Ingrid L. Williams
Oct 10 · 3 min read

Living and Working in Scandinavia

What Do Norwegians Get Dead Right About Work Culture That Can Make You a Better Leader?

The CEO may be the guy making the coffee every morning.

Photo by Stephen Hsu on Unsplash

Egalitarianism is in many ways the poster child for Norwegian living. The idea that no one is better than anyone else and the belief that hierarchy is a dirty word is definitely alive and well, and can be easily observed in daily life here.

At street level, it makes for uncomplicated and generally respectful exchanges amongst strangers. In the work world, it contributes to an atmosphere of trust and empowerment that is much rarer in other regions of the world. And it lays the foundation for a thriving work culture that modern leaders everywhere are striving to create in their own companies.

It sends a strong message that is more than just a bunch of pretty words on a poster when the CEO arrives early and rattles around in the company kitchen preparing coffee for the morning meeting. The message not that he is “lowering” himself to do the basic, manual task of pouring powder and water into a machine, but that the time and contributions of everyone in the company are valuable. And that no task is unimportant if it helps the company along in any way towards achieving its mission for that day, that month or that year.

Once you have gone to the trouble and great expense of hiring the best people you can find, the magic trick is creating an environment where that talent thrives and can focus on creating maximum value. And certain leadership styles are more effective at achieving this. Those who lead by example and by service gain creditability and trust.

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

They also inspire their employees to take initiative to serve their fellow employees and to not view the corporate structure as strict silos where everyone is locked into only being concerned with their departmental activities. Instead, the scene is set for a more flat organizational structure where everyone is more connected to everyone else.

Of course, this approach is not the case in every company in Norway, it is just a lot more common. Authoritarian leaders here have a hard time “commanding” respect simply by virtue of a title. A show of humbleness and the display of the intention of working alongside employees to produce results goes a lot farther in motivating and retaining talent.

So a cup of coffee in the office can deliver a lot more than just a dose of caffeine. Along with many other otherwise mundane daily rituals, it can be used to define and reinforce a cohesive and vibrant culture. For those seeking to become a truly inspiring leader, this is a lesson that has real value far beyond the borders of Scandinavia.

*For those of you who noticed I said that the GUY making coffee could be the CEO, I am not subconsciously perpetuating a sexist stereotype of male leadership by default. For all the progress women have made as professionals up here in the far north, there is still some trouble in paradise. It is my personal observation that a lot of female leaders are very conscious of their status and guard it carefully, very skeptical of anything that might threaten perception of them as the person in charge. So they shy away from anything that might remotely be on the list of duties a PA or office manager, normally. An interesting phenomenon that deserves its own article!

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