Arrogance or Hierarchy


“Germans seem to have the logic: “I will only respond to my hierarchical counterpart in the U.S. I will not interact directly with members of her/his team.”

The Global Key Account Manager for one of my accounts is German. That person will not include me directly in communications even if I am the point of contact for that customer in our region. Everything is sent to my boss and then I have to respond back through him. This is not only very inefficient, I find it an insult to my compabilities.

What is going on here? Is it arrogance or heirarchical thinking on the part of the Global Key Account Manager in Germany?”


This is a very important, sensitive and complex issue. My response, however, will be brief.

There is a significant difference here between the US and Germany. It is based on how the two cultures define and build competence. A complex topic best left for another day, thus stated in very simple terms:

Americans value generalists, whose competence is experience-based. Americans want their best talent exposed to many sectors, disciplines, types of work, etc. Competence in the U.S. is pragmatic, flexible, agile, creative, can think and move across disciplines. Specialists are key. Generalists manage specialists.

Germans, on the other hand, value specialists, whose competence is based on extensive theoretical and practical training. The build competence via continuity, deep-dive expertise, in a few, but related and intertwined areas. Let’s remember, Germany has the fourth-largest economy with only ca. eighty million people.

Possible explanations for the behavior of the German Global Key Account Manager:

She/he misperceives the American leadership logic as top-down, command and control, hierarchical. That person does not want to step on their counterpart’s toes. When in doubt she/he sticks to the chain of command.

In the German leadership logic when contacting a lateral organization Germans do their best not to „dip down“ into the respective other organization. Respect your counterpart at your level. Do not contact her/his direct reports.

Among my German customers I have had numerous German men with officer’s training. Until recently all German men had to serve 1-2 years in the military. When this topic came up they were crystal clear:

“In our training we learned early on that you respect the chain of command. A colonel would never contact directly a major or captain in another unit. He would always first ask for permission from his counterpart-colonel.”

Another (possible) explanation: The German Global Key Account Manager involved is: not happy with you or doesn’t like you or doesn’t yet know you, and therefore feels more comfortable going to your team lead.

This is very unlikely, however. Why? Because you, the submitter of the question, are most likely professional, capable, and collaborative. And what is more, Germans – less so the Americans – can do business with people they personally do not at all like.