Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What Difference Does Culture Make?

Written by: on September 7, 2022

Born and raised in Minnesota, Erin Meyer broke free of her cultural roots and became a well-known international author and professor at INSEAD Business School in Paris, France. Focusing on organizational culture, Meyer has sought to understand cultural differences to improve effective leadership in the international business setting. Though she was raised in the Midwest, Meyer’s international travels, cross-cultural marriage, and international business exposure taught her about the complexities of culture, not through academics, but through the practice of teaching and living cross-culturally. The Culture Map is an applied science to better understand cultural variances and how to improve international business success. She writes that this book is “about business… It is only when you start to identify what makes your culture different from others that you can begin to open a dialogue of sharing, learning, and ultimately understanding.”[1]

Meyer identified eight skills that provide a map to understand the different cultural nuances better. For each skill, there exists a continuum that demonstrates cultural distinctiveness. They are:

  1. Communication
    • Low-context communication is clear, concise communication and is to be taken at face value (i.e., the US).
    • High-context communication is spoken but is less direct and assumes that one can read between the lines to understand the hidden meaning (i.e., Japan).[2]
  2. Evaluating
    • Direct negative feedback is what you think it would be, blunt (i.e., Russia).
    • Indirect negative feedback is very diplomatic, subtle, and focuses on affirming positive attributes (i.e., Thailand).[3]
  3. Persuading
    • Applications-first culture is very factual, to the point, and will provide summaries or bullet points to emphasize the point (i.e., the US).
    • Principles-first culture builds upon a complex framework to present a concept or idea (i.e., Italy).[4]
  4. Leading
    • Egalitarian culture focuses on equal relationships and gives minimal regard to hierarchical distinctions (i.e., Denmark).
    • Hierarchical culture ensures property relational distance to maintain relational and positional distinction (i.e., Korea).[5]
  5. Deciding
    • Consensual values unanimous group decisions (i.e., Sweden).
    • Top-down values decisions made by key figure leaders (i.e., China).[6]
  6. Trusting
    • Task-based trust is built through shared activities to demonstrate that one is capable and reliable (i.e., the US).
    • Relationship-based trust is formed through personal relationships outside the work context through such activities as evening drinks and intentional relationships (i.e., India).[7]
  7. Disagreeing
    • Confrontational culture views disagreements as positive and are not to be avoided but encouraged (i.e., Israel).
    • Avoids confrontation culture views disagreements as negative and that peace is to be maintained so as not to disrupt harmony (i.e., Japan).[8]
  8. Scheduling
    • Linear-time cultures view projects as sequential and value clear deadlines (i.e., Germany).
    • Flexible-time cultures value fluidity, flexibility, and the availability to respond to opportunities or needs as they arise (i.e., Nigeria).[9]


Meyer’s principles in this book are relevant to me in my current leadership capacity. Having lived and worked in and among the poor for over two decades, it has been essential to have navigated the cultural distinctions that exist in my context. Regardless of how hard I may try to incarnate myself into the urban context, I cannot remove the reality that I am white, educated, and male. I remember moving into the inner city of Memphis, Tennessee, to an all-black community. I assumed that by moving into the hood, I would be accepted as part of the fabric of the community. In reality, the relational equity I had anticipated gaining in a short period of time took years to curate as I intentionally sought to know and understand the cultural distinctiveness of my neighbors. In time, I did adapt my communication and behavioral styles to engage my community more fully, but even then, the notable differences in my color, behavior, and communication were obvious.

Yet I don’t despair in this reality, for I have witnessed and experienced that the practice of seeking to grow in cultural understanding has paved the way for genuine, real, and authentic relationships with people different from myself. Meyer suggests that understanding human nature and cultural differences is essential for effective leadership in a cross-cultural setting. I agree with her, but I would take it further to say that it is also crucial for effective cross-cultural ministry and relationship building in any context. As I anticipate a new leadership context in 2023 as a consultant working with many different organizations, people, and cultures, I will undoubtedly keep the principles and awareness Meyer’s presented in mind to best understand, relate to, and lead those I will be serving.

[1] Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures, International edition, first edition. (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015), 244.

[2] Ibid., 39.

[3] Ibid., 69.

[4] Ibid., 96.

[5] Ibid., 125.

[6] Ibid., 151.

[7] Ibid., 171.

[8] Ibid., 201.

[9] Ibid., 227.

[10] Alex, “The Culture Map, According to Erin Meyer,” Vivid Maps, August 16, 2022, accessed September 6, 2022, https://vividmaps.com/culture-map/.

About the Author


Eric Basye

Disciple, husband, and father, committed to seeking shalom.

11 responses to “What Difference Does Culture Make?”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    I’d be fascinated to hear about how this cultural mapping has shaped how you approach the challenges in Montana, especially among the white, native, and black communities.

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Let’s be honest. We don’t have too many African Americans in MT! Though I have noticed that we do have far more African Americans in my neighborhood in the last 3 years. MT as a whole is VERY WHITE, but our community (the South Side) is the most diverse location in the entire state – 40% white, 25% Native, 25% Mexican, and 10% other. I love this about our community.

      The challenges are many – such as by Native, it really matters what tribe you come from as it is not fair to group all Natives together. We also have second and third generation Mexicans in our community, but if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t know they have a strong cultural tie as the parents and kids no longer speak Spanish, etc. Yet, they still hold on to the cultural identity as being Mexican, quinceaneras, etc.

      Being brief, a few things I try to keep in mind when engaging these challenges: 1) be humble (and demonstrate self-awareness); 2) be curious about people, cultures, and why they do/say what they do/say; 3) ask lots of questions with a deep desire to understand; 4) don’t make assumptions; and 5) remember that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict and change people (I am simply called to love and proclaim His excellencies).

  2. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Eric, what a nice concise summary..thank you!

    I appreciate hearing your honest struggle moving into the hood. As you consider your experience, what did you learn that can inform your adaptability in your new context in 2023?

    Your said, “Meyer suggests that understanding human nature and cultural differences is essential for effective leadership in a cross-cultural setting”….what are a few things your “hood” experience taught you as you lay those alongside what Friedman offers as dynamics of human nature?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Good questions. I believe that my understanding of God’s kingdom has grown, and the diversity within. That has helped me further appreciate people of other cultures. Two, I would say that increased self-awareness has been helpful. As I understand myself and my own tendencies, it has helped me better understand others. Three, understanding that while different, we all have Imago Dei and are created with a distinct purpose of knowing and loving God. Lastly, curiosity is of great importance. To really desire to know and understand people from a different cultural context than my own is very important if I want to connect with them, but not only so, I would say that my life is richer as a result of knowing and understanding them as well.

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Well done, being the incarnate Jesus with those you wish to serve. What are some of the personal growth or culture clash areas you experienced with that move? What elements of that culture did you come to appreciate or even add to your developing culture?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Great question. Can I just use your amazing list you created on your blog!? 🙂

      A few things come to mind. I admire and appreciate these characteristics of the communities where I have lived and worked: they are far more present and neighborly (front porch culture, as we refer to it), they are incredibly generous (they will literally give you the shirt off their back), family is of utmost importance.

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:


    I appreciate your statement: “Yet I don’t despair in this reality, for I have witnessed and experienced that the practice of seeking to grow in cultural understanding has paved the way for genuine, real, and authentic relationships with people different from myself.” In an environment of quickly moving cancel culture, I believe we are losing so much in terms of helping people lean into critical thinking, grace, and just the reality of learning and growth being a process.

  5. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Eric, thanks for you honesty in talking about the difficulties of crossing cultural boundaries like socio-economic levels. As you think about Meyer’s eight characteristics, is there one or two that you believe is affected the most by poverty/wealth, education level, or ethnicity?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Good question. I think it depends on the group. Our community is 40% caucasian, 25% Mexican, and 25% Native, predominantly. The other 10% is a mix of different ethnicities. In my work (limited) with reservations, I have found that scheduling and time is vastly different. I have had to learn to take a different approach, and have different expectations, when working with my Native brothers and sister. Perhaps the other major difference is that of communication.

  6. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Eric: Nice analysis of Meyer’s eight chapters. Your work of spending over two decades with the poor and inner city would provide many experiences of interacting with different people groups. Because of that experience, was there anything about Meyer’s book that didn’t ring true to you? You could write a similar book that Meyer’s did but with less an international focus and more of an American focus and how different this big country is.

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Overall I would say that her thoughts were spot on from my experience. I do wonder if I could go back in time (say 20 years) to when I first moved into the inner city of Memphis, but knowing what I know now, how that experienced might have been different. However, I guess that goes for all of life.

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