Agile Directing - Johda ketterästi

Management by "Perkele"

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Monday 5/16/16 time 1:15 PM

In organisational management studies the trend is clearly the participative and democratic leadership principle. The authoritarian leadership based on hierarchical power positions and hegemony is old fashioned and does not gain any specific scientific interest anymore. It has been demonstrated that it leads to the path of firm’s decline, sooner or later. The funny thing is, however, that several companies still uses this traditional management or leadership style.  Management by ‘Perkele’ is evolved apparently as a Finnish principle of managing firms. ‘Perkele’ is probably the most powerful curse word ever created by mankind referring to power and force. This style is not at all a popular way in contemporary management studies as it refers to command and control which, in turn, is claimed for reducing commitment and trust among employees.  

Despite of the negative clang of the ‘Perkele’-principle even among Finnish people, I have been told several times that Management by Perkele has evoked, i.e., among the Swedes envy of the Finns’ competence to lead people by perkele - with success!  I might ask what makes it so impossible for others, say, to the Swedes to apply this kind of style by themselves? And, does this mean that the Swedes are, finally, cheesed off with their democratic and very time consuming discussions - without an end. :-D At least the Finns sometimes consider the endless discussions quite annoying.

There is no doubt that participating and interaction is often crucial. But this thought pattern fits quite poorly, for example, in crisis situations. Therefore, I would like to make a minor notion to the fact that strong and powerful leadership can sometimes be needed. I am a little bit concerned about the strong emphasis on constant participating and interaction which now days more often than not sounds like oversympathising even in scientific contexts.

The decision-making approach

Does command and control, or authoritarian management style always have to mean exploitation or abuse? It is well worth of bring back to discussion the strengths of the more authoritarian-like leadership, by ‘Perkele’. Just to avoid drifting to the other extreme.

Management by Perkele consists of direct talk without unnecessary refinements. The leader has to have the courage to make unpleasant decisions without discussing more than necessary and bear the personal responsibility when it requires.

We often use the concept of situational leadership (originally from Paul Hersey) meaning that there is no single "best" style of leadership. In practice however, we typically mix up the personal leadership style with situational leadership. I would like to recall the old school book model, the Vroom & Yetton’s  (1973) leader-participation theory on decision making, which is definitely a more fruitful base for further discussion than a leadership style.


These are decision making principles which every leader must be able to apply. Here the autocratic decision making is considered to be best suited for situations where there is no time and/or others have no competence. The manager makes the decision alone and bears also the responsibility alone. 

A quite mundane organizational situation is, for example, job initiation. The initiator has the power to make the decisions based on expertise. It would be quite ridiculous, in deed, to ask the newcomer “how do you think this task should be done” or “what do you think we should do next?”

Militarian examples are often referred when talking about autocratic decision making. But they have been criticised for not being applicable in contemporary organisations because they are developed under the framework for extreme crisis situations.  Nonetheless, let’s take a look in one famous Finnish incident during the World War II. What kinds of leadership elements there were related to ‘perkele’?  And on the other hand, which of these elements might be needed in contemporary organisations?

Benefits of ‘perkele’

One story is about the Finnish General Einar Vihma in Ihantala -battle fighting against Stalin’s massive invasion. How the desperate situation was turned profitable? How one of the toughest battles was fought in World War II? In that chaotic situation substantial Finnish troops were already escaping. Finnish arming was much poorer than the one of the enemy’s as we were threatened by the world's most powerful military power.    

It is quite clear that there were also other reasons for the victory. And it is obvious that part of the soldiers were world-class fighters. Consequently, it is never question about just one leader. But Vihma’s merits were prominent, though.

There were no sparing of Perkele-words, for sure. Vihma had, first of all, a remarkable capability to create a fighting spirit and the will to win by not focusing just on “What” but by constantly reminding them “Why”. The soldiers stayed still what ever happened around. A spectacular thing was that Vihma was leading from the front despite of the fact that he was a General. He also died in the front line. He considered that it was not possible that a leader was ‘hiding’ in his command post. The leader has to act in front line in order to be visible to subordinates and available for support.

In addition, the leader needs to set an example. Vihma was regarded as a mad courageous. But, he also knew his soldiers and their capabilities very well. He put battalion commanders in numerical order based on their efficiency. The appraised capabilities of the soldiers were great spirit, fighting will, good physical condition and good nerves.

This was an extreme case example and we are not living or working in extreme situations. But it is worth of considering how much it is really necessary to discuss, negotiate and debate? How far we can light on democracy at work places? Not to forget the increased individual responsibility emerging immediately when power is shared. And, a compromise is certainly not a suitable solution in every situation. On the other hand, 'the crown in your head’ successful and effective leadership is impossible.

And the potential downside?

The threat picture can also be paralyzing for some people or in some situations. The other side of the story of Einar Vihma is that he was also known for tough penalties. He could order even up to 10 years penitentiary. According to some sources an eyewitness met Vihma just after he had shot two deserters. And so on. :-O

Well, definitely that does not fit in a modern society. Luckily in organizations we do have the freedom to recruit the most suitable persons. Vihma categorized the solders into (1) top fighters, (2) good Finnish soldiers and (3) the ones who were not interested, or were afraid, or opposed the values and even spread the bad will among colleagues. In contemporary organization the category 3 is obviously the one we desperately try to identify and filter out already in recruitment processes.

Vihma's categories 1 and 2 consisted of motivated persons who did not want to give up, thinking something like "Perkele, let's do it then, whatever happens... and because even our leader himself is participating..."


Let’s end this writing with the Finnish Perkele -spirit. Finland is famous of its heavy metal bands. But, in international competitions, such as Eurovision song contests, the Finns perform poorly as it was once again demonstrated in this year. There is one extreme exception though - performed by a heavy metal band.  I must say, when I saw that extremely exceptional and successful performance at first time, I was totally - paralyzed.

Perhaps the Finns should finally admit that softness does not suit us? Perhaps the outcome of a long evolution is that we are the Perkele-nation and we should simply rely on that? :-D

Hopefully in ongoing ice hockey world championships this spirit leads us to success! I am already terrified about tomorrow’s Canada match. Let’s send some Perkele- fighting spirit to our boys:

Keywords: Perkele, management style, leadership style, decision making, Ihantala, Vroom & Yetton,

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