Leadership differences between Chile and USA

Q: What are similarities and differences between leadership in Chile and the US?

Americans and Chileans are both hard working and friendly people. Leaders in both countries tend to value effort, perseverance and problem-solving. However, in my perception, there are three main differences in leadership between these two countries.

Hierarchal structure: In my opinion Chile is a country where status and title plays a very important role. The higher the title the more important a person is regarded, and the more power this person has. Top leaders in the organization tend to be treated with lots of formalities and respect. Decisions are usually taken at the top. This is somewhat different in the US where a more flat, agile and participative culture tends to be embraced.

Communication Style: Americans leaders incline to be direct in their communication and focus on results more than the process. Chileans on the other hand, tend to be more circular and indirect. Details are more important as well as the circumstances. Furthermore, I was particularly amazed by the number of slang Chileans use in their communication compared to other countries in Latin America.

Time and Productivity: A popular American expression “Time is money” captures the essence. Americans regard time as a precious resource, focusing very much on productivity. Chileans, on the other hand, are hard working people, with one of the highest average working hours per week in the world. In spite of this, they take more time to complete projects, processes and decisions.

Q: A case/situation of when leadership across those two cultures goes right or wrong.

When I lived in Chile I worked for a Trade Consultancy Agency where I was in charge of supporting small and medium American and Canadian companies, to expand their operations to Chile. Frequently, I saw how the different pace of doing business challenged the Americans. Chilean companies took their time to analyze proposals; respond to e-mails and requested a lot more information before taking the next step. The language was also a huge barrier then. A few years ago, not many Chileans were fluent in English. This made the negotiations difficult, the decision making process more time to consume what often caused the cancellation of promising deals. However, this has changed over time as Chile has rapidly opened its boundaries to become one of the countries with the most trade agreements in the world. For that reason, Chilean leaders have adapted a lot their practices when dealing with an international audience.

Q: Some ideas about how aspiring Global Executives can polish any rough edges.

We tend to have perceptions about specific cultures, however, I believe these are challenged in this global and rapidly changing world where people are travelling, studying, working and living abroad. Cultures are mixing, evolving and changing rapidly. It is therefore extremely important for Global Executives to identify and understand their own cultural and personal values and be aware of their own biases. In my opinion, Global leaders need to be inclusive and embrace diversity in their teams. If managed properly this will bring new perspectives, innovation and enhance creativity. However, it requires dedicated and curious leaders, willing to adapt their styles to inspire people across cultures. Self-awareness, empathy, soft and leadership skills are key aspects to manage successfully in a global world. This remains an important challenge that leaders around the world are facing. Hence, I regard, cultural training, emotional intelligence and leadership developing programs a must in every organization and in my opinion should be included as part of the curriculum in schools and universities.


Carolina Zorrilla is a Leadership Coach certified by the International Coach Federation and Cross-Cultural Trainer. She has a background in International business with over twelve years of experience in senior management roles leading cross-functional and diverse teams. She specializes in change management, leadership development and diversity and inclusion. Throughout her career, she has coached and supported managers to effectively communicate with diverse teams, assess cultural differences and build cultural intelligence. She has worked and lived in six different countries across Europe, North and South America. Carolina is the founder of Equore Coaching where she is dedicated to supporting leaders working internationally, expatriates, immigrants and/or organizations with a diverse workforce. She offers personalized coaching programs and intercultural training for individuals and organizations. For more information about her programs and approach visit http://www.equorecoaching.com


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