Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leadership in Sweden

I’ve been at a leadership course the last couple of days for work. Sounds fancy huh? It was pretty solid. Very interesting. Somewhat awkward at times for various work related issues. And completely exhausting.

I’ve taken a few classes about leadership before. Had all kinds of leadership theory dumped on me ever since junior high actually, so I was relatively familiar with a lot of the stuff we went into. But I was not familiar with it in Sweden. Which was pointed out very quickly and very early on. In fact the very first activity. It involved defining what makes a good leader on a post-it note. Or numerous post-it notes actually. So I did. Intelligent, strong, well-rounded, and so on. I thought they were pretty solid. And the kind of person I would not only like to be but also to work for. I was promptly told that my ideas were very American. Especially the intelligent one. Apparently that is a bit of a social faux pas to specify that a leader should be intelligent. The next few days saw a few more of these opinions arise. Very cool. It’s amazing how cultures react to different issues and characteristics.

That being said, knowing that the jantelag is somehow still relevant, it didn’t surprise me that Swedes would shy away from that sort of characteristic that can set someone apart, and especially above, others.

As the days went on. There were a lot of them. Well three at least. I got tired. At first I couldn’t really figure out why I was done for at the end of every day. Then it hit me. I was back in school. Using my head a whole lot more than I usually do. And I was doing it in Swedish. And granted, I speak Swedish every day, and in great detail at work but this was different. This was academic. And exhausting. I think I mentioned that.

My notes are filled with the ultimate Swenglish. Sometimes I was translating as the instructor spoke. Sometimes I was just writing in Swedish. And sometimes it was just a hodgepodge of nonsense. I’m a little worried to even look back at it.

Either way though, it was a good time. And the Swedish improved. Didn’t really have much choice. And a whole new insight into the Swedish business world opened up for me.

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  1. I'm curious to know what the Swedes thought would be good characteristics for a leader.

    And I'm not sure intelligence is a prerequisite for leadership here either, I mean look who we elected president. Twice. :)

    Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

  2. the Swedes focused more on group ideas, feelings, that sort of thing, while I guess, in my stereotypical American point of view, focused on more individualistic characterstics.

    I'll be honest, when I wrote this post I was expecting plenty of those comments, esepcially from the Swedes.

  3. As a Swede I got to say I'm surprised that saying that intelligence and strenght are good qualities of a leader would be something weird. I mean, i thought that was something good and that's how I wish our leaders were like...

  4. I can actually understand abit about what you mean.
    Now i've never been to america, the knowledge i think i got is what ive gotten of books/tv series/movies. Out of those 3 i put the most credability to the books i've read, since those generally feels accurate when it comes to facts, I mean compared to tv series/movies where u usually dont even get to learn what "main characthers" thinks.
    (books i can think of right now, is a book i'm reading atm "Exile, by Richard North Patterson" and some Michael Cobhen books that i've read(cant remember how his last name is spelled :) Though those books are about a sports agent(former basketball pro) named Myron Bolitar, and there is plenty of American leadership involved hehe(he encounters everything from FBI/big sport stars which he needs to represent – or make them make the right decisions/Mob people etc), as with the exile book which is about a federal prosecuter who runs for congress and maybe later president, it feels like there is a lot of leadership going on there aswell.

    Anyway, from the stuff i've read it feels like you need to be extremly cold, tactical, tidy, brave and intelligent to even become some sort of upperclass leader in America. And then when u are in a leading postion, u need to keep yourself above other compeitors, always a step ahead. Often marking that you are the leader, and be ready to make place for a new one if u somehow mess up, at least that’s how it seems, that a lot of the people struggling for god jobs are ready to sacrifice the option they get when they can help u out when u somehow get in trouble, make a friend at work, or just passively stand by waiting for their chance to take over(?). I mean that they maybe wouldn’t reach you a hand to help u up(if that means that they wont get anything out of it, right?:P). America is a lot bigger, and I guess its natural that the leadership gets more strict(?), good or bad I don’t know?

    Here in Sweden though(bear in mind all I got right now is a work at a Volvo as a normal employee, I’m between high school and university proberly going to read civil econom here in Gothenborg in a few months after the summer) people feels as to be abit more loyal to the person you work with, got no grounds, it just feels like it. Actually as far as I know one of the women who work where I work now is a extremly good friend of a higher “tjänsteman” and its just because both of them sails and they met at work. It might be abit more relaxed in Sweden?
    One thing tho, I think u said it previously, is that people in Sweden(leaders that is, the bad ones)often don’t take the consequences for their actions, or pretends stuff doesn’t exists just because they don’t want to deal with it and let others do it. And I think this happens A LOT in Sweden, really a lot. And in the end I guess the problems that arises somehow manages to be a heartsubject for someone else, a person who use it just to reach higher, political/or business.
    Anyway, generally I don’t think Sweden has that extremely big need of strict authority, talking about people who keeps insiting on demonstrating their powers as a higher ranked employee, that’s what I think isn’t needed. Proberly people often get a loyal feeling vs the company they work for, and even if they start to dislike the company, their moral code stops them from not following the way the work is supposed to be done. I think there is a lot more people who would help if a problem arised, than there is people who would take advantage.

    So yes generally I think Swedish leaders needs more social skills and a knowledge how to get people to like you, at the same time as your leadership doesn’t get challenged by anyone. A mix of liking and respect? A guy with a iron fist, a control freak, but no social skills proberly wouldn’t last long at his postion. I for one don’t get how Carl Bildt got to become minister.

  5. The way I see it is that America puts a strong emphasis on independence, confidence of the individual, and competition with others. These traits are absolutely essential in a society that enforces a hierarchical structure within the workplace (and indeed, sadly, relentless one-upmanship in wider society too). The competition results in people relying on their strengths (and image portraying these strengths) to remain on the pedestal. The good leaders are those that have the qualities to remain there without the mud sticking and the rivals getting promoted above them. All rather cut-throat, but at the same time, these somewhat ruthless qualities result in strong leaders that take risks well-measured between the nothing-gained and the reckless. A free-for-all, that results in the best at the capitalist game ending up near the top.

  6. sorry just messing the spacing.


    As an American I found most of the comments you made to be accurate. America does encourage individualism sometimes I feel a bit too much. As a result great leaders are fearless, cutthroat, and competitive.

    Regarding the workplace, I think there is also a bit of lip service that occurs. Some people will appear to be your friend, but only as long as they stand to gain something. They may be looking for your support, a favor, or whatever.

    I also agree that employee/employer relationships may not be the best. I think some of this stems from the insecurity we Americans feel in the workplace. Part of being a leader is knowing when your company is performing poorly and laying people off. Employees, hell anyone, is afraid of losing their job, so people aren’t as loyal.

    In college I was taught that good leaders also had emotional intelligence (self awareness, empathy, relationship management, social skill, etc) but was less emphasized than other leadership traits (inspiring a shared vision, modeling the way, challenging the process, etc) which is too bad.

  7. a good discussion. the question is then is there a better form of leadership? or is it just important to find a form of leadership that conforms to the society you find yourelf in? I would imagine that a touchy-feely leader focused more on how someone feels all the time might struggle in a high level position for a Fortune 500 company in the US. That being said the leader of a Fortune 500 company might struggle horribly elsewhere.

    I'm a big proponent that there is no one form of leadership. that leadership must be molded to the situation you find yourself in and the leaders that truly make a name for themselves are those that can adapt to any given circumstance or situation. so regardless of what you learn in a class in the US or a class in Sweden, leadership is the ability to figure out what needs to be used when and how.