Free Press Journal

Indian vs. American Business Culture

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What can the two largest democracies learn from each other? This article’s ambition is to reflect on our Indian

experience through the prism of behavioural psychology. We will explore differences between our two cultures and

where we see these differences manifest in business dynamics.


As Americans doing business in India, we have a unique perspective. Over a period of nine months, we have  delivered leadership-training programs throughout India and held discussions with over one hundred business leaders. Who are we? Dr. George Watts is an organizational psychologist and former senior business executive.

He is Chairman of Top Line Talent.

Laurie Blazek holds a MBA and had a successful career as a banker in global organizations such as JP Morgan and Citi Bank. She is President and CEO of Top Line Talent. Our observations about Indian executives reveal an advanced leadership quality that we term “spiritual authenticity”.

Unlike leaders in the US, Indian executives practice their values and assimilate them into all spheres of their lives. They integrate religious teachings and perspectives into their business mission. There exists a psychological reciprocity with life itself: a genuine desire to give back because of how much they have received.

Authenticity is speaking from one’s heart without fear. As a nation, India has spiritual courage. It is not uncommon or uncomfortable to discuss a spiritual dimension in a business meeting. The discussion provides a framework to weigh decisions. Indian executives know who they are at their core. They easily speak from the heart and are committed to developing themselves and others. Education in both business and spiritual matters is ongoing.

People strive to realize their full potential. Authentic leadership is a legitimate academic topic, heavily discussed and written about over the past decade. There is general agreement that leaders become more authentic and in the moment as they increase self-awareness. Due to a culture steeped in religion, Indian executives are more naturally introspective.

Authenticity has long been an interpersonal building block in Indian business culture. Often we are asked about our observations of India. Our first answer is that “India’s culture is their greatest export”. India’s executives display a mature attitude towards dealing with the full spectrum of life. Developing trust takes longer in India, but once developed, it is deep and real.

We have also observed that a common business challenge for India is their hierarchical organizational structures. This cultural phenomenon results in a high individual achievement drive and a lack of emphasis on performing well in teams. The issue of hierarchy presents itself when everybody strives for individual performance over collaboration and team-based performance.

The goal is not for team success but in seeking individual recognition. In hierarchical organizations, levels of power, authority and prestige are sometimes subtle but very real. As one CEO shared “It exists and you cannot wish it away”.

Over the past twenty years, the US has evolved to where team-based performance is taken for granted. High performance teams are what drive the US work experience. The belief is that collective intelligence and collaboration are superior to individual performance.

Organizations define a common purpose and identify shared goals with mutual accountability and rewards. Compensation and incentives are typically tied to the achievements of the team. Recently, an Indian executive went through our coaching and training program. He spent his entire life in India but was transferred to the US and is now working in a global US-based IT consulting firm. He stated that his biggest challenge was to appreciate how team-based the US is. He commented that in India, performance appraisals are all about individual goals.

In the US, performance appraisals are all about your contribution to the success of the team. It follows that people operating in a system built upon hierarchies tend to make decisions that benefit their own interests rather

than the organization as a whole. Hierarchies also negatively impact innovation, which is essential to India’s competitiveness and ambitions.

Innovation is driven by corporate cultures that promote open communication and thinking out of the box. Engaged employees feel a sense of influence… bottom up thinking is encouraged. India is a remarkable country, abundantly

filled with highly intelligent people. Our impression of the business leaders is uniformly positive. We are constantly impressed with the deep thoughtfulness, wisdom and spiritual qualities of the people we have been so fortunate to meet.

We appreciate India’s history, the system of societal status and how this impacts and influences business structure and style. But we do believe that flattening hierarchal organizational structures and migrating from individual to

team-based performance are areas where India can grow. Our goal as trainers and leadership coaches is to encourage new ways of thinking.

India has incredible wisdom and the world, particularly the US, needs more of the spiritual authenticity that India possesses. Indian business could benefit from a greater spirit of collaboration and teamwork, a mindset that drives most successful companies. As our relationships deepen and our cultures have greater interaction, we hope that

both countries will be open to learning and growing from each other.

Top Line Talent (www.TopLineTalent.com) is a leadership development and consultative selling skills training firm based in Chicago, US.