous studies have seen African culture as either deﬁning the uniqueness of
leadership on the continent or constraining leadership development. The paper suggests the presence
of both types of impact on leadership. It also offers a conceptual framework that integrates the
different perspectives on the relationship between culture, leadership and organizational performance.
Research limitations/implications – The paper is based mainly on limited empirical
investigations into leadership styles and functions in Africa. The scarcity of studies in the ﬁeld
therefore imposes limitations on the generalizability of some of the arguments.
Practical implications – The paper encourages research in the ﬁeld and provides some
propositions to guide future empirical investigations. Ideas generated in the paper will guide
organizational development strategies and poverty alleviation policies in Africa.
Originality/value – It is one of the recent attempts to synthesize existing perspectives on leadership
behaviour in Africa and its implications for economic growth and poverty alleviation.
Keywords Africa, National cultures, Cultural studies, Leadership, Organizational performance
Paper type Conceptual paper
The last four decades have witnessed a persistent search for explanations for the dismal
growth of Sub-Sahara African (SSA) economies. SSA economies have been frequently
compared with high growth Asian economies such as those of Malaysia and South
Korea which were at similar levels of growth barely ﬁve decades ago. While these
Asian countries now enjoy the accolade of “economic miracle” (Akyu
¨z and Gore, 2001),
the African situation is usually described by such adjectives as “disaster” and
“tragedy” (UNCTAD, 2004). Explanations for this dismal performance have included
institutional and structural weaknesses (Yeats et al., 1996; Killick et al., 2001),
limited attention to private enterprise development (Fafchamps et al., 2001), poor
governance (Nwankwo and Richards, 2001), management ineptitude (Kamoche, 1997)
and limited staff motivation (Okpara, 2006; Okpara and Wynn, 2007). Other scholars
have argued that leadership weaknesses constitute the most important reason for
Africa’s poor economic performance (Ochola, 2007).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
African Journal of Economic and
Vol. 1 No. 1, 2010
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
Although limited research has been done on African leadership (Bolden and
Kirk, 2009), the general view in the available literature is that African leaders are
terribly ineffective and adapt very poorly to the demands of an increasingly complex
globalised economic system (Ochola, 2007). Thus, Edoho (2007) declares that until
African countries develop the managerial capacities of their leaders (both within the
public and private sectors) progress on the continent as a whole may remain illusive.
Leadership development has therefore attracted policy interest during the past three
decades, guided by the view that the more African management practices approximate
Western practices the more efﬁcient and effective their organisations would be. This
view has provided intellectual legitimacy for the unending stream of donor funded
management training programmes and organisational development interventions
delivered to African organisations by Western consultants.
The relevance of this Western-inspired leader development approaches has been
challenged on the grounds that there are wide varieties of successful leadership
and management practices throughout the world (Whitley, 1994; Sørensen and
Kuada, 2001). In view of these critics, the fact that many African managers have the
intellectual capacity to understand the logic underlying Western management
principles and practices but revert to their pre-training behaviour after participating in
several training programmes indicate fundamental weaknesses in the Western
management-oriented training programmes themselves (Kuada, 1994).
The divergent perspectives outlined above invite continual debate and research.
Research must improve insight into how Africans behave as leaders, why they behave
the way they do, and the implications of such behaviours for organizational and
national economic performance. Research is also required to guide the choice of
approaches that African leaders may adopt to achieve sustainable improvements in
their behaviours. This paper therefore argues in favour of a stronger positioning of
African leadership on the management research agenda. It does so by reviewing some
of the studies already published in the area and drawing attention to some current
knowledge gaps in the literature. With this as a background, the paper provides some
guidance as to how scholars can progress the leader development ideas through further
empirical and conceptual studies and through the development of usable prescriptions
The paper is structured as follows. It continues after this introduction with a review
of some of the leading thoughts on leadership that management scholars have
provided during the last half a century. This body of literature is then synthesized into
a goal – behaviour – outcome model that identiﬁes the drivers, behaviours and
consequences of current dominant leadership forms in most African countries and
organizations. The model is followed by a list of research issues requiring the
immediate attention of scholars.
A review of leadership theories
Bolden and Kirk (2009) group theories of leadership into four main categories:
(1) essentialist theories;
(2) relational theories;
(3) critical theories; and
(4) constructionist theories.
The essentialist theorists rely on objectivist paradigm and seek to identify and deﬁne
what “leadership” is in universal terms –, i.e. focusing on predictable leadership traits
and behaviours. The works of leadership scholars such as Blake and Mouton (1964),
Fiedler (1967), Stogdill (1974), Hersey and Blanchard (1977) and Bass (1985) are
examples of this theoretical perspective. Relational theorists on the other hand, argue
that leadership resides not within leaders themselves but in their relationship with
others. These theorists therefore call for recognition of the emergent nature of
leadership processes and the distributed nature of expertise and inﬂuence. Critical
theories focus their attention on the underlying dynamics of power and politics within
organizations and therefore emphasise the social and psychological processes that
characterise the performance of leadership functions in organizations. Finally, the
constructionist theorists draw attention to the manner in which the notion of
“leadership” is utilized to construct shared meanings that enable people to make sense
of their predicaments. Together, these studies have greatly enhanced academic and
practitioner understandings of leadership during the last century.
Since the concern in this paper is to explore the extent to which the management
literature can inform our understanding of leadership challenges in Africa, the
discussions rely largely on the managerial theoretical perspectives that fall under
the ﬁrst category of theories identiﬁed by Bolden and Kirk (2009). We will however be
guided in the discussions by the understanding that there is substantial overlap
between the four theoretical positions.
Early leadership theories (1920-1970)
One of the inﬂuential leadership theories of the 1920s and 1930s was the trait theory
which posits that successful leaders combine such personality attributes as drive,
desire to lead, integrity, self-conﬁdence, intelligence, adaptability, assertiveness and
emotional stability, with social attributes such as being educated at the “right” schools
and being socially prominent or upwardly mobile to shape their leadership roles in
organizations (Yukl, 2010). Extensive empirical studies have, however, failed to
establish the generalizability of these traits. Thus, the traits theory came into quick
competition with a wide range of other leadership theories during the mid-1950s
One of the competing theories at that time was the situational (or contingency)
leadership theory, with roots in studies by (Fiedler, 1967), as well as Hersey and
Blanchard (1977). The main thrust of these studies is that there is no one best way to
inﬂuence people – i.e. different situations call for different types of leadership
orientation and action. Scholars subscribing to the contingency theory placed the
dominant leadership behaviours on a continuum with task-centred behaviour at one
end and employee (relationship) centred behaviour at the other end (Nahavandi, 2009;
Yukl, 2010). They argued that task-centred leaders consider it their responsibility to
supervise their subordinates closely – telling them what to do, how to do it, when to do
it and where to do it. Relationship-centred leaders address the social and emotional
needs of their peers and subordinates with emphasis on recognition, work satisfaction
and self-esteem. The extent to which a leader is task-centred or employee (relationship)
centred in his behaviour would, however, depend on the nature of the task, the degree
of urgency with which the task was to be completed and the level of maturity of the
employees carrying out the task (Avolio et al., 2009). Maturity is deﬁned in this body of
literature as the willingness and ability of a person to take responsibility for directing
his or her own behaviour. People tend to exhibit varying degrees of maturity, depending
on the speciﬁc task, function, or objectives that are to be fulﬁlled (Lord et al., 1999).
Newer theories of leadership (1970-2010)
The task and relationship perspectives of leadership have evolved in the 1980s into two
new perspectives – transactional and transformational perspectives of leadership.
Transactional leadership scholars focus their studies on exchanges of favours that
occur between leaders and followers and on reward or punishment for good or poor
performance. Fiedler’s (1967) path-goal model is an earlier development of the
transactional leadership perspective. He argued that leaders motivate their
subordinates in the direction of established goals by clarifying the role and task
requirements and by offering rewards and/or dispensing punishments that they
consider appropriate in a given situation. The model takes its roots in the expectancy
theory which holds that an individual employee’s motivation to achieve success is a
product of the individual’s perceived probability of success and the expected rewards
from that success (Atkinson, 1957). Similarly, his motivation to avoid failure would be
a product of perceived probability of failure and the negative outcome of the failure.
A manager can therefore present rewards as goals which his subordinates should aim
at. He then speciﬁes what subordinates should do (i.e. show the path) to earn the
rewards as well as the consequences of not acting in the desired manner.
Transformational leadership, on the other hand, involves binding people around a
common purpose through self-reinforcing behaviours that followers gain from
successfully achieving a task and from a reliance on intrinsic rewards. Following Oke
et al. (2009) transformational leaders act as role models and are able to motivate and
inspire their followers by identifying new opportunities, providing meaning and
challenge, and articulating a strong vision for the future. They are also enthusiastic
and optimistic, communicate clear and realistic expectations and demonstrate
commitment to shared visions. Subordinates are encouraged by such leaders to share
in the organizational vision, seeing deeper purpose in their work and exceeding their
own self-interests for the good of the organisation. They also consider the needs of
others over their own, share risks with others and conduct themselves ethically.
Transformational leaders also provide their followers with individualized
consideration – i.e. they focus on their followers’ individual needs for achievement,
development, growth and support. They therefore adopt coaching or mentoring
strategies in their relationships with subordinates.
Two other leadership theories have emerged in the 1980s – complexity theory of
leadership and authentic theory of leadership. Complexity theory of leadership focuses
on the idea that leadership is part of a dynamic and evolving pattern of behaviours and
complex interactions among various organizational players, producing power
structures and networks of relationships (Schneider and Somers, 2006). In effect, no
single leader can shape the trajectory of organizations; the power of each leader
depends on his/her position within the complex network of relationships within the
focal organization and ability to distribute resources and emotional support (Ardichvili
and Manderscheid, 2008). Authentic leadership theory draws from both positive
psychology and organizational theories. It focuses attention on self-awareness and
self-regulated positive behaviours of leaders. It argues that authentic leaders tend to
exhibit transparent and ethical behaviours (Avolio et al., 2009). Such behaviours
encourage openness and employees’ desire to share information with each other and
with their leaders. A derivative of the authentic leadership is the servant and coach
leadership theory. Servant leadership is based on the devolution of power to follower.
That is, leaders see themselves as stewards, serving their followers in a manner that
allows them to contribute their very best to fulﬁlling organizational objectives.
In sum, leadership theories have matured through an intellectual journey starting
with an emphasis on the unique traits of individuals to an emphasis on the uniqueness of
individual employees who must be transformed through serving and coaching in order
for their potentials to blossom for the great good of their organizations. They also
suggest three key areas in which leadership role is critical to organizational performance:
(1) management of organizational and employee goals;
(2) leader – employee relationship management; and
(3) management of resources (including human resources) to increase learning,
creativity and innovativeness in organizations (Gluck et al., 1980).
Furthermore, the diversity of thoughts that has emerged over the years provides some
intellectual support to the view that leadership styles and behaviours in Africa may be
distinctly different from those in other parts of the world without necessarily being
ineffective. Explanations for the apparent ineffectiveness of African leadership must
therefore be sought not from its deﬁance of the cannons of Western leadership forms
but elsewhere. One potent source of explanation is African culture (Montgomery, 1987;
Leonard, 1987; Kuada, 1994; Jackson, 2004).
Culture and leadership
Parallel to the leadership theories outlined above, a cohort of studies in the 1980s have
suggested that culture provides a frame of reference or logic by which leadership
behaviour can be understood (Dorfman et al., 2006). For these scholars, culture
represents the shared values and norms that bind members of a society or organization
together as a homogenous entity (Roberts, 1970). That is, people living within a
particular culture have their conduct regulated through a collection of consensual
aspirations (i.e. central values) and universal orientations (i.e. patterns of behaviour).
Social structures that develop through the processes of regulated behaviour are
perceived to be orderly, patterned and enduring.
This perspective of culture has been popularisedin the research works of such scholars
as Hofstede (1980), Redding (1980), Adler (1991), Martin (1992) and Sackmann (1992,1997).
Most of these scholars have found it purposeful to describe national (macro) cultures
in dichotomies such as individualism-collectivism (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis, 1994),
vertical-horizontal (Triandis, 1994), masculine-feminine (Hofstede, 1980), active-passive
(Triandis, 1994) and universalism-particularism (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner,
1997). Other typologies are emotional expression or suppression (Triandis, 1994;
Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997), instrumental-expressive (Triandis, 1994),
ascription-achievement (Triandis, 1994; Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997) and
sequential-synchronic with respect to time (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997).
The central argument in many of these studies is that leadership styles and behaviours are
culture-bound. Furthermore, culture provides a frame of reference and guide for behaviour
of employees in work organizations. Cultures of some societies endorse autocratic
leadership behaviours while others demand that their leaders must exhibit participatory
leadership behaviours. Autocratic leaders may, however demonstrate benevolent
dispositions towards subordinates that are very close to them (Kuada, 1994).
Leaning on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions Muczyk and Holt (2008) argue that an
autocratic leadership style may be appropriate in cultures that are high in power
distance, collectivism, masculinity and uncertainty avoidance and that are
characterized by external environmental orientation. Also, autocratic leadership
might be more appropriate for societies whose members have a high regard for
hierarchy and are reluctant to bypass the chain of command. Conversely, relationship-
centred or democratic leadership styles are more effectively practised in cultures that
are low on power distance, high on individualism and femininity, low on uncertainty
avoidance and characterized by internal environmental orientation.
Theoretical arguments advanced in the two streams of research – cultural theories
and leadership theories – have inﬂuenced available studies on management in
Africa. But the arguments have not been synthesized into a coherent framework that
can guide empirical investigations in the ﬁeld. A review of the current discourses on
the link between African culture and leadership suggests that scholars are divided
on the issue of how culture impacts leadership on the continent. Some scholars use
culture to justify the uniqueness of African leadership styles – i.e. culture serves as a
unique descriptor. Others project African culture as an inhibitor of effective leadership
Scholars who argue in support of the view that African culture is largely
responsible for the unique leadership practices on the continent include Leonard (1987),
Jackson (2004) as well as Bolden and Kirk (2009). For example, Leonard (1987, p. 901)
[...] many of the differences in organisational behaviour between Africa on the one hand, and
the United States and Europe, on the other, are not due to managerial failures but to
fundamental dissimilarities in the value priorities of the societies that encapsulate them.
Similarly, Jackson (2004) found from his study of leadership practices in several
African countries that African managers tend to be highly skilled in many aspects of
management and leadership. They deal efﬁciently with cultural diversity and multiple
stakeholders and enact “humanistic” management practices. Drawing a distinction
between “an instrumental view of people in organizations, and a humanistic view of
people,” he argues that while the Western approach to management focuses on
instrumental view of man (perceiving human beings as resources) the African
perception focuses attention on human beings as having values in their own right.
From this perspective leadership and management practices in Africa may be
described as predominantly humanistic with an emphasis on sharing, deference to
rank, sanctity of commitment, regard for compromise and consensus, and good social
and personal relations. Building on this understanding Bolden and Kirk (2009) see
leadership practices in Africa as complex and multi-layered and shaped by centuries of
cultural values and historical events.
The view that African culture mainly inhibits effective leadership practices in
Africa has been advanced in studies of such scholars as Jones (1986), Montgomery
(1987), Kuada (1994, 2008) as well as Nwankwo and Richards (2001). Jones (1986), for
example, showed that Malawian workers basically have instrumental orientation
towards work; they expect their jobs to bring substantial beneﬁts to themselves but
show very little (if any) loyalty and commitment to the organisation. Similarly,
Montgomery (1987) observed in his analysis of the management practices of African
executives in Southern African countries that African leaders fail to treat organisational
goals with the importance that these goals deserve and are frequently engaged in the
search for personal power and privileges – typically seeing their positions in their
organisations as personal ﬁefdoms. Their personnel policies are inﬂuenced by
patronage, resulting in limited organizational commitment by African employees.
Public and organizational properties are therefore treated with indifference and
irresponsibility by many employees:
Even arguments and negotiations over public vehicles, housing and equipment centred about
the convenience of the individual user more than about the mission of the organisation to
which they were assigned (Montgomery, 1987, p. 917).
In the same vein, Nwankwo and Richards (2001) argue that post-independence
leadership styles in Africa have hitherto remained autocratic, dictatorial and
incompetent in both public and private organizations. African employees tend to be
inspected (i.e. closely supervised) rather than expected (i.e. motivated) in an age when
other societies advocate for and practice employee empowerment and encourage
independent thinking and creativity that ensures organizational agility (Kuada, 1994).
African employees therefore tend to act with extreme caution while at work in order not
to invite the anger of their superiors for any mistakes that they may make in the course of
their work. In Kuada’s view, the principal function of the loyal employee in Africa is to
serve as a buffer for the immediate superior. If anything goes wrong, the loyal
subordinate must do anything to blame all others, including himself, in order to protect
his boss. A variation of this kind of behaviour plays up in situations where several
employees are aware of something that is a problem of mutual concern but they choose to
act as if they do not know of it and therefore cover up the errors. Argyris (1990, 1993)
coins the term “skilled incompetence” to describe this type of defensive behaviour. The
consequence is that employees become very reluctant to question existing practices in
their organisations even if this would help rectify operational inefﬁciencies.
A culture-based conceptual model of African leadership
Carefully considered, the two perspectives on the link between African culture and
leadership behaviour are not contradictory. Leaning on the complexity theory of
leadership, it can be argued that there are elements of African culture that promote
unique and positive leadership behaviours (as suggested in Jackson’s study). But some
of the cultural rules of behaviour tend to act as drags on effective leadership and
management practices and thereby constrain entrepreneurship and economic growth
(Kuada, 2008, 2009). The understanding of this complexity is important to the success
of any leadership development initiative on the continent and future research
should seek to provide us with that knowledge. This observation underlies the
conceptualization of leadership proposed in this paper (Figure 1). The conceptual
model emphasises the importance of three dimensions of leadership – i.e.:
(1) management of organizational and employee goals;
(2) leader – employee relationship management; and
(3) resource allocation and management.
The three dimensions are derived from the review of the extant leadership literature
and previous studies on African leadership and management.
Expectations, goals and leadership behaviours
Employees’ goals have been found to have direct and strong impact on their behaviour
and performance in work organizations (Ashford and Cummings, 1983). Goals are
deﬁned by individuals’ self-identity. Following Lord et al. (1999) an individual’s
self-identity comprises both personal and social identities. Personal identity deﬁnes a
person’s sense of uniqueness as an individual while his social identity is deﬁned in
terms of the individual’s relations to others or in terms of membership in social groups.
An understanding of the goals of African employees is therefore an important ﬁrst step
in designing strategies that facilitate the convergence of personal and organizational
goals. Such goal-alignment strategies are necessary for the promotion of employee
commitment and motivation (Okpara and Wynn, 2007). Drawing on the empirical
evidence from studies on African management ( Jones, 1986; Montgomery, 1987;
Kuada, 1994; Jackson, 2004), it is justiﬁable to argue that African leaders and their
followers would tend to derive their personal goals from a complex set of sources.
For the sake of conceptual brevity, the sources may be collapsed into two main ones
and the goals classiﬁed as follows:
(1) Self-induced goals which are derived from the individual’s personality,
ambitions and expectations in life with regard to his welfare, social mobility
(2) Culture-induced goals which derive from the demands and expectations from
institutions such as the family (immediate and distant), clan, ethnic communities,
associations and colleagues.
The two goal-sets feed on each other and are therefore mutually reinforcing. For
example, an African leader’s initial career success elevates his status within the family
and clan. This, in turn, raises the expectations of the near and distant family members.
A conceptual model
of African leadership
• Personal achievement
• Economic gains
Macro cultures of leaders and followers
• Personal goals
• Culture-specific goals
Leadership styles and
• Leader-follower relations
• Relations with other
• With regard to
• With regard to
With regard to:
• Human resource
• Work attitude and
• Organizational goals
His ﬁrst assistance to any member of the family (e.g. ﬁnding a job or scholarship for a
nephew through his contacts), activates all latent demands for assistance. The ﬁrst
reaction of many African leaders in such situations is to scale down their personal
(self-induced) ambitions, devoting greater resources to fulﬁlling the culture-induced
goals. Job-ﬁxing and the pursuit of greater ﬁnancial rewards (through fair and foul
means) may be considered. But the unending chain of demands may compel some
managers to resort to several types of coping behaviour, including possible de-linkage
from the family.
The culture-induced goals derive from a peculiar form of collectivist orientation
found in African societies. Kuada (1994) describes this collectivism with the concept of
familism. As used in sociology, the term familism describes a form of social
organisation in which all values are determined by reference to the maintenance,
continuity and functioning of the family group. Within such a social framework, all
purposes, actions, gains and ideals of individual members are evaluated by comparison
with the fortune of the family as a whole. Said differently, individual members of the
family are bound to one another by the collective moral rules and obligations of the
Familism, as explained above, also inﬂuences cultural transmissions, attitudes to
knowledge acquisition and personality development. For example, children brought up
within such family structures are hardly encouraged to take individual initiatives
over and above those required for doing daily routine chores. As Assimeng (1981)
observes, “conformity and blatant eschewing of individual speculations” as well as
“unquestioning acquiescence and accommodationism” are dominant characteristics of
the behaviour of young Ghanaians. This, he argues, is due to the collectivist social
structure that strongly encourages the maintenance of status quo and avoidance of any
serious disruption of the speciﬁc social order. Such modes of upbringing seriously limit
the possibilities of successful delegation of authority and responsibilities in work
organizations, as suggested in Western management literature. Thus, leadership
behaviours described by Montgomery (1987) and Kuada (1994) may be explained in
terms of African leaders’ response to culturally induced goals.
Another important factor in understanding Africans’ leadership behaviour is the
manner in which leaders build their relationships with their followers. There is
widespread agreement among leadership researchers that leadership is a relationship
(Lord et al., 1999; McLaurin, 2006; Maak, 2007). Leaders must have followers and the
nature of their relationship with their followers is a key determinant of their
performance as leaders and the performance of their organizations.
Leader-follower relationships have in-built psychological contracts. That is, they
imply promises of future behaviour from leaders, contingent on some reciprocal actions
of followers (Rousseau, 1990). The promises need not be made explicitly. They may be
based on inferences and observations of past behaviours in leader-follower interactive
processes (Robinson and Rousseau, 1994). Thus, Rousseau (1990) argues that when
followers believe that they are obligated to behave or perform in a certain way and also
believe that their leaders have certain obligations towards them, these beliefs
constitute a psychological contract. The dominant leadership style in an organization
deﬁnes the nature of this psychological contract between leaders and followers.
For example, while organizations characterized by transactional leadership emphasise
task performance, organizations in which transformational leadership forms dominate
ﬁnd leaders actively engaging themselves not only in creating an environment in
which followers grow, but also emphasise the inner feelings of the followers. In the
latter types of organizations followers are seen as human beings that they are rather
than sheer resources whose talents and physical capacities should be exploited by the
The available empirical literature suggests that the behaviours of African leaders
are far from those attributed to transformational leadership. They appear to adopt
relationship management strategies that patronise their followers rather than
encourage their inner motivation to show commitment to organizational goal
attainment. Kuada (1994) coined the term autocratic-benevolence to describe this form
of relationship. His study suggests that although most African leaders exhibit autocratic
attitudes towards their followers, they tend to provide those closest and subservient to
their interests with special opportunities and privileges. These privileges include
selecting them to attend overseas training programmes, advancing their promotion,
approving their loan applications and providing them with other services that partially
cushion them from the rough edges of life. It is this reciprocity of support and beneﬁt that
sustains superior-subordinate relationships, individual and organizational performance
being of secondary importance. Furthermore, aspects of the humanistic leadership
styles reported in Jackson’s (2004) study may be partly explained through the
patronage-based leadership practised by most leaders.
The dependency relationship between leaders and their followers in African
organizations may lead some people to think that followers will be honest in their
relationship with their leaders for fear of reprisals if any dishonest behaviour on their
part is subsequently brought to light. Ironically, the fear of the repercussions for
mistakes combines with the strong desire to be in the “good books” of the leaders to
create the opposite effect. Followers hide their true feelings on matters they are
displeased about or distort information for the sake of maintaining harmonious
relationships with their leaders. That is, the primary concern of followers is to be seen
by their leaders as being “honest” without necessarily being so. These observations
legitimize the view that the leader-follower relationship in Africa serves more to
constrain than to advance organizational performance.
Leadership and resource allocation
Scholars of leadership generally agree that resource allocation decisions in
organizations are predominantly made by leaders. Furthermore, people generally
expect leaders to be fair, effective and responsible, also in their allocation of
organizational resources. But, de Cremer and van Dijk (2008) argue that leaders do not
always act in an organizationally or socially responsible manner when allocating
resources. Some of them behave in egocentric ways, allocating more resources to
themselves than to followers. Again, the available literature suggests that the only
types of leaders that may be expected to display self-sacriﬁce in their resource
allocation decisions are transformational leaders (Blanchard, 2007). Thus, leader
selection decisions of management are critical to the manner in which resources are
allocated at various levels (and in different departments) of an organization. These
observations are consistent with the Montgomery’s views on the manner in which
African leaders allocate resources, giving priority to their personal (or culturally
induced) goals rather than overall organizational goals. When leaders’ resource
allocation decisions disregard organizational needs and goals inefﬁciencies become
rampant, thereby creating a de-motivated workforce in the organizations.
In sum, the model presented in Figure 1 shows that macro culture in which African
leaders are raised impact their individual goals as well as their choices of leadership
styles and relationships with their followers. It also inﬂuences their resource allocation
decisions in organizations. These in turn determine their overall leadership behaviours
and thereby their contributions to organizational performance. The underlying logic
here is that culture plays a major role in shaping each of the three deﬁning dimensions
in the model. The model therefore endorses the argument that effective leadership in
Africa requires an initiation of change in certain aspects of African culture.
As argued earlier, culture is a dynamic social construct. As such, African
management culture is capable of changing. Fortunately, human beings are not blank
sheets on which culture writes its scripts. People draw on their cognitive endowments
to develop their own internal rules of behaviour that mediate the cultural prescriptions,
modifying them where exigencies demand it. In other words, cultures provide
individuals with frames of reference and opportunity sets within which they can act.
Their creativity, courage and emotions inﬂuence the actions that they take in any given
situation. This means, as individuals, African leaders are capable of shaping the
evolution and dynamism of national cultures on the continent, producing new set of
rules for managerial behaviour.
Agenda for future research
Initiating change within African leadership and management culture requires
additional knowledge that future research must seek to provide. Research work is
needed in many areas. Three of these areas are listed here for immediate attention:
(1) leadership and organizational performance;
(2) leadership development strategies; and
(3) leadership, learning and creativity.
Leadership and organizational performance
A great deal of the empirical literature on African leadership and management
reviewed in this paper is based on studies conducted 20 or more years ago. If leadership
is to help halt Africa’s economic decline and place it on a consistent path of growth and
poverty alleviation, we need some more current knowledge to determine the extent to
which the existing leadership practices inﬂuence efﬁciency and effectiveness of
decisions and activities in both private and public sector organizations in Africa.
For example, we need to know whether African organizations are still characterized by
centralized power structures, high degrees of uncertainty, and bureaucratic resistance
to change. We also need to know whether extended family orientations noted by Kuada
(1994) as well as Blunt and Jones (1997) or the assertions that African leaders sacriﬁce
organisational goals for their personal and family gains (Montgomery, 1987; Nwankwo
and Richards, 2001; Kuada, 2008, 2009) are still valid and still exert dominant
inﬂuences on leaders’ behaviour and organizational performance.
The issue of what types of leadership styles improve organizational performance
in Africa also deserves research attention. Would the humanistic orientations of
leadership identiﬁed by Jackson (2004) and Bolden and Kirk (2009) be the most suitable
for African organizations or would variants of transactional and transformational
leadership be more preferable and effective? These questions cry for further
We also need guidelines from researchers on what kind of leader development
strategies to adopt on the continent. The concepts of cross-vergence introduced by
Jackson (2004) or hybridization introduced by Kuada (2006) must be studied in terms of
organizational performance. The understanding of these scholars is that African
leadership development must not depend exclusively on practices imported from the
West, but must be built on ideas and methods from non-Western cultures in
combination with selected African cultural values. This perspective is consistent with
Bolden and Kirk’s (2009) argument that appropriate management constructs and
models must be developed and couched within culturally relevant languages and
concepts. These scholars’ recent study shows that the inﬂuence of differing religious
beliefs and associated practices combine with gender, age and ethnic networks to
shape emerging African leadership practices. They also noted some evidence of change
and tension between past experiences and future aspirations for leadership with a
growing emphasis on the need to situate leadership practices in the communities and
organizations in which the leaders are located. These emergent perspectives require
more elaborate and cross-national empirical investigations.
Leadership, learning and creativity
Its is also imperative for African leaders to design systems that facilitate learning from
the multiple sources of management ideas and integrate them into new and appropriate
tools that would enhance the quality of management deliverables at all levels of
society. A weak-learning process would mean that other resources within the continent
would remain fragmented and their potentials left untapped. Conversely, a dynamic
learning process would raise the dynamic capabilities of African employees and
enhance their creative potentials. This will help change the socially acquired state of
inaction and perpetual helplessness prevailing on the continent.
Furthermore, scholars of organizational learning see employee empowerment as one
of the prerequisites for knowledge development and creativity. In this regard, granting
that the autocratic leadership styles still dominate African organizations, this will
impinge the development of learning cultures in these organizations. As noted above,
the current understanding is that African employees exhibit a higher propensity to
follow instructions that their superiors give them than to adopt critical attitude to the
tasks that they are required to perform, and carrying them out to their individual
satisfaction. These observations justify comprehensive empirical investigations. We
need insight into how learning is encouraged in African organizations and the roles
that leaders can play to facilitate the process.
Summary and conclusions
One of the factors frequently omitted from studies of leadership in Africa is a
consideration of the potential signiﬁcance of the cultural context within which
leadership and management is practised. Recent studies have shown increasing
awareness of this important factor. The discussions in this paper seek to reinforce the
importance of this line of research for better insight into current leadership failures on
the continent and to generate guidelines for effective leader development interventions.
The conceptual model presented in the paper is a ﬁrst step in providing a coherent
framework for future research. It sees macro cultures of African societies as informing
the goals, expectations, relationships and resource allocation decisions of African
leaders. These in turn shape their decisions and behavioural patterns within
organizations and their overall contributions to organizational performance. The
model helps throw further light on the nature of leadership in African organizations
and the potentials for leadership changes that can improve organizational performance
and economic growth on the continent.
The awareness that all cultures are constantly subjected to pressure for change
from both internal and external factors provides African leaders with opportunities to
facilitate cultural change processes in the organizations that they lead. Thus, a key
message of the paper is that leader development agents in Africa must exhibit an
attentiveness that is grounded in existing cultural values. We have argued that some
aspects of African culture may constrain effective leadership. There may be the need to
unfreeze some of these established traditions and contest assumptions that have
remained unexamined for centuries. But not all aspects of African culture act as
constraints to effective leadership. Comprehensive empirical investigations into the
impact of dominant African cultural attributes on leadership and organizational
performance are urgently required to guide leader development interventions on the
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About the author
John Kuada holds Grundfos Chair Professorship in International Business & Intercultural
Management at Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies, Denmark. He is the
Coordinator of the Master’s degree programmes in International Business Economics and
International Marketing at the university. John Kuada can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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