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    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Dutch Society: a challenge to leaders or to followers?

    Usually when we talk about leadership we reflect our assumptions on what we believe leadership is and on what type of leadership is needed.

    When we listen, we also contrast other opinions to our own concepts nurturing debate and challenging perspectives.

    Yesterday, I had the pleasure to attend an event organized by de Baak, a training institute that is referred as the voice of Business in The Netherlands, on the topic “Who are we: Reflections on Dutch Leadership and Society”.

    I was really interested to listen to other opinions so I focused on gathering inputs to be able to draw my own conclusions and here I am trying to summarize the most important ones.

    First thing I noticed is that most of the conversation swung between decision making processes and implementations challenges among Dutch organizations.

    They remarked that decisions are mostly made by consensus, making sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward, which leads to commitment but also consumes precious time which is a critical variable to succeed in the current times of crisis.

    What shocked me a bit was that they mentioned that afterwards implementation is doubtful. Apparently, even if Dutch are involved in the decision making process, when they break apart they may still have important doubts on what to do or how to do it, which again impacts delivery time and team synergies.

    This tells me a lot about the type of leadership that is needed in the country: people that are able to build confidence on individual capabilities as well as trust among each member of the team.

    But before jumping into the conclusion, there was another thing that captured my attention.

    Most people on leadership roles with leadership preparation know that leadership is about building trust, so how come so many Dutch prepared people failed to do that? Isn’t it that Dutch society is facing an issue of not knowing how to follow instead of how to lead?

    A side conversation with a de Baak lady brought some light into this finding; she told me that in the 1700s Dutch society was run by very assertive leaders that brought business success to the country but also made mistakes that today’s Dutch society feel ashamed for.

    • What happened then?
    • How did it impact the Dutch idiosyncrasy?
    • Are there hidden social rules that prevent Dutch people for trusting each other and their leaders? if yes, what are they?

    Deep pragmatic questions that open the door for further research:

    • What will happen if Dutch teams receive as much preparation to be lead as the leaders receive to lead?
    • What will happen if the responsibility of leadership is taken away from the leader into the followers?
    • What opportunities and risks will Dutch society face in that new paradigm?

    I know this may not be final conclusion but they set the way on how I will keep exploring this amazing country and this complex society.


    1. Hello Juan,

      It was wonderful to meet you last Wednesday. I'm glad you enjoyed the evening. I personally found it a very stimulating experience and am happy to see our discussion has led so many people to ask questions.

      And speaking of, you've raised a number of essential questions. One of the many things that stays with me from Wednesday was that people's concept of "leader" and "leadership" is quite varied. Some were very critical of the current government, which may lend credence to your argument about "not being able to follow" (this is an intriguing idea and deserves follow up - more on that later); others were decrying the lack of an "Obama-like" hero figure who single-handedly leads the Dutch towards a golden future. The second argument I find particularly vexing, given the fact that the Dutch are clearly a collectivist society: no heroes, no glory.

      We are going to be directly inviting a select number of people to smaller venues, lunches, in which we explore the subtopics raised last Wednesday in more depth. Rozalinde will be sending you an email soon about this. I surely hope you can join us again to explore these issues further.

      Thanks again for your participation Wednesday.



      Leo Salazar
      Senior Program Director International

      De Baak
      IJsbaanpad 3-b, 1076 CV Amsterdam
      The Netherlands

      +31 642 543 958 EU mobile
      +1 323 284 5425 US telephone
      Skype: leo.salazar

    2. Thanks for your comments Leo.

      I believe there is a lot to explore on the topic and It will be awesome to find a way to gather the perspectives of young dutch people in the topic since they will be the leaders of the nearby future.

      Looking forward for more exciting conversations.


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