Work Difficulties: What is expected from an ideal manager in Germany?

Hello everyone,

I am an experienced creative communications expert with almost a decade of experience up my sleeve. I come from the non-EU Eastern Mediterranean region and I moved to Berlin 3 years ago because of my German husband. From day one, I realized that I have to learn German to succeed, so I enrolled in classes to learn the language (currently I am at b2.2 level). I also enrolled at a reputable German university and got a second masters degree with an outstanding grade. I did everything that I can do to enter the job market successfully.

Soon after finishing my degree, I started applying to different jobs in the non-profit sector. Three months later, I was invited to interview for a position at a reputable transnational (inter-governmental) agency. I did not get the position that I coveted, but got offered a lesser-level job. The job is far below the managerial position that I had back home, but I took it because of the prestige that comes with working in the institution, which I thought would boost my CV-- part of my pledge to earn the trust of the market & start building a network.

Soon, I realized that my boss is a 28 year-old German woman (I am almost in my mid 30s). In Germany, 28-30 year olds have just finished their studies, or have done odd jobs, and an occasional short internship or two. And unlike 28 year olds in fiercely capitalist countries, they lack the maturity that comes with working systematically with a variety of people outside a university setting.

To keep it short, my manager has zero emotional intelligence, with a zero hands-on approach. She is focused more on how excel sheets are organized than reaching project goals on time. She also deliberately isolates us and buries substantial chunks of creative work so that we do not outshine her in front of superiors. In the past months, the team ended up doing her work and fighting with her to assign tasks so that we can meet crucial deadlines like sending out reports to our funding partner on time and renewing a contract with our IT service provider.

The problem is: While management has fully acknowledged the problem, change is very slow. I am stuck in this rut and time is passing + I feel that I am stagnating (a complete horror).

The question is: what does it take to succeed in Germany and to move to the next level? I am not talking about work skills because I have very solid expertise that can be built on. I want to know, what is expected of managers here?

I am a magnanimous person who focuses on the big picture, but who is very well able to strategise to successfully reach project aims. I have the feeling that my managerial style is not appreciated here. I also have the feeling that the concept of transferrable skills and multi-disciplinarity is not much understood.

Should I become an excel sheet lover who speaks in swift excruciating detail + a tunnel view? Does this bluff the average German? Should I start practicing? Should I start embracing siloes?

How can I move to the next level (elsewhere)? Should I take team management courses? Do Germans like certificates? Would that work?

What works? What doesn't?

Anecdotes, tips, advice, and constructive feedback are all welcome!


Culturally confused,

Patoul

I highly recommend you read the book "The Culture Map" by Erin Meyer. I just finished it last week. It is not just about Germans, but rather focused on how people from different countries face and handle typical business situations. It is probably not true that your manager has"zero emotional intelligence." Hers is just different from yours. Reading the book will not solve your problems, but you may get an understanding of how German business & leadership styles compare to yours (or other cultures you're familiar with) and why Germans do the things they do.

Chapter 4 is about leadership style, and chapter 1 is about communication (details vs. nuance). :-)

I'm originally from the US, and I have often and recently said that US-Americans "can't take criticism or anything that sounds like criticism." I've learned that they just handle criticism differently. Germans are more direct than Americans, so they tend to just start with correction/criticism. US-Americans need criticism to be padded with positives - Talk about the good things first, and then get to the negatives. Many Germans (and I) see this as a waste of time.

I would say that to become successful in Germany you do not need to become like the Germans, but you do need to understand how they tick. I've read lots of books on the subject - Culture Smart guide to the Germans/Americans/Scots, Xenophobe's Guide to the Germans/Americans, etc. I have found them all helpful.

Good luck.

Hi Bhejil,

Thank you a lot for your feedback. In my short working time in Germany (10 months so far) , I have met many types of people and have encountered different managerial and co-working styles. There are many many types of working germans and it is wrong to say that they are all the same. Many are frank, open, ready to help, and ready to cooperate to take their projects to the next level.

The only department that has a problem and which higher management has fully acknowledged through substantial and continuous proof, is ours. It is relieving to know that action is being taken and they will restructure, but this will take a lot of time.

However, I still ask myself, why was this child manager hired in the first place? I see a lot of job ads with titles like "country manager intern" and "team manager intern" which want employees to be students. This baffles me. How can a person who was studying all their lives and taking breaks travelling until the age of 28 be given such a position? Leadership requires interpersonal skills that are learned by doing. It is a contentious process and it is a delicate balancing act. Not everyone can lead or is ready to lead.

I am just curious about how things tick in Germany. Perhaps my problem is a one off thing and I will be meeting more capable people in the future elsewhere, when I move onwards and hopefully get my own team.

I will get the book "The Culture Map" by Erin Meyer. Thank you for your recommendation!

Still confused,

Pamela

Such things are common the world over, not just in Germany and not just for foreigners. One can  just hope for the best in a job. If it doesn’t go well one can try to change things - or look for another job. This is life. And then one adds in the factor of being a foreigner. I guess it is just a matter of luck if one finds a position where it is truly irrelevant. More often one might have to be twice as good as the competition to overcome inherent prejudices. You already have experience and a German Master’s degree. Sounds like you should send out some resumes and look for another job.

But have foresight in your research and interviews. Many people think it is about impressing a potential employer and getting a job – without really thinking if one really fits to the work culture and will be happy in the long run. Lots of jobs might sound good on paper but if one gets to talk to the employees there one finds dissatisfaction with management. Best not to take a job with a toxic boss. Getting additional degrees or training take effort which might be worthwhile if one is really focused on a job that require them. But from the sound of your situation, it might be a waste of time since it isn’t really addressing the underlying problems.

Thank you so much Tommi,

You are right. Maybe I should just chill, treat this as just as a career experience, and focus on things that truly matter.

Wishing you a lovely evening!

Indeed. Gain skills. Develop yourself -- make your skillset stronger !!, work on some certifications that are relevant in your area of work, etc etc many options to redirect the energy !!

I don´t think there is ONE answer to your question about "German management style" - as there are simply too many employers with differing company cultures and leading personalities.
Like everywhere in the world, however, management talent is rare in Germany too. And also like elsewhere, getting ahead does sometimes requires swallowing your pride and helping your oh-so-dumb manager to shine.
One common (but not universal) German issue is the low emphasis on soft skills (In my opinion, good people leadership is 80% talent and only 20% learned - yet employers often value certificates over proven track records!).

TominStuttgart :

One can just hope for the best in a job. If it doesn’t go well one can try to change things - or look for another job. This is life.

I really love it how you put in together.

Robert0202 :
TominStuttgart :

One can just hope for the best in a job. If it doesn’t go well one can try to change things - or look for another job. This is life.

I really love it how you put in together.

I couldn't agree more and to every single post written here.

[at]Pamela
Being an expert and in a position (I am guessing somewhere in the senior management) where you were, before you moved to Germany is your pride. Coming to a new country with a whole new set of business culture is something you need to be extremely open with. Keep your competences, skillsets and knowledge. I don't believe you need to change anything about that. What you need is to adapt. With that, I mean mindset and view of certain things with how things work in a company. This happens automatically, if you're entirely open. Avoid scepticism.

I had the same experience upon moving here. I worked for a well-known American e-commerce company, in a position the same as to where I left off. Thinking that I was working for an American company, I didn't feel the need to prepare myself mentally and emotionally. A few months went by, I started feeling extreme discontent. I was questioning a lot of the procedures and most especially, how things were done. I even came to a point, where I thought, the managers were a bunch of imbeciles. Of course, they weren't! It was me all along that was the problem.

I left the company and took some time off. Then, I decided to get a job, that will allow me to grow and get to know the typical, everyday German. I applied for a job as a Sales Assistant in a small shop. The strategy was a huge risk which I wouldn't recommend anyone, since it could ruin one's CV or profile. It enabled me to straighten my german and learned how the Germans "tick". During this time, I continued to take courses in Business & Strategic Management to keep me up-to-date. Within the 4-year store experience, I worked my way up to get a Supervisor position as a preparation for the next big move. Upon leaving the store job, I took another 3-month course to wrap it up. Now, I am back in my profession, not to mention thankful and satisfied.

The risk was absolutely worth it.

One advice I can give you: Keep it together. Don't lose your mind. Focus more, Hard work pays off.

Kind regards,
B

BeZwe :
Robert0202 :
TominStuttgart :

One can just hope for the best in a job. If it doesn’t go well one can try to change things - or look for another job. This is life.

I really love it how you put in together.

I couldn't agree more and to every single post written here.

[at]Pamela
Being an expert and in a position (I am guessing somewhere in the senior management) where you were, before you moved to Germany is your pride. Coming to a new country with a whole new set of business culture is something you need to be extremely open with. Keep your competences, skillsets and knowledge. I don't believe you need to change anything about that. What you need is to adapt. With that, I mean mindset and view of certain things with how things work in a company. This happens automatically, if you're entirely open. Avoid scepticism.

I had the same experience upon moving here. I worked for a well-known American e-commerce company, in a position the same as to where I left off. Thinking that I was working for an American company, I didn't feel the need to prepare myself mentally and emotionally. A few months went by, I started feeling extreme discontent. I was questioning a lot of the procedures and most especially, how things were done. I even came to a point, where I thought, the managers were a bunch of imbeciles. Of course, they weren't! It was me all along that was the problem.

I left the company and took some time off. Then, I decided to get a job, that will allow me to grow and get to know the typical, everyday German. I applied for a job as a Sales Assistant in a small shop. The strategy was a huge risk which I wouldn't recommend anyone, since it could ruin one's CV or profile. It enabled me to straighten my german and learned how the Germans "tick". During this time, I continued to take courses in Business & Strategic Management to keep me up-to-date. Within the 4-year store experience, I worked my way up to get a Supervisor position as a preparation for the next big move. Upon leaving the store job, I took another 3-month course to wrap it up. Now, I am back in my profession, not to mention thankful and satisfied.

The risk was absolutely worth it.

One advice I can give you: Keep it together. Don't lose your mind. Focus more, Hard work pays off.

Kind regards,
B

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