3 Ways Danish Managers Make Happy Employees

By Wilfred de Roos

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Many articles and books are written about the skills and competencies of the ideal manager. Much is published about great examples in today’s companies.

I studied a few top 100 lists in particular. Forbes’ 100 greatest living business minds are very much about influence.

Harvard Business 100 best-performing CEO list is based on financial success, plus environmental, social, and governance statistics.

Looking at the 2017 editions, only two Danish business leaders show up in the Harvard Business list and none in Forbes.

I found this disappointing because Ennova Global Employee and Leadership Index shows that Danish employees are among the happiest in the world.

You may think that I am biased, and that is correct. I have worked for Danish management and have been living in Denmark for almost 13 years, so it could be difficult for me to compare.

Luckily, the international character of the business has given me insight into leadership styles in most Northern European cultures. I have also served managers of four different nationalities.

The style of Danish managers is particularly different from others. I have tried to capture this in 3 words: Equality, speed, and trustworthiness.

1. Equality

What it is to me: Treating and thinking of other people as you would like to be treated or thought of yourself.

Why is it important: Digitalisation has led to worldwide visibility of how people treat each other.

We now know more about minority groups in other countries being suppressed. And movements like #metoo show us that we sympathize strongly with people who are vulnerable in their environment.

I believe we will learn more about various issues as time goes on. As such, we will start to see equality as a value of modern leaders.

Benefit: Less traditional hierarchy without anarchy. Leadership systems that are based on participation and involvement.

2. Speed

What it is to me: Fast analysis of the situation, testing new solutions, learning from it, and starting all over again.

Why is it important: Improvement in the past suggested some sort of a start and finish.

We’ve learned that if you do all the steps in between thoroughly, you may think you have done everything right. But in reality, you miss the boat.

One obvious reaction to this is taking shortcuts.

But there are no quick fixes to business challenges, so this doesn’t help.

Skipping analysis before introducing a new product is gambling.

Another logical response is adding resources.

This does ease the mind of managers as it reduces risk. Speed is rarely increased because of the extra need for coordination and decision-making.

That is why we have seen an ocean of new methods like agile, scrum, and lean startups. All of them are based on Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act wheel.

Benefit: A relaxed approach to business as we are not aiming for big bangs.

Small steps reduce stress levels. And deadlines get less definitive as there will be opportunities to revisit again.

3. Trustworthiness

What is it to me: What you see is what you get.

And what I see is honesty. We may have dilemmas down the road, but we are sure that nobody knew anything relevant without sharing it.

Why is it important: People find out everything about anything these days. And if they don’t find out, they are well-informed enough that they can easily come to the right conclusion.

And if these suspicions can not be proven, reputations are harmed quickly because of a lack of investigation.

Benefit: It frees up time if we don’t feel the need for cross-checking. It makes business life much less complicated.


I’ve found that equality, speed, and trustworthiness are embedded in Danish society. I have tried to find out where they come from. Sure, equality is the core element of Danish “Jantelov,” but it is difficult to find the “why” behind the other two.

There is even a contradiction between speed and trustworthiness. Pushing for quick decisions quite often feels a bit strange for your opponent as if you are not completely open and honest.

For me, it eventually comes down to pragmatism.

Living and working in Denmark has taught me that Danes approach things rather simply. Nordic food does not have the grandeur of French cuisine, but it is healthy and honest.

Another example is the way they dress for work. Nobody has been able to explain what a tie is for other than separating managers from ordinary workers.

If equality is an important value, you don’t want anything to emphasize differences. So they banned the tie. Does this automatically mean that people don’t know anymore who is managing the company? In many countries, it would, but not in Denmark.

As business complexity is constantly increasing, I see a need for simplification.

If we don’t keep things simple, fewer people can actively participate, and it will be difficult to build up a credible business reputation for the greater audience.

How Do You Make and Keep Happy Employees?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Wilfred de Roos
Wilfred de Roos
Wilfred de Roos has lived and worked in Denmark for 10 years. In various roles for a typical Scandinavian company he has been effective in managing organisations in most European countries. His effectiveness comes from a deep rooted curiosity in what is driving people when they make business decision and in their behaviour in companies. He has been a speaker on various management conferences and has written a book about The Danish Leadership Style.
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