Leadership Styles and Behaviours of Polish Managers

Research on human resource development (HRD) in Poland shows that, since the 1989 transition to the market economy, leadership has been attracting increased attention, both as a phenomenon (e.g., individual cases of successful leaders) and as a field of study. Most of the extant studies in Poland are based on historical and comparative cross-cultural research aimed at identifying potential gaps in leadership capabilities. The following pages present selected results of the research focused on weaknesses and strengths of managers in Polish organisations. The WorkForce 2020 (Oxford Economics, 2014) report is one of these global studies aimed at identifying best practices and successes on the road to creating future talent management strategies in the world economy. Over 5400 managers and employees from different organisations from different countries, half of them Millennials, were interviewed.

Part of the report was devoted to leadership. The results obtained were presented as comparisons between the global data and the results for individual countries. The respondents from all studied countries pointed out the gaps in leadership capabilities of their leaders and indicated that in many categories only 20 to 30 percent of managers can boast of the desired leadership features. Results among Polish respondents were at 46 percent in effective talent management category, slightly below the 51 percent global average. However, they showed better results related to competence to lead an organisation to success (Poland: 50 percent; average for other countries: 44 percent). Moreover, Polish managers more often see leadership capabilities as an important attribute of employees (Poland: 30 percent; other countries: 21 percent). The same query addressed to employees showed the result of 22 percent for Poland and 20 percent for others. Over 36 percent of Polish respondents said that Polish leaders are well prepared to manage diverse teams (others: 34 percent). Similarly, 39 percent of Polish respondents claimed that talented managers had sufficient capabilities to drive growth in their organisations (others: 35 percent). These favourable for Poland results are partly confirmed in the Target report developed in collaboration with Henley Business School in London (Target, 2009, p. 20). Poland ranked high on most categories in this report. It ranked first on 17 of the 44 questions and in the first two places on well over half (28) of the questions. Polish managers were viewed as dynamic, entrepreneurial, hard-working, flexible in problem solving, and capable of self-development. However, the results were not as strong for Polish managers on such dimensions as long-range planning, enthusiasm for innovations, and taking responsibility in difficult situations. In addition, the report found that Polish managers show the tendency to use an authoritative management style and are attached to hierarchical structures. Among other things, such attitudes can make teamwork rather difficult (Haromszeki, 2013).

The Target Executive Search studies of 2014 and 2015 conducted by the Institute for Social Studies, GfK, and the Central European University Business School in Budapest confirmed most of the results of the previously discussed studies. The respondents included 889 expats and 219 Polish managers. It was underlined that few Polish managers demonstrate a strategic approach to problem solving and long-distance planning. Expats claimed that Polish managers rely on “hard” skills and are attached to their own experience. In the present day more emphasis, however, is put on “soft” competences and abilities to identify, collect and process new information (Zygmunt, 2015).

The GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness) cross-cultural studies on leadership conducted in more than 60 countries of the world confirm the above results (see Den Hartog et al., 1997; House et al., 2004; Maczynki & Koopman, 2000; Maczynki & Lobodzmski, 2009; Maczynski & Zamorska, 2008).

In this study, conducted between 1995 and 2000, 22 European countries were divided into two clusters. Cluster 1 included north-western Europe (UK, Ireland, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland); Cluster 2 included southern and central-eastern European countries (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Rep., Slovenia, Poland, Russian, Albania and Georgia (see Koopman et al., 1999; Maczynski & Koopman, 2000). The objective was to diagnose similarities and differences in leadership on the basis of cross-culturally validated research methods (Mac zyrnki, 1998). The study surveyed “the group of 6052 mid-level managers in the areas of finance (banks), telecommunication, and food industry” (Maczynski, 2010,

p. 161).

The differences between the two clusters identified in the study showed that managers from north-western Europe were much more focused on achievement, defining long-range goals (strategic management), team work (team-communitive feeling), and avoiding uncertainty (defining and structuring action norms and procedures). In addition, they were putting higher emphasis on employee inspiration and motivation, honesty, integrity, achievement orientation and organisation development vision. In contrast, managers from southern and central Europe had higher scores on assertiveness, power distance, and family-communal feeling. They manifested higher administrative and diplomatic capabilities, higher awareness of their own status, confrontational character and unfriendliness. They were also reluctant to share power with employees and a tendency to use an authoritative style in management (Maczynski, 2010).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Maczynski and colleagues (Mac zyrnki, Sulkowski, Chmielecki, & Zajaczkowska, 2013) made an attempt to define the characteristics of the practices and management models in Polish organisations in the periods before, during, and after 1989. The results were compared to the descriptions of the practices and management models in organisations operating in countries with developed market economies. The surveys were conducted with managers from Poland, Czechoslovakia, USA, France, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. The results showed that Austrian, German, Swiss, and Finnish managers were most participative; Polish and Czech managers were most autocratic; and American and French managers ranked in the middle. Polish managers were more open to using the participative style in minor issues while they tended to restrict employee participation when addressing major organisational problems. Western managers concentrated on making best use of human capital (Intellectual Capital Advantage Model) in problem solving and decision-making processes. Polish managers, however, were more focused on maintaining good relations with employees (Interpersonal Relations Model). Maczyrnki’s conclusion was that “Polish managers appreciate the importance of good relations with employees and want to make an impression that employees’ opinions and preferences are taken into consideration in problem solving processes in organisations” (Maczynski, 2010, p. 166).

In the opinions of international managers (research study conducted by TARGET Executive Search, GfK & Central European University Business School Budapest in 2014/2015) Polish managers were focused more on hard capabilities—qualifications and experience—than on soft competences like interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence. In Western Europe both of these sets of capabilities are given high importance with soft competences even taking precedence compared to the technical and functional expertise (Zygmunt, 2015).

Another comprehensive study on leadership competences was the report “Liderzy na dzis—Liderzy na jutro?” (Leaders for Today—Leaders for Tomorrow?), published in January 2015 by the Polish branch of Deloitte Consulting (Deloitte Polska, 2015). Its authors used the new Leadership Competences Model and the general outline of the study included two perspectives: of managers who manage organisations on a daily basis and of members of the board of directors who set the directions for organisational strategic development. The following key leadership competences were analysed: adopting broad perspective, change management, focus on organisation value growth, effective relationship building, talent development, impact creation, and value-based organisation development. The results showed that for 99 percent of Polish managers the key competences for board of directors’ members included adopting broad perspective (49 percent consider this competence as critically important and 49 percent as very important), change management (44 percent and 47 percent, respectively), and ability to see the organisation from the financial perspective (41 percent and 49 percent, respectively). The authors claimed that as a result of the global economic crisis, for board of directors members’ short-termed objectives (e.g., capital management, or introduction of EU regulations) took precedence over long-term objectives (such as strategy development, increased sales, talent management, and innovation management) (Deloitte Polska, 2015).

Warsaw University’s International Centre of Management (2014) conducted a study devoted to identifying leadership dimensions in large Polish organisations (HR Perspectives, 2014; Miedzynarodowe Centrum Zarzadzania Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, International Centre for Management at the University of Warsaw 2014). Seventy HR managers participated in the study. The project’s interdisciplinary research team found out that the key factors for the development of Polish organisations included leadership (56.9 percent of respondents), costs optimisation (35.4 percent), innovations (33.8 percent), marketing and sales (33.8 percent), and employee engagement (24.6 percent). Results also showed that HR managers considered LD in their organisations as a priority. However, results showed that managers were mainly focused on leadership perceived as direct influence on employees through inspirational motivation. Significantly less importance was attributed to leadership capabilities such as seeking and using feedback, strategic perspicacity, analysing problems from different angles, and critical attitude to existing practices or procedures (Warsaw University’s International Centre of Management, 2014).

To conclude this section it is important to present the results of research carried out in small and medium enterprises, especially those located in smaller provincial cities, which on a daily basis function differently from large corporations or head offices of MNCs located in major centres of business and industry. The research carried out among managers and SME owners by the Socio Economics Department at Warsaw School of Economics and the Polish Confederation “Lewiatan” (business organisation representing employers’ interests) showed that the most salient characteristic feature of Polish SME managers was paternalism understood as caring about employees, yet being autocratic at the same time.

Among Polish small business entrepreneurs responding to the survey, 62.3 percent preferred an autocratic style of management (making business decisions without consulting employees’ opinions) and only 25.7 percent preferred to use democratic approaches. Almost half of the respondents admitted that employees’ views are given limited credit in their organisations (Cieslak-Wroblewska, 2013). Similar conclusions were drawn from a survey of 250 managers in construction industry in the Leszno province (Dzikowski, 2008) where only one out of five managers trusted his or her employees and gave them more freedom at work. An even smaller fraction of managers tended to attach some importance to building good partnerships with their employees, sharing power (only some indicated that they would be willing to share power with a small and select group of more experienced employees), and involved themselves in HRD processes in organisations.

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