According to many Canadians and Australians, wealth in and of itself is not regarded as a measure of success. Wealth appears to be accepted far more readily in the United States, which is one of many complex reasons Donald Trump got elected to the highest political office in the country. The US is a highly individualistic nation. Canada is less individualist in comparison.
Part of the cultural difference is evident in their respective constitutions. The US promotes “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are American aspirations according to the US Constitution. Canada, on the other hand, calls for “peace, order, and good government.” It is a different list of aspirations. It also reflects a different underlying political and social culture that can be seen in organizations of all types, not merely in electoral politics.
Likewise, Australians embrace the view to allow all a “fair go,” which reflects the strong Australian value of egalitarianism. Does Canada or Australia have superior social and political cultures compared to the US? Some will say unquestionably yes; others emphatically no. Regardless of the answer, the bottom line is that these nations are not identical and they have national cultures that embrace and praise some fundamentally different things.
My book, The Development of Managerial Culture: A Comparative Study of Australia and Canada, argues that Australia, Canada, and the United States are not identical nations because of the often subtle differences in their cultural evolutions. Understanding these differences and their origins is important for anyone involved in business, management, or leadership, whether of groups of people working in organizations or simply as one immersed in, or entering, each nation’s political and social cultures. These cultures, like others, reflect national values. The book not only probes how these countries’ cultures evolved to reveal their underlying differences, but why culture is significant for understanding business, a topic of considerable interest to managers and employees alike. After all, a society’s managerial culture is ultimately a reflection of a nation’s cultural values and norms.
National culture makes a significant difference in how people regard success and how it is viewed in society. Australia safeguards human rights and freedoms through its assertion of a “fair go” for everyone in place of a formal Bill of Rights as in the United States or a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada. This view reflects Australian egalitarianism, a sense of equality where those sticking their heads too high out of the crowd are greeted by “knocking,” which aims to bring them down and keep their egos in check. But, arguably, it also reflects a sense of collectivism that leads people to think of the welfare of others beyond one’s own personal interests.
The world’s eyes are primarily focused these days on the peculiar—in comparison with prior administrations—US presidential leadership of Donald Trump. Some tend to question how such an individual lacking any political experience could have achieved this position of power. It is unlikely he would have succeeded in Canada or Australia, whose populace might not have been as supportive of his candidacy based solely on his outsider’s status and apparent success in business and accumulation of personal wealth.
The American dream of the white picket fence was over decades ago. Money emerged as the pinnacle of achievement, the high-point of individualism. It is primarily within individualist societies where billionaires are admired for their wealth. In Australia, where individualism is attenuated by a strand of collectivism and less acceptance of power distance, Australians tend to dislike those who have “achieved,” especially those who take pleasure in showing off their achievements. Sports figures are perhaps treated as an exception, but someone like President Trump would not have been broadly admired in Australia where the trend is to “cut down tall poppies.” Someone who brags and sticks out in society is quickly brought down to size with a remark or phrase that prevents most from craving such notoriety.
An Australian entrepreneur like Rupert Murdoch reached the heights of wealth and success, but what did he do? He left Australia and renounced his Australian citizenship to become an American—a wealthy and successful American. The United States is indeed a different culturecompared to Australia and Canada. It is a culture of acceptance of achievement of various kinds but particularly wealth. Wealth has been the American dream, especially in recent decades. It fits with the strand of American culture that evolved since the beginning of Big Business in the industrial age that followed the US Civil War.
Canada saw its own media baron, Conrad Black, give up his Canadian citizenship in order to become a member of the UK House of Lords. Not permitted as a Canadian citizen to accept a peerage, Black wanted title so badly that he defied the Canadian prime minister’s opposition to allowing an exception for him to obtain a foreign title. Indeed, Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in order to accept his British peerage. Yet, after legal problems in the US led to a lengthy trial and prison sentence, where did he want to return after his release from incarceration? Now legally regarded as a Canadian-born British citizen, he was not automatically able to be repatriated to Canada. He had to petition for a temporary residence permit to enable him to return to Canada where he wanted to reside, even though he is no longer a Canadian citizen.
While the American capitalist system can do more financially than Canada because it has ten times the population and a powerful economy, Canada has done considerable things for the world but not necessarily in financial terms. Canada’s Prime Minister Lester Pearson had earlier created the UN Peacekeeping force and won a Nobel Peace Prize for it. Nova Scotia’s Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs won a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in bringing together scholars and public figures to work toward the reduction of armed conflict and to try and seek solutions for global security threats. Canada is a diplomatic country, and it often works quietly behind the scenes. Achievement is respected in Canada because there is a relatively higher acceptance of power distance compared to Australia, but hierarchical difference based on achievement and societal stratification is not as revered compared to American culture’s acceptance and respect for perceived achievement in all its forms, particularly financial success.
Of course, there are other influential organizations such as Greenpeace that, for whatever controversies it finds itself, was founded in Canada. Canadians have had their share of medical breakthroughs like the discovery of insulin. Canada’s and Australia’s militaries have fought in all of the major wars over the past century. In the case of WWI and WWII, they were involved long before the US entered the conflicts. Arguably, both Australia and Canada have done more for Australians and Canadians than a number of other countries have done for their own citizens, including the US, particularly in regards to providing broad, affordable, and accessible health coverage. Goals differ in part because the origins of each country differ. Immigrants brought with them strands of culture that contributed to distinct new cultures. Canadian and Australian healthcare is run in very different ways compared to the contemporary US system. Even laws concerning gun ownership reflect another area where the cultures differ. Australia and Canada have strict laws limiting and controlling access to weapons while the US, embracing its constitutional pursuit of liberty, promotes the broad Second Amendment right to bear arms. Hence, Australia and Canada have followed different paths towards universal healthcare and even their embracing of multiculturalism, two areas where the US still finds itself struggling.
Assessing how both Australia and Canada differ from each other as well as from the United States takes considerable cultural analysis, an approach I undertake in The Development of Managerial Culture. Why is culture important in business? Because it informs managerial culture, including how one can become a leader in a society that does not want dictatorial rule but effective and fair leadership respecting and reflecting cultural norms. Diverse ethnic groups helped initiate these differences, acting as founders of each nation’s respective culture that subsequently evolved yet strengthened its core cultural attributes. The strands of thought that evolved reflected these influences, not only in constitutions but also by what values societies embrace.
Arthur J. Wolak is author of The Development of Managerial Culture: A Comparative Study of Australia and Canada. This article originally appeared in Business Insights: Topical Perspectives in Business and Management (Palgrave Macmillan).