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Paternalism revisited: organisational leadership in mainland China
by Siew-Huat Kong
International Journal of Chinese Culture and Management (IJCCM), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2009


Abstract: This study is an attempt to understand the staying power of paternalistic leadership in the context of Chinese society and how it manifests itself in organisations there today. It seeks to understand the roots of this model of leadership in the domain of social-psychological legacies and reveals how it is perpetuated in mainland China. A recent exploratory study demonstrates how this pattern of authority sharing is colouring different facets of organisational life. Moreover, underlying assumptions identified in this investigation – the self-seeking individual, hierarchical social reality and the hostile environment – were found to enhance this form of leadership, which is marked by authoritarianism, arbitrariness, a unique form of dependency that is not nurtured at all, and over-dependent subordinates. Challenges, however, are now being mounted against this leadership mode but whether it can succeed or not is an open question. In the meantime, Chinese managers will have to be mindful of the fact that this leadership style might be well suited for organisations which require a less sophisticated workforce and are maintained by routine skills. However, they are not equipped to compete in a 'knowledge-intensive' industry and that they are hindering organisational learning or continuous improvement implicit in other management models.

Online publication date: Mon, 02-Mar-2009


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