UK: WORLD VIEW - HOW TO LEAD IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE. - Before trying to build a cross-national team you need to take note of different leadership styles - attitudes to authority can have a profound effect on motivation.

by Richard D Lewis.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Before trying to build a cross-national team you need to take note of different leadership styles - attitudes to authority can have a profound effect on motivation.

Experience abroad readily reveals how widely leadership styles in business vary from country to country - a factor which builders of cross-national teams often ignore to their cost. In some cultures, for example, leaders will demonstrate technical competence, place facts before sentiment, and focus their own attention and that of their staff on immediate achievement and results. Others are much more extrovert, relying on their eloquence and ability to persuade and use human force to inspire. Either way, no two cultures view leadership in the same light.

In Germany there is a clear chain of command in each department, and information and instructions are passed down from the top. This does not mean, however, that German management is exclusively autocratic: while the vertical structure in each department is clear, considerable value is placed on consensus. Equally, the German striving for perfection in systems and procedures carries with it the implication that the manager who vigorously applies and monitors these is showing faith in a framework that has proved successful for all.

Accordingly, German managers motivate staff by showing solidarity with them in following procedures. They work long hours themselves, obey the rules and, though expecting immediate obedience, insist on fair play. For their part, German employees welcome close instruction: they know where they stand and what they are expected to do. They enjoy being told twice, three, or even four times.

French management style is more autocratic, though this is not always evident at first glance. In France the boss often seems to have a more roving role than his focused German counterpart, using 'tu' to subordinates and often patting them on the back.

The role and status of the leader in France is revealed by a glance at French history. Napoleon and Petain, for example, are remembered for their heroics rather than their failures. Ultimate success is less important than the thrill of the chase and the ability to quicken the national pulse.

Hence, unlike elsewhere, there is a high tolerance in French companies of management blunders. Besides, if the leader is of the right age and experience and possesses impeccable professional qualifications, replacing him would not only be futile but would point a dagger at the heart of the system. The highly organic nature of a French enterprise implies interdependence, mutual tolerance and teamwork, as well as faith in the appointed leader. French managers who 'relish the art of commanding' are encouraged to excel in their work by the very intensity of expectation on the part of their subordinates.

In Latin Europe, the management pattern generally follows that of France, where authority is centred around the chief executive. In middle-sized companies, the CEO is often the owner of the enterprise, and even in very large firms a family name or connections may dominate the structure. The management style is typically autocratic, particularly in Portugal and Spain, where family money is often on the line. Latin employees in general indicate willing and trusting subservience to their 'establishments'.

The Swedish concept of leadership differs considerably from other European models. Like Swedish society itself, enterprises are essentially 'democratic'. There will be fewer layers in a Swedish firm than there would be in France or Germany, and the manager is generally accessible to staff and available for discussion: indeed, there is a Swedish law which stipulates that important decisions must be discussed with all employees before being implemented.

In the US, leadership means getting things done, finding short cuts to prosperity, making money for oneself, one's firm and its shareholders. Chief executives are given responsibility and authority and then expected to act. They seldom fail to do so.

Similarly, the motivation of US managers and their staff does not have the labyrinthine connotations that it does in European and Oriental companies, for it is usually monetary. Bonuses, performance payments, profit-sharing schemes and stock options are common. British managers often underestimate how deep the dollar runs in the American corporate psyche. Though we speak the same language, our reward systems for senior executives are very different. Stand a British 'fat cat' next to his American cousin and he will start to look thin.

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