7.4

One of the Amsterdam canals

One of the Amsterdam canals

In France it was different. Most European countries were ruled by a form of what was called ‘absolutism’, a political system in which power lay exclusively with the monarch. Louis XIV counts as the most obvious representative of this polar opposite of the consensus culture. His word was law in the field of economics as in everything else. The French economy was to maintain a somewhat imperious character for centuries to come: the central government did not limit its activities to creating a framework in which the economy could develop freely, but played an active role via state companies. As a consequence, employees waited for instructions from higher up and personnel took little initiative until the employer laid out guidelines.

In the German Empire there was no central authority. After 1250, the Emperor was quite powerless and, as we have seen, central organs of state, such as the States-General, remained ineffectual. The guilds became all powerful and even when they lost their influence, certain aspects of the guild culture remained in existence. One of these is the hierarchy between apprentices, journeymen, and masters. A German craftsman justified his authority over his workshop with the fact that he had taken his ‘master’s test’ and had produced his masterpiece and therefore was an expert in his craft. This kind of hierarchy was absent in the Netherlands.

The Western Church, Amsterdam

The Western Church, Amsterdam

In England a development took place that was unique in Europe, because there the aristocracy continued to play an important role. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the aristocrats initiated a series of revolutionary agricultural improvements on their European and colonial estates and later they would invest in the industrialization of the country. In the class-conscious society in England, the different social groups were physically separated from each other and despite his interest in commercial activity, a gentleman of property never showed his face on the work-floor. He ran his business from a distance. In this way, a style of leadership arose in Anglo-Saxon countries in which giving direction was considered a specialization. Later, this specialization developed into what we now call ‘management’.

Before continuing, a word of caution: it is a little risky to explain the difference between the various styles of European leadership by looking at the political systems of the past. After all, we do not relate Australian criminal statistics to the fact that the white population down under descends from deported criminals. But one thing can indeed be said with certainty and that is that the oft-heard assertion that Dutch (business) culture is a hybrid of the French, English and German business cultures is incorrect: Dutch culture has its own unique character, based on consensus.

>> to the next section >>