The Princes of European Management – are the English and the French really different?

We're pleased to feature guest posts from Emily Crews-Montès, who has worked in a number of blue-chip and international procurement functions (including at NatWest with me) and now lives and works  in France, mainly helping UK firms in that market.  

Peter Smith’s blog posts on Machiavelli came at a good moment, as I’d dusted off my Dover Editions version of The Prince and set about finishing it.  This one, written in 1910, is hard going, though having learned French helped me to decipher and finish it this time!

It is clear that The Prince is still relevant today when it comes to the allocation of resources, at which point humans revert to their natural state.  It’s lucky for me perhaps that in Peter Smith’s team I was but a lowly buyer – rather than a highly paid manager with the fortunes of my entire family riding on my annual bonus.  I never heard any adverse comment about you on this though, Peter...

The book also provided insight to me as a Briton living in France, and I turned to it as part of my research into cultural differences.  The Prince is seen as a classic management text, but for a Brit it makes more sense, to me, as a primer on Europe, and why it is as it is – including in aspects of management styles and behaviours in different countries.

In "Latin" countries, such as France, it's difficult to see any people in powerful positions concerning themselves in the least about being hated!  They have less to fear from "assassination" (being sacked or voted out of power), because of three important differences: the maintenance of the status quo (outside scope here), attitudes to power (it's OK to wield power without apology), and the relationship between "Truth" and power and tradition.

In the English-speaking world, leadership is more consensual, and I doubt that most managers, however senior, can rely upon the obedience of his or her reports.  The English-speaking world’s culture, relative to the Latin ones, gives obedience much less cultural context or currency. 

Individualism is highly prized, and a “Prince” who “punishes” a team member for having interests of his own would be seen as too authoritarian, unless the individual concerned had been overly anarchistic, self-serving or destructive.  In France, punishment of anyone speaking out of turn would be seen as “normal”. 

It is interesting, however, to see that Machiavelli needed to deal the subject of “messing with citizens’ possessions”.  This principle is also dealt with by Philippe d’Iribarne (“La Logique de l’Honneur”), a 20th century work that describes how a French leader should be “noble”.  Noble behaviour involves drawing a line of decency beyond which the wielding of power is unseemly. 

The difference, in my experience, is that this line is differently drawn in different cultures.  In the UK, a business head needs to earn respect, aka referent power (Raven 1959), whereas in France this would be conferred based upon his positional power, which (s)he could bring to bear immediately without having to win the team over.

(Join us for part 2 later this week)

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