Dutch leadership – relaxed, but goal-oriented

Dutch are generally pragmatic. They speak directly and bluntly say what they think and mean what they say. Everyone is at eye level with each other. Accordingly, Dutch companies are also comparatively informally managed. The hierarchies are flat, the boss and the staff are on first-name terms. The boss’s office door is always open for everyone.

Different ranks are mostly incidental in a collaboration. The Executive is responsible for the successful team building and sees himself as primus inter pares, a member of the team just like anybody else. Status, title and formalities are considered unnecessary. Referring to one’s rank in a Dutch company risk a direct backlash from employees and achieve anything but a demonstration of their decision-making power. What counts here is the daily personal performance as well as a congenial demeanor, but never the assigned position, tenure or age.

Easy-going way and high performance ethos

Dutch managers are cooperative and often see their main task as motivating and supporting their team. Nevertheless, their leadership style is strongly task-, result- and goal-oriented due to the Protestant work ethic. A high-performance-ethos is deeply rooted in Dutch society. Discipline and efficiency form the basis of economic thinking.

In spite of their relaxed nature, Dutch executives will therefore not tolerate any lack of work ethic or inefficiency on the part of their employees. The top priority for all is always to achieve the common goal as quickly as possible. The boss keeps track of the big picture, coordinates the individual areas and keeps all the threads together. However, task fulfillment is team work.

From the discussion among all to the consensus among all is critical to success. Facts or problems are rigorously analyzed and discussed until a solution is found in consensus with all. Of course, in Dutch companies the boss makes many decisions, but he will consult all relevant employees and bring together different opinions.

This also means that you will often find many more employees being involved than you would anticipate. In Dutch companies, for example, the secretary might be sitting in the project meeting and will contribute an equal opinion on the planned project. Factual instructions however, without explaining the meaning and purpose behind the task, can easily miss the target. Everyone must be kept in the loop and feeling included into the big picture.

The advantage is that everyone is actively thinking and noticing what is going on around them. Management mistakes are often revealed at a lower level, because Dutch employees do not blindly follow. The disadvantage may be that even for small issues everyone wants to be involved, which often takes a lot of time.

Be aware though, if Dutch employees are not convinced of a task they are asked to carry out, it may well be that they simply don’t do it. It is therefore essential for a leader to persuade and win employees over to a plan or project. Then, commitment, engagement and loyalty are fantastic. The initial loss of time is often regained later in the project.

Professional and private matters are flowing

Professional and private matters are never kept completely separate in Dutch companies. To talk about personal topics is quite common in everyday office life, and so you will see the Dutch manager chatting to the porter about his last holiday. Informal conversations also often serve to straighten out the relationship between colleagues as well as between team leader and team members after a conflict or heated debate.

It is equally important that family life and job life remain compatible. With eight per cent, the Netherlands has the highest proportion of executives in part-time employment in Europe. This is based on Dutch flexibility as well as their desire for a lot of personal freedom. Dutch employees or CEOs will never doubt the leadership qualities or competences of their part-time management staff. The fact that there are still electric time clocks recording attendance in many companies around the western world is considered as something prehistoric by Dutch HR people.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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