German Approach

Important decisions should be reached via consensus, ideally within the entire management team, but at least among its key members. Once made, those decisions are best implemented when communicated, understood and accepted by the organization.

American Approach

Important decisions should be made by the team leader, ideally with input from key members of the management team. Once made, those decisions are best implemented when communicated and understood by the organization.

German View

Input is sought only from selected members of the management team. These, together with perhaps other trusted colleagues who may not be directly involved, form a kind of "kitchen cabinet." There is low tolerance for open discussion and debate about important issues within the entire management team.

American View

The German pursuit for consensus on strategy and important decisions rarely succeeds. Inevitably it requires too much time, or the internal debate never ends, or worse, a suboptimal strategy is chosen in order to please as many interests as possible. Leadership by consensus is a contradiction in terms.

Advice to Germans

From the point of view of your American team members, you - as the team leader - are expected (and paid) to make decisions, especially strategic ones. Request and take seriously input from your direct reports. But in the end, you decide, you take responsibility.

Americans expect you to lead from the front, not from the middle, and certainly not from the back. If your American leader neither builds consensus nor consults your opinion, choose wisely the time and place to request a one-on-one talk.

Don't insist that your opinion be considered on important decision or strategic issues. And certainly do not hint that he/she does not listen.

Finessefully lead your manager to the conclusion that your viewpoint could be of value to his/her thinking. If it does have value, you will be consulted, and more often than you expect.

Advice to Americans

Are you an American leading a German team? Regardless of how clear you are in your strategic thinking, and how confident you are in your decisions, if you don't get the buy-in from your German direct reports (or the wider German organization), they will be neither able nor willing (or both) to implement them.

At the same time, let them know when the point has been reached for you to decide. Germans, too, see the downside of exaggerated consensus building.

Are you an American working in a team led by a German? Welcome your lead's invitation to influence decisions and strategy. But do not misinterpret it as a strategy or leadership void. And be careful.

Your advice might be accepted. If accepted, be prepared to remain involved and to carry part of the responsibility for your strategic input.