Reflections on Dutch leadership

I’m attending an event on Dutch leadership organized by De Baak and Amsterdam Bright City. It got me thinking of what reflections I’d want to share about Dutch leadership.

The characteristics of Dutch leadership I’ve noticed are sometimes useful and sometimes not – though the utility depends highly on the context, though some might not be useful irrespective of the context.

Empathy: Many of the Dutch I’ve encountered are highly empathetic leaders. They are easily able to interact with extremely important ‘high-level’ people and in the same manner relate to and care about their next door neighbour. This trait is what I believe drives Dutch leaders to successfully create global business model that respond to local needs.

No go engagement zone: Some leaders sit above the rest and somewhat subtly avoid engaging with the so-called ‘common folk’. I noticed this in companies where the CEO can singularly make decisions on cutting projects with absolutely no consultation with anyone else and there is no challenging/questioning their decision.

The need for consensus: A highly consensus based society results in several types of leadership traits; team leaders really engage all the voices in their teams, leaders are most modest and humble than at least the leaders I grew up learning from in North America, and there is generally more team spirit and cooperation.

The strong man: Irrespective of the value placed on building consensus, there are still many leaders suffering from the ‘strong man’ syndrome combined with being quite narrow minded. These are the leaders who are bullying others to have their leadership/ideology as the only one. It frustrates me to no end that there are few people with the backbone to stand up to Geert Wilders.

Verblijf in jouw spoor: Stay in your track. A lot of suspicion is aroused amongst Dutchies when you seem to be in multiple disciplines/tracks. The way this plays out in leadership is an inability for leaders to optimize across a system. Optimizing just in one area is not good enough and is in fact an ancient business model.

Innovative designers: I haven’t quite figured out what exactly it is that makes the Dutch some of the best designers in the world. My hunch is it has something to do with the fact that a huge portion of this country is actually under sea level. Perhaps this also combined with the Dutch history of having spent many years fighting off invading nations. There is this stubbornness that with the right kind of design, mankind can live in harmony with nature.

This is a start to my reflections – possibly more to come. What are your thoughts?

And here is a video summary of the event:


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4 Responses to Reflections on Dutch leadership

  1. Leo Salazar says:

    Hello Araznajarian,

    You have a very engaging blog. Wonderful to read.

    What I find interesting about your list is how the categories relate to one another, on the one hand; yet seem to contradict each other on the other. For example the “strong man” and “no-go engagement” seem to complement each other, yet, as you point out, they are directly contradicted by the “need for consensus.”

    I’m looking forward to exploring these issues, and many others, on 9.09. We will have many speakers from a variety of backgrounds. It will be interesting to share your views with them and with the public at large.

    Looking forward to seeing you then.



  2. admin says:

    Hi Leo,

    Great meeting you last night! Really enjoyed the event and your comment. Looking forward to seeing the video on the De Baak site. 🙂


  3. Sasha says:

    curious to know why being under sea level would create great design in your opinion?

  4. Araz says:

    @Sasha: I think design is a signal of human intention. If this a way to define design then my hypothesis is the Dutch were placed under so much stress from fighting nature, from that emerged this strong intention to survive and to find some way to live. And this idea of 1) forming your intention (based on really facing the truth of your current reality and having a vision in your mind of what would be better) and 2) bringing that into reality has become part of the Dutch consciousness. So this is my hypothesis for why the Dutch are good designers.

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