If you have already been to Russia or dealt with Russians, you might have noticed some most popular “Western” communication styles might not quite work here. Be too open or understated, and your Russian subordinates probably won’t recognise you as a leader. Encourage multiple opinions, and your team would lose focus and would not know in what direction to move. Openly admit your mistakes, and you will be perceived as weak.

So who is viewed as a strong leader in Russia? What does it take to make your Russian team acknowledge you as a leader, respect and follow you?

Being a strong leader, in the eyes of a Russian, is about behaving assertively, boldly and authoritatively. Power is usually quite openly expressed and is almost never understated.

A leader’s decisions and opinions are always final and almost never openly disputed by subordinates. Unlike in many Western countries, where it’s ok and even expected to openly voice your opinion in front of your boss, this is perceived differently in Russia. I remember, when I just came to the UK and was in my first team meeting, I was surprised to witness my British colleagues openly disagree with our boss and prove their arguments, basing on their expertise and logic. Let me tell you, in Russia this wouldn’t be possible! An open disagreement with your boss would be perceived as nothing but a sign of disloyalty, disrespect and conflict-seeking. Moreover, if the boss tolerates this, he or she would be perceived as weak.

Among subordinates, there is a certain mutual acceptance of the principle that “the boss is always right”. You will notice that in many Russian companies, subordinates never openly question the opinion of the boss and before taking action, even on a seemingly small matter, they would aim to get the go-ahead from their boss first. If the boss if away or out of reach, the work process might stop until he or she is back.

Once the decision is made and openly voiced by a leader, there is no way back. Backing down or openly admitting a mistake would be viewed as the ultimate sign of weakness.

A boss could be many things, but there is one thing that would not be forgiven: weakness. The consequences would be the loss of loyalty and trust of the subordinates, and another, stronger, leader taking the place. Think about this next time when you read any news on Russia. This might put the whole thing in a whole new perspective, eh?

What do you think? What are the qualities of a true leader?




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