Leadership In Brazil

Leadership in Brazil

In Brazilian companies, the management style is clearly authoritarian and hierarchical. Employees expect that a supervisor will assume the role of the ›benevolent father‹, successfully marrying the interests of the company with their well-being. A confident appearance and a high degree of integrity are both therefore essential for the leadership in Brazil. Losing one’s temper is perceived as an obvious sign of weak leadership in Brazil, and a person who shouts is always in the wrong. For foreign executives in Brazil, social competence is more important than expertise.

The Role Of The Executive

While executives are generally respected because of their position in the hierarchy, personal conversations with employees are the key to truly loyal and constructive cooperation. As a new supervisor from abroad, you should first inform all staff about yourself. You should also include personal details, which immediately demonstrates your open approach toward the employees. Some well-prepared individual discussions are easily organised following this.

Once a communication link has been established with colleagues, this must be preserved. Between each conversation, which might very well deal with specific issues too, you should never let weeks go by. It is advisable, at least at the beginning, that you make brief notes of the timings and contents of talks with employees. This will also help to ensure that you do not neglect the quieter staff members who often bear a significant share of the workload.

Anyone leading employees in a Brazilian company very quickly realises that the demands are rather complex. In addition to the communication of strategy and defined objectives, precise tasks must be specified for every employee.

Although it may seem paradoxical monitoring expenditure increases significantly with lower-level work. A ›yes‹ to a given task should at most be regarded as the employee’s acknowledgement. If the execution of something is important, this must be followed up daily, if necessary. Because of their relationship-orientated bias, many Brazilians are eager to help everyone as much as possible. This means that commitments dating back some time always overlap with more recent events. Continuous follow-up ensures that the essential things remain in focus.

Granting scope for decisions to Brazilian employees is a complex matter. Although qualified and experienced staff recognise the confidence they have, they still appreciate close coordination with their supervisor. This applies even more to low-skill employees. They often do not want to take responsibility for decisions and, if in doubt, would rather not decide.

Very careful attention needs to be maintained when putting together a Brazilian team. As a leader, you cannot trust that the team will simply pull together. The stronger the team members harmonise on a relationship level, the better the results will be. Relationships tend to be more important than expertise in this context too. You should consider this when selecting your staff. How the cooperative efforts are then arranged can often be left to the team itself, as it is only then that the group will be organised cognisant of every individual sensitivity.

Boundaries Between Executives And Team

Part of leadership in Brazil is also the role of the ›benevolent father‹ which implies that, as a supervisor, you take care of the welfare and development of your employees. Your duty of care does not, though, simply end ›at the gate‹, but it also extends to the private environment. Often you will need to deal with family problems, and it is common for your role to include identifying a job either in your company or an associated one for a son or relative of an employee.

Although much of the private sphere can be dragged into the company, a certain distance between executives and employees must be respected. If this distance is lost, the hierarchical order is endangered. The resulting uncertainty among employees can affect their willingness to perform and, in the long term, undermine their respect and loyalty.

If problems occur during work, as an executive you will usually be the last to be informed, even if the project is actually nearing crisis point. Such situations can only be counteracted if you are able to find a trusted person within the team who dares to inform you honestly and in a timely fashion. Such a person will not always be the team leader.

Intercultural Conflicts

When conflicts arise between foreign executives and Brazilian staff, the causes can normally be attributed to the difference in the weight given respectively to the factors ›results‹ and ›personal relationships‹. For Brazilians, a good relationship with the supervisor is a prerequisite for a high level of personal commitment and thus results. If the relationship appears to be threatened, they will spend a lot of time and energy trying to remedy this. The foreign executives, meanwhile, perceive such behaviour as ›focusing on trivialities‹. The differences are then even more difficult to bridge.

To alleviate such a situation, you should talk to your Brazilian employees at frequent intervals about the progress that has been achieved and also give positive feedback consistently regarding even smaller steps forward. If, as the team supervisor, you wish to receive suggestions for improvements, you need to build good personal contact with your staff. If this is not done adequately, the Brazilian sense of environment based on strict hierarchy will mean that ›criticism from below‹ is hardly possible.

Another source of intercultural misunderstandings between the boss and the employees is the use of time. In some cultures, there is a tendency to perform tasks in the shortest possible time. This is often perceived by Brazilians as a form of cold minimalism. For them, the interpersonal dimension is in the foreground. The tasks are therefore undertaken with a higher expenditure of time and thus in general everything takes longer. This difference is hard to overcome.

For relevant single issues, it helps to give Brazilian employees an understanding of the importance and urgency of a result. In this way, employees are motivated by the desire not to place their boss in a ›bad situation‹. This approach depends on being able to set the right priorities, because when a task is really important, employees expect regular, indeed daily, follow up.

Employee Motivation

An authoritarian style of leadership and strict corporate policy are perceived less constrictively by Brazilians than by people from some other cultures. Much more emphasis is placed on relationships, both with colleagues and with superiors. If Brazilian employees are not satisfied with their immediate environment, any effort at motivation is unlikely to be effective. With a positive interpersonal foundation though, loyal behaviour develops. As an additional incentive, even small (interim) results should be rewarded with proper recognition. You should be aware, however, that most employees are critical enough to recognise ›cheap praise‹. Too much of it can begin to undermine respect for your expertise and ultimately the loyalty paid to you.

Selection Of Personnel

Although many of the same recruitment options are available in Brazil as in other countries when seeking new employees, the vast majority of appointments are awarded based on personal recommendations. These range from satisfied employees, who recommend their company to their acquaintances, to professional networks that may refer suitable applicants.

For more senior roles, professional head-hunters are increasingly being used. A special role in filling vacancies is played by the family members of employees. Family here means the extended one, including also relations at the third degree or even distant relatives. Brazilian families take care of all their members and try to convey them into interesting positions. Such mutual care does not end with the appointment. If a new employee causes
problems, responsibility extends to the referrer. It is not uncommon for an employee who has caused difficulties to be placed under the direct responsibility of the family member who had originally recommended him or her.

Please note that in Brazil there are laws on equality, both in terms of ethnicity as well as gender. Any evidence of discrimination against an applicant is actionable.

Gerardo Alfonso Mueller Alban and Markus Hasenfratz
Extract from Business Culture Brazil, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag 

Related Content

How To Close Deals In Any Foreign Market

Are your sales teams missing their targets in foreign markets? Do they generate opportunities but no deals?

The assessment-based 3GSG program shows exactly how your teams can sell value-based and effectively in their respective foreign markets so that they consistently close their deals. After the implementation, your team leaders are able to continue the program self-directed for up to 50 foreign markets.