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Leadership: Leaders, Followers, Environments by Art Padilla

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What is culture?

Culture has several possible meanings. The word is derived from the Latin, cultura, which literally means cultivation, as in agriculture, implying some sort of growth or progression. Persons, groups, and nations can have culture. A cultured person refers to someone who is well educated with refined tastes in the arts, history, or music. A group or organization can be said to have a culture as well: popular culture, drug culture, and IBM culture are shorthand descriptions of attitudes, mindsets, and styles of living and working. In reference to regions or countries, culture might encompass the literature, music, art, movies, food, lifestyles, and attitudes of the people. Note, however, that when people apply the word culture to large heterogeneous groups or entities, they are simplifying things. There are Americans, for example, who dislike American music and food (assuming there is such a thing as an American food), and there are Japanese who love everything American.

Understanding the concept of culture is important for several reasons. First, citizens of a democracy need to make enlightened decisions about practical challenges such as immigration, international trade, and politics. Knowledge about other cultures informs these decisions. Second, continuing globalization—the movement of people, money, goods, and ideas across national and regional boundaries—implies increasing contact with other cultures. We will not be able to avoid it. Third, on a more local level, ...

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