In the Netherlands, the land and the hierarchies are flat. The boss is “primus inter pares”, a member of the team just like anybody else. Managers always involve all team members, seek consensus among them and convince everyone of the meaningfulness of a planned project.
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 boss and the staff are on first-name terms.
Primus Inter pares
The boss’s office door is always open for everyone. Leadership in the Netherlands is often hardly visible. Different ranks are mostly incidental in a collaboration. The boss 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 demonstrate their decision-making power. What counts here is the daily personal performance and a likeable demeanour, but never the assigned position, tenure or age.
Easy-going With High-performance Ethos
Dutch managers are cooperative and often see their primary 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.
Despite their relaxed nature, Dutch executives will not tolerate any lack of work ethic or inefficiency in 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 holds all the threads together. However, task fulfilment is teamwork.
The consensus among all is critical to success. Facts or problems are rigorously analyzed and discussed until a solution is found in agreement with all. Of course, in Dutch companies, the boss makes many decisions, but they will consult all relevant employees and bring together different opinions. Leadership in the Netherlands always means engaging with others. It is not a desk job.
Consequently, you will often find many more employees involved than you would anticipate. For example, in Dutch companies, 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 feel included in the big picture.
No One Follows Blindly
The advantage of this form of leadership in the Netherlands 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 minor 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. Therefore, a leader needs to persuade and win employees over 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
Professional and private matters are never kept entirely separate in Dutch companies. Speaking about personal topics is quite common in everyday office life, 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. The Netherlands has the highest proportion of executives in part-time employment in Europe thanks to the Dutch flexibility and their desire for a lot of personal freedom. Dutch employees or CEOs will never doubt their part-time management staff’s leadership qualities or competencies. Recording attendance is considered prehistoric in Dutch HR departments.