Submitted by a Frustrated Expat – submit an article here
In the 20 odd years I’ve been working here (some years admittedly odder than others), I have had a variety of jobs, in all kinds of companies – big and small, national and international – and have worked with a very mixed batch of bosses: young and old, male and female, German, Austrian, Belgian, American, English and, of course, French. This, albeit necessarily limited, experience of life as an employee here, has recently led me to the conclusion that there is a very specific species of boss, particularly common to France. Perhaps you have already encountered him? You would certainly know if you have! For the sake of easy reading, I shall be gender exclusive here (we are after all living in a country where, for the moment anyway, the masculine takes precedence over the feminine) so I will refer to this boss as male.
The guy I’m talking about is often the chief officer or owner of the company, and as such he has a tendency to think he can behave as he sees fit – he is in charge after all! In his mind, employees are working FOR him and not WITH him, and therein lies the problem. He is the typical alpha male of the troop and as such he feels he should dominate every aspect of the business. Much like any other male animal, this one feels a need to ‘mark’ every department as his territory. He also feels that he has to ‘bark ‘a lot louder than anyone else to make sure that his voice is the one everyone is listening to. Inevitably this kind of behavior tends to result in frustration if that voice is ignored or, even worse, ridiculed, which only exacerbates his latent anger.
Now I know that freedom of speech is a very important aspect of culture here and that the French consider confrontation and debate as healthy. They pride themselves on being able to say just about anything to anyone. But frankly, there are limits! The guy I am referring to often shows total disregard of any conventional politeness and all the political correctness that is generally ‘de rigueur’ in business. Shouting matches can be a common occurrence. I have often witnessed World War Three -type scenarios breaking out in the office, when he will suddenly go ballistic over some minor issue that would be far more effectively resolved by a calm, unheated exchange of opinions. Such outbursts are not only humiliating for the person targeted by his wrath, but also extremely detrimental to overall productivity, as the rest of the office is plunged into a kind of apnea, as everyone holds their breath and waits for the storm to blow over before resuming work as before.
The root of the problem often lies in the fact that this type of boss has no, or very little training in human management skills. He may well be an expert in strategy, marketing, sales, finance… but he has absolutely no idea about what it takes to motivate the workers in his team. This can be even more of a problem when team members come from a different cultural background and are used to a more conventional working environment.
Oh yes, I can hear all those outraged cries about how many other wonderful French bosses there are out there. Well, if you do have a lovely French boss, then treasure him. Appreciate him. Congratulate him on his management style. Perhaps you might even suggest that he communicates to his peers about how a non-aggressive, open and communicative style of management can actually improve productivity and motivate staff, because from my own experience, there are still a few manic, Gallic bosses out there who could do with a lesson in that!