National culture has a considerable influence on management styles. Understanding our reputation internationally, whether justified or not, can help us to be more effective in our dealings with colleagues, clients and suppliers from other cultures. So, how are French managers viewed abroad? Let’s discover “The good, the bad and the ugly…”
Firstly, let’s stop beating ourselves up: French managers are often highly appreciated in multinational companies and a number of them have achieved brilliant international careers. Here are just some of the key characteristics for which we are often envied:
An analytical state of mind, Cartesian and rational
The analytical skills of French managers are often recognised as a real strength when compared to other nationalities. This includes viewing a problem from different angles, researching the facts and figures needed to back up their viewpoint, and basing their arguments on logic. This quality is often a product of our educational system which insists on things such as a demonstration of calculation methods in maths, where simply getting the answer right isn’t enough.
Looking beyond analytical capacities, the best French managers often stand out for their capacity to be creative, intuitive and to think out of the box. This helps explain the success of French companies in areas as diverse as luxury goods, high-speed trains, yoghurts and beauty products.
An ability to question the status quo
French managers are reputed for not being afraid of challenging ideas or even of conflicts. This helps them play the role of “Devil’s Advocate” in international working groups and to put forward differing opinions which help enrich the group’s overall decision-making.
Mediocre oral presentation skills
Arguments are not always based solely on rational and detailed analysis. You also have to be able to summarise and to display a certain skill in storytelling. In this area, the Anglo-Saxons often have an advantage over the French. It should be said that the French educational system attaches little importance to teaching public speaking, unlike those of Anglo-Saxon countries.
A tendency to engage in endless debate over minor details
These endless debates often lead to meetings which may well exceed their timeslots. This goes hand-in-hand with what is often seen as an excessively theoretical and conceptual approach. To illustrate this, there’s the frequently quoted example of the French manager who says to his English colleagues “that may work well in practice, but would it work as well in theory?
An excessively hierarchical organisational structure
Project-based collaboration styles involving several departments can cause problems when faced with hierarchical organisational structures.
The arrogance of certain French managers
They give the impression of not taking into account the opinions of colleagues from other nationalities (particularly those from “minor” countries), of coming across as hectoring, and of lacking humility. This often results in comments such as “that maybe works in 25 countries but it’ll never work in France”. There is also the tendency to interrupt the person you are speaking to, which is commonplace in France but considered very impolite in the northern European and Asian cultures.
A tendency to be overly critical and not positive enough.
Here once again, a key influence is the French educational system in which there is a far greater focus on what is wrong rather than focusing on the students’ strengths and successes. French managers working as expatriates in countries with a more optimistic culture such as the United States may become unpopular with their colleagues if they don’t learn to give positive feedback on a regular basis.
When all is said and done, French managers have many strengths and advantages and it is a shame that their impact is limited by presentational problems.