Europe not a union when it comes to leadership

Jan 11 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

French captains of industry are Napoleonic in how they lead, brooking no dissent, British bosses are happy to generate debate and German leaders have the strongest social conscience, according to a new survey of European leadership styles.

The study of 200 business leaders in the three countries by HR consultancy DDI found markedly different styles of leadership depending on nationality.

Bosses in the UK, France and Germany are respectively meritocrats, autocrats and democrats, it concluded.

Autonomy was highly prized by French leaders, with 65 per cent agreeing that the best thing about being a leader was the freedom to make decisions with minimum interference.

By comparison, only 46 per cent of German and 39 per cent of British business leaders felt this way.

One French leader polled summed up his nation's attitude: "I enjoy the decision-making without having to confer with others."

While almost 90 per cent of UK leaders believed they had become better at judging the calibre of their colleagues, the figure was much lower in Germany (64 per cent) and even more so in France (49 per cent).

The explanation for this could lie in the relative isolation of French leaders, who tend to make autonomous decisions and often provide similar latitude to those in their team, argued DDI.

German deference and formality could also help to explain the relatively low score there, it added.

As one UK respondent put it: "Team work is very, very important and understanding that it takes a lot of different skills, a lot of different people to deliver."

Leaders in the UK were also almost always ready to see their decisions challenged, with 96 per cent happy to be challenged.

This dropped to 52 per cent in Germany and plummeted to 29 per cent in France.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of this, while 82 per cent of UK leaders (and 66 per cent of German) felt they had much to learn in their role, almost seven out of 10 of French captains believed they knew all they need to know to be effective.

For UK and German leaders the best thing about being a captain of industry was developing the talented people within their organisations, with 70 per cent of Brits and 48 per cent of Germans selecting this as a top-three choice, but only 14 per cent of French.

A total of 31 per cent of French leaders polled said public recognition was a top three driver, highlighting the importance of personal reputation in France and the kudos attached to a senior position in business, said DDI.

This was in stark contrast to Germany where just 16 per cent chose public recognition and the UK, where the figure was just 2 per cent.

One of the worst things about being a leader was that failure at this level was big failure, leaders agreed.

In Germany, four out of 10 leaders cited this as a top concern, twice as many as in the UK.

From this, it seems that while UK leaders are more readily prepared to learn from failure and start again, in Germany the stigma of failure sometimes lingered and hampered career prospects for life, said DDI.

The Germans, already renowned for their strong environmental credentials, emerged as the leaders with the strongest social conscience.

Nearly half chose having to make tough decisions which affected people's future as a top-three concern (compared with 28 per cent in the UK and 20 per cent in France).

One German respondent said: "There is a lot of responsibility and you have to weigh decisions carefully as they affect others."

DDI managing director Steve Newhall said: "Education and tradition play their part in shaping fundamental distinctions which cross-border businesses must understand and accommodate if they are to succeed in developing a truly global workforce.

"The step up to CEO is a giant one that takes you into markedly different territory. Given the high rate of failure at this level, it is vital for organisations to have proper succession plans in place and to groom their future captains through planned and varied stretch experiences that start from as early as possible in their career," he added.