Game Of European Thrones: Is there such a thing as a European leader?

Is there a typically European leadership style? Forbes went out to examine the issue and explored different leadership styles across Europe. In this article, I provided some general background and introduction on European leadership (article by Matt Symonds, see link full article)

Cherry blossom is a glorious announcement of the arrival of spring, but as any Game of Thrones fan can tell you, “Winter is Coming.” As we impatiently wait for this month’s final season to begin, and find out whether the Mother of Dragons or the Night King will unseat Queen Cersei on the Iron Throne in Westeros, I’ve been trying to follow another fantasy epic currently on our screens, “Brexit – A Song of Mice and Liar.”

But the tragi-comic plot line in Westminster, and a perfidious cast of self-interested pretenders who seem immune to the sort of fate dished out by George R.R. Martin in his books has made for frustrating and often incomprehensible viewing. So I’ve turned to a Norwegian series (fortunately for me in English) on Netflix called Norsemen. Set in the Viking era, it starts off feeling like a Game of Thrones wannabee, but quickly develops into a satire on modern Scandinavian society whilst managing to be very clever and very funny, albeit in a rather dark way. These people are Vikings after all, so the back-stop solution to any challenge or problem tends to be a fairly violent one.

Given that business education is never far from my mind, I was particularly taken with the series’ view of the Scandinavian approach to management. I’d heard in a recent interview with Professor Ciara Sutton of the Stockholm School of Economics how Scandinavian leaders are always keen to empower employees, perhaps to a much greater extent than in other areas of the world and how there is an assumption in the business culture that leader and subordinate are fundamentally equal despite differences in formal rank. Consequently, disagreements are rarely addressed head on and unsatisfactory performance is often just met with vague suggestions for improvement. The series parodies this in a sequence where a chieftain asks for 360 degree feedback from one of his people, listens politely and intently and then, because this is set in 8th century, puts a spike through his head. But then they were probably more wedded to the concept of “pour encourager les autres” back in those days than they are now.

Of course, if you put the satire to one side, the Scandinavian approach to business must have something going for it given the success of a wide range of enterprises the region has produced from IKEA and ABBA to Spotify and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Which got me wondering what lessons other European countries could teach when it comes to the art and science of management.

Cherry blossom is a glorious announcement of the arrival of spring, but

For a wider European view I began with Frederik Anseel, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Vice Dean (Research) at King’s Business School. In addition to Anseel’s research expertise, he also has a personal perspective having worked, and been involved in leadership development in Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands and the U.K.

I asked him if there is such a thing as a European leader?

“No, there are still cultural differences in leadership styles between European countries,” says Anseel. “Some of these differences conform to national stereotypes; Scandinavians and the Dutch are measurably more direct, but some of it doesn’t; there’s actually more autonomy in countries like Switzerland or Germany, which are seen as being very rule-bound, than in the U.K.”

For Professor Anseel it is easy to forget the profound changes seen in Europe in the last 30 years. “For a short while after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a tendency to think ‘we are all Europeans,’ but in practice managers quickly saw that there are different cultural identities within Europe.”

He believes that this diversity should be seen as a strength, not a problem to solve. “Leaders learn to adapt instead of demanding their employees adapt to one cultural model. That leads to a personal challenge though – how can you retain your own cultural identity and be versatile and open at the same time? This is an important challenge for leaders and an important focus for business schools.”

European business schools such as King’s Business School are renowned for providing a diverse international study environment. “This is not so that they all end up the same,” explains Anseel, “but so that they learn from each other and see the value of different perspectives. The result is leaders who are grounded and trustworthy, and have the flexibility to navigate a global and sometimes polarized environment.”

Grounded and trustworthy – hardly the character traits that come to mind in Westeros or Westminster. For a country-by-country perspective I asked management experts at some of the continent’s leading business schools for their views on European management style. By no means exhaustive, how do their perspectives compare with your own?