When talking about leadership in Poland, we need to consider that in many Polish companies, the organizational culture of the former bureaucratized socialist system still plays a major role. This is especially visible in an authoritarian style of leadership, steep hierarchies as well as in the prevention of conflicts.
Among the younger generation, models of a participatory management style are increasingly visible, but even here too, there is a tendency for conflict to be bypassed instead of being addressed. There is a similar approach toward errors. In the old system, errors were frequently hushed up and problems were not communicated to the higher management level, because these would have resulted in sanctions. Learning from mistakes was not an accepted rule, and even today Polish employees are reluctant to admit that there have been problems, or mistakes made.
In Poland’s business community there is a large gap between the behaviour of the managers of the older generation and those of the so-called Generations X and Y.
Executives Of The Older Generation
The leadership style of managers who were born before 1965 is marked by pronounced hierarchical thinking and very often authoritative manners. This is the generation that had to learn the economic thinking stemming from the 1989 transition.These executives delegate almost no decision-making authority toward their juniors, and if they are not present, decisions are put on hold. The boss alone has the final say. Generally, the employees cannot and do not want to take part in the decision-making process, so that responsibility remains with the boss.
Executives Of Generation X
With ›Generation X‹ we refer to Poles who were born between 1965 and 1979. They can still very well remember the times behind the Iron Curtain and have not only witnessed but helped to shape the transformation of the political and economic systems. They embraced the free economy labour market and assumed their role in the ›wyścig szczurów‹ (›rat race‹). Many of them have changed jobs several times to achieve optimal advancement and earning opportunities. Their career paths have typically been marked by a move to a big city, most commonly Warsaw. This is primarily a generation that is accustomed to working independently and to making decisions. They mostly grew up as the ›latchkey children‹ of two working parents, who were forced to have a high self-sufficiency from elementary school age onwards.
For this reason, Generation X prefers a leadership style that is not ›top down‹ but which instead is supported by convincing arguments. Particularly at the middle management level, there are highly ambitious managers who deliberately enhance their work contacts through their private networks, often spending their leisure time, long weekends and vacations with representatives from the same industry.
Executives Of Generation Y
Polish people who were born between 1980 and 2000 witnessed the upheaval in 1989 as children or have only heard about it, and are characterised by new ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour. They often have a participative style of leadership: within the team, they see themselves as ›primus inter pares‹ and share with team members both decisions and responsibility. When compared to their older colleagues, they are team and task orientated. It is generation Y which, in a very short time, makes it to the upper echelons. According to a Deloitte Report (Kaźmierczak, A., Kocur, M. 2009: Natura dobrej organizacji. Trendy HRM w Polsce, Raport PSZK i Deloitte, Deloitte Polska.), Generation Y has higher expectations of work than the older managers. Young people especially want to take responsibility. They exploit numerous further education courses and attend seminars for personal development. For them, the most important thing is their work-life balance.
This is a new development in the Polish economic landscape as Generation X managers were often prepared to defer the balance between life and career for many years. This is also the Web 2.0 generation, whose biggest advantages, as regards the labour market, are an excellent knowledge of the latest media and multi-faceted higher education (often enriched with stays abroad). In this ambitious generation almost no trace of an inferiority complex towards Western Europe can be found. No wonder that their salary expectations are high and their attitude in terms of professional development opportunities is demanding, which is both admired and criticized by the older generation.
Senior Executive Responsibilities
Polish businesses generally expect that their senior executives act in a hierarchically-orientated way and continuously chase up progress. Often they are the sole decision-makers and should primarily emanate decisiveness. Because so much communication takes place through the use of informal channels, relationships with employees need to be maintained at all times, so that the leader can always be well informed.
Precisely because Polish employees often struggle to admit their mistakes, it is up to the executive to build trust so that it is possible to request information as to progress and possible problems. An executive must be able to communicate not only on the factual level but also on the emotional level. A large dose of diplomacy is a matter of course in daily Polish work.
At first glance, the pace of work in Poland appears comparatively fast, because employees work in a less structured way. Particularly high levels of multitasking ability are expected of the executive. In addition, detailed instructions concerning the working process are required. Supervision, control and above all, expert feedback is among the most important tasks of an executive. In addition, every manager should have an open ear towards his staff ’s private matters. Since private life and work in Poland are strongly mixed, a level of understanding is expected from the executive when there are difficulties in balancing work and private life.
This is a crucial part of leadership in Poland. In return, most Polish employees work overtime aiming for results and to make sure that a project is completed on time. Deadlines are respected, but often at the last minute. In this situation, it is assumed that the executive remains flexible and shows confidence in the performance of his team.
What unites executives and employees of all generations is the belief that anything is possible. ›Polak potrafi‹ or ›Poles can do it‹ is a Polish saying, and this optimism is translated into the action-orientated attitude of Polish employees which is renowned throughout the world. When an objective is important to Polish people, they are able to realize it within a very short space of time. The key is the correct form of motivation. You can best motivate your Polish project colleagues primarily through praise.
For historical reasons, Poles regard every bestowal of praise as an acknowledgement of their ›unexpected‹ skills, as many still carry an inferiority complex towards Western Europe. For this reason, also it is important that you should treat your Polish employees on an equal basis. Never give them the impression that you think they have a lot to learn from western models and strategies. At the same time, showing an appreciation for Polish culture and tradition is an invaluable source of motivation.
One of the key traits of your Polish employees is their national identity and associated national pride. Nowadays, the term ›Polish economy‹ reflects the opposite of its earlier meaning, which was associated with chaos, anarchy and inefficiency. With their positive macro-economic balances even during the recent economic crisis and especially in comparison with other members of the EU, the Poles are justly proud of their higher standard of living and better earning potential.
The ›money‹ question should, however, not be overestimated. For many years surveys have demonstrated, in terms of motivational factors, that self-fulfillment at work and training opportunities are more highly valued than remuneration. For the younger generation especially, if there is no opportunity for advancement or promotion in sight, they will change company.
Other important motivational tools for your employees are obviously then promotion and career opportunities. Similarly, the atmosphere in the workplace plays a very important role. Poles regard their colleagues as potential (or already made) friends and mix their personal and professional lives. Against this background, motivation is highly dependent on the quality of personal contacts. Informal contacts in the workplace contribute greatly to building a well-functioning network is to benefit from other people’s relations (as decision-makers or external authorities may be).
In the same way, the priority accorded to relations is able to accelerate many processes. Briefly, in order to best motivate your Polish employees, you should build a friendly relationship with them. The all-important phrase here is ›Do it for me, please‹. Leadership in Poland relies on personal relationships.
In addition, as additional incentives, many companies, especially foreign corporations, offer their employees, as part of ›Total Rewards‹, gym memberships, vouchers for training or upgrades in their health insurance benefits.
Extract from Business Culture Poland, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag