Perhaps, according to some very interesting new findings.

Academics at Birmingham's Aston University took a representative sample of more than 560,000 business owners in 42 countries from two major entrepreneurship studies and analysed why they started their own company.

They found that western countries have a preference for maverick entrepreneurs who inspire and motivate others with a bold personal vision, while more ruthless qualities such as a willingness to engage in hostile competition to achieve goals find more approval in non-Western cultures.

Preferences in societies like Britain and the US for charismatic business leaders like Sir Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg could explain lower levels of entrepreneurship than other parts of the world, the report said.

Latin American and South East Asian nations were found to simultaneously tolerate ruthlessness and find charismatic leadership highly desirable.

These locations also exhibit the highest rates of entrepreneurial activity, with around 25% of the adult population in the Philippines and Bolivia running a company, compared to around 7% in the UK.

The researchers concluded that two main styles of leadership, charismatic and self-protective, are the biggest determinants of entrepreneurship.

Self-protective leaders take a hard-nosed approach to getting what they want, readily engaging in competition and even conflict while simultaneously embracing 'face-saving' behaviour so that their relationships with others are not badly tarnished.

This style is seen as more acceptable in Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American cultures.

But the same leader attributes are generally frowned upon in Northern European and 'Anglo-Saxon' countries, where self-protective leadership is negatively negatively.

Here leaders are expected to be approachable, to de-emphasise differences in social status and to consult with their followers.

Ute Stephan, professor of entrepreneurship at Aston Business School and director of the Aston Centre for Research into International Entrepreneurship and Business, said the findings could help business support groups tailor programmes to reflect cultural preferences for certain types of leader.

"With this research we find that cultural stereotypes about ideal leaders drive entrepreneurship rates and that there are indeed different ‘types’ of entrepreneurial culture," she said. "So one size does not fit all.

"There are important lessons for us as educators regarding how we present leaders and entrepreneurial role models.

"There are also important lessons for entrepreneurs who trade across borders. They are going to be perceived as more competent and desirable collaboration partners if they comply with the dominant leadership ideals in the host countries."

What do you think? Will being more ruthless help us get more entrepreneurial? Comment below.

Have your say

Mark Neild
Mark Neild

Without reading the whole report, it is difficult to know whether the researchers have adjusted their findings for the size of the formal economy. I am coaching entrepreneurs in SE Asia now and for many, they own their own business because they cannot get a job in an economy with only 25% employment compared with nearly 100% employment in the US and Europe.

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