Low & high Power Distance mismatches at the workplace

In my previous article I wrote about Hofstede’s first cultural dimension, the Power Distance (PDI).

“As a definition, we can say that Power Distance (PDI) is the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations accept that power is distributed unequally. It doesn’t measure the culture’s objective, “real” power distribution, but rather the way people perceive power differences.”

But what happens, when in a workplace there is a mismatch between how people perceive the distribution of the power? It can become a very interesting situation, especially, if we look at it from the Line Manager vs. Team Member perspective.

Let’s see what this mismatch can cause in a workplace in the connection between the Leader and the Employee.

1. Low PDI Leader & High PDI Team Member

low pdi leader

A low PDI leaders’ main goal is to involve the team members in the daily work, in decision making, playing a consultative role for their team. They bring all the information forward to the team and delegate part of their work to the team members. These leaders also expect their team members to act on their own initiative, bring ideas and make decisions (or bring decision proposals) on their own.

However, high PDI team members basically want all the opposites. They want to be told what to do, they want to be guided, they do not want to be involved in decisions. These team members also do not want to take on the tasks of the leader, as they believe it is solely a leader’s responsibility.

How does the low PDI Leader and the high PDI Team Member feel in this mismatch?

high pdi team member

If these low PDI leaders are not aware of this cultural dimension and the differences coming from it, they can perceive the high PDI team member as not being proactive enough, not wanting to take responsibilities and being dependent too much on the leader. On the long run this can cause a bad evaluation of the team member by the leader, which can also lead to the team member quitting or the leader letting them go from the company.

At the same time, the high PDI team members can feel that they do not get clear guidance and that their leaders do not act as “real” leaders, by not wanting to decide alone for example. They can also feel that the expectations towards them are unrealistic and not in line with their job description and role content.

In these cases, the people leader should have a conversation with the team member about this cultural dimension and the difference it causes between them. By both of them being aware of where the mismatch is coming from, they can start to take steps towards each other – starting by accepting these differences and then moving somewhat closer to each other for the sake of being able to work better together.

2. High PDI Leader & Low PDI Team Member

high pdi leader

In this variation, the high PDI leaders want their team members to do what they are told, without any questions asked backed from them. These leaders take the decisions on their own (or maybe they are also told “from above”), and share only what is most important with their team members. They do not ask for the ideas or opinions of the team and they never delegate any work to them.

When low PDI team members work together with a high PDI leader, things can get interesting very soon. As the low PDI team members want involvement, want their ideas to be heard, want information to be shared with them, want things to be delegated to them, they soon can feel that they are not appreciated by their leader – by not getting any of these.

How does the high PDI Leader and the low PDI Team Member feel in this mismatch?

low pdi team member

The high PDI leaders can perceive the low PDI team members as being disrespectful, not wanting to do the job that is given to them, always wanting more and ignoring what is expected of them. They can even get to the point to think, that these team members are not fitting the team/organisation.

While in the meantime, the low PDI team members can feel that they are only “robots” who should do what they are told, their opinion doesn’t matter and they can only use a fraction of their qualities. They can also observe the high PDI leader as a micromanager, which can increase the team members’ frustration and decrease their trust in their leader. This can quickly lead to a burnout, which will result in the team members leaving the team or the company.

As a solution, here as well – just like in the previous variation – the Leader needs to have a talk with the employee and see whether there is any possibility to move closer to each other on the PDI scale.


In both of the above cases, besides the culture of the actual people in question, also the company culture needs to be considered.

What behaviour does the company expect from the leaders and from the employees?

Does the company itself has a low or high PDI mindset?

If we are talking about multinational organisations, this can be a tricky question. But having a conversation about it within your team as a Leader, can bring up many solutions and understanding to all of you.

Wishing you as little mismatches as possible and great conversations with your colleagues!


Related articles:

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions – 1. Power Distance

Bearing stress – why is it easier for some people than for others?

Active listening – sounds easy, but is it…?

Be more proactive, they say… All right, but why and how?

The types of motivation and their importance

4+1 coaching places, from the traditional to the extraordinary

Career change articles’ compilation

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