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Leadership In The Nordic Countries

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Leadership and decision-making styles in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden

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Leadership In The Nordic Countries

  1. 1. Leadership inthe NordicCountriesDenmark, Finland, Norway & SwedenManagement Styles are Culture-Dependent LeadershipFrom a global perspective the Nordic countries are The leadership style predominant in the Nordicvery similar; and they do share many of the same countries is participative management. The mostfundamental values. A preference for similar important quality for Nordic managers is to obtainmanagement styles across the region, however, does results in co-operation with employees; a peoplenot mean that each of the countries should be orientation. Nordic managers rely more oninterpreted in the exact same way. Fine nuances, subordinates and peers and less on formal rules andsubtle as they may be, are often disregarded and superiors compared to managers from othertherefore end up creating culture clashes and countries, however, important contrasts are foundproblems. Both domestic firms and firms investing in between the Nordic countries, and the level ofthe region can benefit from knowing the cultural participation differs among the four Nordic countries.sensitivities that distinguish the Nordic countries;disregarding them may prove costly. The Danish management style is ‘bottom-up and informal’. Danish managers rely on own experiencesThis document will help you to get insight into key and subordinates to a very high degree, while theymanagement issues across the Nordic countries. The are less dependent on their superiors and rely less onfour countries are approached one by one and crucial formal rules. Danish managers expect subordinateselements highlighted. to challenge them to a higher degree than is the case in the other Nordic countries and subordinates willThe cultural differences amongst the four countries also do so.can take on different meanings depending on whichculture you yourself are from. Your own culture The Finnish management style is characterized bydefines how you look at others. Being Swedish gives a ‘expertise in a culture of equality’. Finnish managersdifferent view of the Danes than being German. In rely more own epertise and experiences and to athis document the Nordic cultures are approached somewhat lesser extent on subordinates.from a non-Nordic perspective. Participative management in Finland is influenced by structural constraints and a concern for quality.Organization Finnish managers rely more on rules compared toIn the Nordic countries, corporate structures tend to their Nordic counterparts, however, rules which arebe decentralized with top-light management imposed by others are used as source of guidance lesshierarchies, although Finnish organizations are a little strongly.less egalitarian than the other Nordic organizations.The Nordic managers have been instrumental in the The Norwegian management style is ‘bottom-up,development of the concept of bottom-up collegial’. Norwegian managers rely on ownmanagement. Managers go to great length to experiences and subordinates and co-workers (team-delegate responsibility and to share power, i.e. work) to a very high degree. Norwegian managersdecision-making with all layers of the hierarchy, and are also concerned about doing what is judgedon their side subordinates expect to be heard and to decent and correct by the broader community. Inbe involved in decisions, which concern their work. Norway, there is also a moderately high reliance on rules. © itim – 1
  2. 2. Participative management in Sweden is strongly organization. Finns prefer to rely on their ‘gut’ feelinginfluenced by equality and fairness. The Swedish rather than on more time-consuming politicalmanagement style is characterized by ‘conformity in processes. The involvement of subordinates mainlya culture of eqality’. Swedes place strong reliance on takes the form of consultative discussions and thereeverybody following the same consensus-driven is less striving for consensus than in the other Nordicinformal rules and procedures, and are moderately countries. Finnish leaders are slighty more decisivereliant on own experiences. The Swedish managers than their Nordic counterparts. Finns will sometimesare also concerned about doing what is judged be slow in making up their minds because they wantdecent and correct by the broader community. to have a full overview. Once their minds are made up, however, they are unlikely to change them.Decision-MakingThe Nordic decision-making style is consensual, In Norway, there is a stronger focus on group-participative, and inclusive. There is a high degree of decisions, and there is a tradition for sitting downinterdependence and trust, and communication is with the subordinates, agree upon what is to beopen and flows in all directions. Decision-making is done, and then to implement it. However, even ifdone by looking for shared interest of all stakeholders there is a high degree of involvement of co-workers inand to create consensus in order obtain the broadest leadership, it is generally acceptable for the leader topossible consent in connection with important make decisions. The Norwegians are analytical, focusdecisions. Basically, the same form for pragmatic, on details, and have a relatively strong need fordecision-oriented rationality with a high degree of control of resources. Nevertheless, they are alsoobjectivity applies to all Nordic countries. result-oriented and good at simplifying things. When it looks like a decision has been made, however, theyThe communicative Danes are more individualistic might actually very well keep on discussing. Once theand tend to approach things in a relatively final decision has been made, they prefer to actindependent and flexible way, changing their minds quickly.along the way during the decision-making process.The Danish managers are result and goal-oriented Swedish managerial decisions are strongly influencedand they can act swiftly and are able to adapt quickly. by involvement. In Sweden, consensus is extremelyThe role of the Danish leader is to cut things short important and Swedish managers will have a morewhen the employees have had a chance to argue for patient and understanding attitude towards theirtheir opinion. Subordinates need to be heard, but one subordinates and will spend a lot of time reachingdoes not need to have reached consensus in the same agreement and building group consensus.way as the Swedes would need to reach consensus. Communicating intensively with as many different parties as possible is assumed to be an efficient wayThe silent Finns are rather dynamic achievers and to reach good decisions. The Swedes are verydecision-makers, who approach decision-making thorough in their planning and often evaluatepragmatically and with a purpose. When faced with a everything before making their minds up. Thedecision, Finnish managers reserve time to think decision itself emerges from the consultation process.about the issue, gather supporting and expertiseinformation, and discuss the issue within the © itim – 2
  3. 3. Conclusion ReferencesAs can be seen from the above, Nordic leadership is itim International - Country Briefingsan interactive and dynamic process; involving andincluding subordinates and co-workers to a very high itim International - Culture Data-basedegree. At the same time, however, culturaldifferences contribute to subtle, yet significant Hofstede, G. (2001), ‘Cultures Consequences –differences in behavior. Successfully navigating the Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions andNordic countries requires an understanding of the Organizations Across Nations’, Sage, United Kingdomidiosyncratic cultural differences found betweenDenmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Holt Larsen, H. and Bruun de Neergard, U. (2007), ‘Nordic Lights - A research project on NordicThis document is not a complete overview of the leadership and leadership in the Nordic countries’,many cultural differences and similarities amongst Københavnthe Nordic countries, it should more be seen as keyinsight points. Neither does it give an answer to Lewis, R. D. (2006), ‘When Cultures Collide – Leadingwhere these differences or similarities come from. For Across Cultures’, Nicholas Brealey International, USAa thorough understanding of the deeper lying valuesdriving the people in the Nordic region, a useful tool Smith, P. B. et al., ‘In search of Nordic Managementis the 5-D Model of professor Geert Hofstede. For a Styles’, Scandinavian Journal of Management, 19more elaborative view on the cultural challenges and (2003) 491-507opportunities between the Nordic countries, efficientstrategies to manage the cultural differences, and an Szabo, E. (2007), ‘Participative Management andintroduction to the 5-D Model, please contact: Culture – A Qualitative and Integrative Study in Five European Countries’, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am MainPernilla Roersoe, Managing Director, SeniorConsultant, Copenhagen Office, itim Group Weiss, K. (2006), ’Når Vikinger Slås - hvorforpernilla@itim.org skandinaviske virksomheder har det så svært med hinanden’, Jyllands-Postens Forlag, København Pernilla Roersoe, M. Sc. in International Business Srategy (IBS) has been with itim International since 2007. Working with intercultural management from an operational and a strategic perspective, she assists companies in succesfully operating and maneuvering in a globalized world. © itim – 3

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