Help: I work in finance and my manager is French

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Senior French bankers are common on the world financial stage. Isabelle Ealet, the head of securities at Goldman Sachs and Gael de Boissard, head of the investment bank at Credit Suisse are both examples of French financiers who’ve risen to the top of the profession. French nationals have a lot going for them when it comes to banking – the French education system is quantitatively focused and U.S. banks are known to comb top French universities and business schools for sales and trading hires.

Unfortunately, however, there is one thing that the French don’t do so well: managing other people.

A study by TNS Sofres, published in June, found that French employees were more dissatisfied with their managers than employees in any other countries. Only 39% of French respondents said company management was attentive and well-disposed to other staff. This compared to 54% in the UK and 63% in the U.S.

The authoritative French management ideal

Philippe Combescure is a finance director who has worked for a combination of French and American companies, spending 80% of his time in London. Now based in Paris, he’s looking for a new job in France.

“My ability has never been questioned,” Combescure tells us. “It’s my management style that I’ve been reproached for – I’m seen as too Anglo-Saxon, too cooperative.”

He says the French management style is very different. “In France, a good manager must be seen to be closed, authoritarian, in control, capable of confronting the issues. Anglo Saxon managers are more collaborative.”

It doesn’t help that French culture doesn’t associate doing business with community and moral values. As a result, French managers – who despite being authoritarian in style have also been used to giving employees a high degree of autonomy – struggle to find the moral authority to manage staff in difficult times.

“French managers are being expected to exert more direct control and to keep a tighter rein on finances, without being able to rely on the maxims of ‘fairness’ and equality that you find among American managers,” says Philippe d’Iribarne, a researcher and specialist in cultural differences in the workplace. French management style is unstable, adds Iribarne: it oscillates between authoritarianism and a rejection of authority.

Nathalie Weinryb, a coach who is helping Philippe Combescure, says she sees plenty of examples of French bankers who’ve been mistreated by their managers. In France, being a manager implies a certain kind of behaviour says Weinryb: you need to be charismatic, but also capable of defending your ideas until the end.

Appearance is important too according to Combescure. He claims to have been criticized by a French manager for wearing a suit with round pockets, which was deemed inappropriate for a CFO. Combescure has since revamped his wardrobe and attended a theatre course to increase his assertiveness. In this way, he hopes to find a new job – preferably in a company with a culture that is strongly Anglo Saxon.

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