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Leading Business in a Global World

May 17, 2012

Today, we begin a three-part Q & A series with Rita Buscher, Marketing Campaign Manager, and Bernardus Holtrop, Linkage Principal Consultant. Bernardus has experience developing leadership development programs and personalized strategies that foster bottom line results, improved work relationships, and organizational transformation. Here, Rita sits down with him to get his perspective on common leadership challenges organizations are faced with today and what the leadership culture is like in the Netherlands…

Rita: Based on your experience working in the international banking, energy, and insurance sectors, what do you see as three common leadership challenges facing large organizations today?

Bernardus: I would say there is a shift in what kind of leadership people get motivated by. I think in the last decade and definitely for the next decade to come, leadership will come down to the ability to inspire, to tell stories with personal presence, to provide meaning to people in their work. Typically, for a leader, that means finding meaning in their own life, and in their own work life, and starting from there.

Twenty or thirty years ago, leaders could depend on positions of power—right now, they need to inspire differently. We have a generation in the workforce that is less motivated by achievement—which was a core value up until fairly recently. They are more motivated by having a meaningful contribution to the workplace and to society at large. That’s a set of trends that are providing quite a challenge for our leaders currently.

 

You are based out of the Netherlands–tell us more about the leadership culture in your market…

Even though the approach to leadership development is similar globally—particularly for larger, multinational companies—you will always see local differences. There are different standards based on the differences in how the society is built and the norms in society. If you look at the Netherlands, it is and has been for the last 400 years a Calvinistic society—it revolves around values of purity, honesty, and hard work, with no need for anything more than what we needed—no-frills. At the same time, there is a big value of equality and certainly there is a big value of consensus.

Let me elaborate a bit on what that means for being a leader in The Netherlands. The no-frills attitude really helps companies not spend money. There is a strongly ingrained value of not spending anything more than you really need to, so it is easy as a leader to be cost-conscious.

The value of equality poses interesting challenges. Because this value is so deeply ingrained in The Netherlands, it is harder to stand out and be really distinctive at something. When you are really good at something in cultures like in the U.S., you are celebrated and promoted, whereas in Netherlands, if you are really good at something and you stand out, you have a little bit of a risk that your head will get chopped off because the culture does not promote being anything better or worse than anyone else. That is something you need to really be aware of when working in another culture. If you want to groom top performance or top performers, you can, but you have to have a really good eye on all of the other people in your organization so that they don’t feel mistreated according to the cultural norms.

Lastly, the culture of consensus. People in The Netherlands don’t really care about authority. They will give in to authority if they really need to but they are not inspired by it nor do they easily live by authority. The first thing to know is that people in The Netherlands that are being led need to fully understand what they are doing and if they disagree, as a leader, you have a problem.

Leadership in The Netherlands is all about creating consensus by gathering input from anybody who has something to say—which is typically everybody—and then having a process for everybody to feel heard, getting the best input together, and incorporating it in whatever direction you want to go. On the one hand, that creates a slightly slower decision-making processes, but on the other hand, incorporating that many inputs helps ensure that you have both the best chance on a good solution and collective commitment to the process and outcome.

This is fairly different from other cultures. For example, you only have to go next door to Germany to find a completely different culture. In Germany, the society is much more hierarchical and people tend to defer more readily to authority. People address each other quite differently. In the Netherlands, board members use each other’s first names and leaders use first names at work in the organization, whereas in Germany, they are more likely to address each other as Herr Doctor or Frau Professor—according to their title, which is very different.

Join us on Monday for Bernardus’ perspective on Leadership in a Global Workplace.

 

Bernardus Holtrop is Principal Consultant at Linkage. He coaches executives, senior managers and teams on their most complex challenges. As both a group facilitator and an executive coach, Bernardus designs leadership development programs and personalized strategies that foster bottom line results, improved work relationships, and organizational transformation. He works with organizations large and small, including many Fortune 100 companies.

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