How US and EU executives differ in terms of skills, competences and social attitudes and how they can become the leaders of today.

By Anastasia Liopetriti


When someone talks about a firm executive, the first things that come in mind are the high salary they get, the major responsibility they have for the overall smooth operation of a company, but also the fact that they are high-ranked people who know how to properly manage a company.

An executive, regardless of which region they come from or from which professional sector they have been developed in, should have well-developed sets of leadership skills: persuasion, negotiation, teambuilding, communication.

Every executive should convey the skills listed above since they are in charge of a company, which means they should be able to manage it properly. These skills will help them work in a proper way, especially if one takes into account the fact that they are the main decision-makers of a company: Persuasion, so that they can convince their target buyers in trusting the company; negotiation, an indispensable skill which helps the executives collaborate with future partners; teambuilding, so that they can build trust bonds between them and the rest of the employees; and communication, for a smooth and fruitful working experience with the rest of the company.

Well-developed leadership skills are a key-characteristic for every executive, regardless of which country they come from, since their main responsibility is to coordinate the whole team; without strong leadership skills, this is impossible.

Other characteristics all executives should exhibit include the following:

Strategy: a proper and sustainable strategy that allows them to keep up with the market´s constant upheaval .
Integrality: build a management team consisted of people with ambition, potential and strong willingness and being able to work with them, not only to lead them.
Communication skills: credibility and honesty to other employees, building trust through clear communication.
Flexibility: willingness to learn and adapt in a constantly changing environment.
Emotional intelligence:
   – Caring – first about the company and then about themselves
   – Self-awareness – understanding yourself and understanding others
   – Empathy – to control your own emotions and to recognize the emotions of others
   – Confidence through good posture and constant eye contact when talking to others
   – Being able to articulate themselves clearly with assertiveness.

So far, we have identified the main common skills and competences that executives should have. However, we also recognize that in reality, their characteristics vary since not all executives exhibit exactly the same characteristics. Their wide diversity with regard to geographical location plays a key role in this, as we will further explain below, since every person is informed by the cultural context she/he lives in.

So what are really the differences between executives across different countries, mostly with regard to their skills and characteristics?

To answer this question, the first thing we should do is take a look at some cultural facts and differences between nations. In his article, Alan Gutterman compares some European countries to the US vis-à-vis their cultural attitudes. More specifically, he writes that «The inner feeling of obligation to society plays a much stronger role in Austria than in the United States. The ultrahigh Individualism of the United States leads to a need to explain every act in terms of self-interest, and expectancy theories of motivation do provide this explanation – we always do something because we expect to obtain the satisfaction of some need». In other words, executives in the US are led by the potential of personal success rather than social satisfaction, as it is the case in Austria.

Alan Gutterman also talks about achievement motivation VS social motivation. Achievement motivation is all about focusing on performance, money and things, whereas social motivation is mostly focusing on quality of life and relationships between people. Gutterman suggests that in the US, the achievement motivation is the value system of the US middle class. This can be directly linked to our own discussion regarding executives. Executives in the US are largely led by the achievement motivation, as their cultural context dictates. Interestingly enough, the word «achievement» cannot be properly translatable into any other language other than English, as Alan Gutterman notes. Thus, what we can derive from that is the fact that in the US, being an executive is linked most of the times to the concept of personal success and of reaching the top.

What is interesting to note is the power distance in the US and in other countries. In the US, there is a considerably big power distance between executives and average workers in a company, although in EU countries the power distance is quite small. Gutterman explains that «in countries with smaller Power Distances than the United States (Sweden, Norway, Germany), there is considerable sympathy for models of management in which even the initiatives are taken by the subordinates (forms of industrial democracy) and with which there´s little sympathy in the United States «. In other words, in EU countries where there is smaller power distance than in the US, it is acceptable when employees take initiatives in the company and are actively involved in it, whereas in the US, this would sound absurd, as the executives are the ones who have the power to do so.

Thus, what we realize is that European executives are not led by their own personal motivation for success and do not seem to concentrate all the power of the company in their own hands; on the contrary, they give the freedom to other employees to take initiatives, which is a major difference in characteristics between EU and US executives.

What is more interesting to this fact, is to propose actions related with the management’s skills development, in order to improve their personal careers, becoming in the leaders their workers need.

Discovering a good model of leadership could be the key to find the best way to be the leader of today, independently from where they are.


Alistair Bruce, et al. (2005). Top Executive Remuneration: A View From Europe.

Derousseau, Ryan. (2014). Why do American CEOs make twice as much as German CEOs?

Hofstede, Geert. (1980). Motivation, Leadership, and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?

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