I recently took a training on team management and leadership, where I came across the term ‘differentiated’ leader which caught my interest. A differentiated leader is a leader who is not too involved emotionally with the team that he or she manages but is at the same time not shut off emotionally, and has therefore some emotional connections with his or her team. Maintaining the balance is always the challenge. Some people may involve too much in the emotions and lives of their teams, crossing the boundaries of the leader-team relationship. Others, on the other extreme, are completely shut off emotionally, building a big wall between themselves and the team.
I believe the leader-team relationship is greatly influenced by the culture that governs a particular society. Personally, I have seen a big difference in this relationship in the Ethiopian context and the European context. In the latter context, although I would not say that leaders are fully involved in the emotions and lives of their team, the leadership approach is not one that builds a thick wall between leader and team. Maybe not all European contexts are the same, but the ones I have been exposed to have a leadership culture that does not build a thick wall between supervisor and supervisee. In some European cultures, addressing people with their formal titles such as Dr or Professor in informal settings is not welcomed. Leaders are usually approachable, and make you at ease so that you do not feel fearful of asking questions and even encourage you to challenge their ideas and opinions. But the thin line between authority and more intimate relationship is there. You are made to make sure that that you do not miss the thin line when actively engaging with your supervisor in informal settings.
In Ethiopia, the culture in my opinion is very different. There might be exceptions but often authority is and should be something that people should respect and fear. The distance between a supervisor and a supervisee is clear, and is made sure to be clear by the supervisor. A manager or supervisor often prefers to distance him or herself from his team emotionally, I believe because he or she does not want them to cross the line of respect and authority. Sometimes the boss is so feared that supervisees do not dare to ask even the most basic questions. Meetings can sometimes be tense because team members may not feel at ease in expressing their ideas and opinions openly. The communication is often top down, with managers directing supervisees, and opportunities for employees to openly suggest ideas is often limited. Two-way discussions that may involve challenging one another’s ideas and opinions between a manager and his or her supervisee are often uncommon in my experience. Doing so might risk of being interpreted as a lack of respect for authority and may result in undesired consequences.
In my opinion, maybe many people may agree with me, people become more creative, innovative, and become people who think outside of the box, and more productive when they are provided a working environment that allows them to thrive as individuals. And one such environment is a relaxed relationship with their supervisors that allows them to be open with their thoughts and ideas without the risk of being reprimanded for it. Creating such environment is the primary responsibility of managers because they are the ones with authority. I strongly believe that managers, leaders, supervisors in this country should stop thinking that their supervisees will stop respecting them if they engage more openly with them. There are employees that may abuse of a close supervisor-supervisee relationship, of course. But for this, making sure that the thin line of authority is visible is important.