Sweden has long been recognized as one of the happiest countries in the world. I’m sure there are several reasons for this (hello, universal healthcare), but what really stands out to me about their culture is the unwritten code of Jantelagen. Yes, it’s a big weird word for us Americans, but its meaning is crucial for your team’s success and the resulting success of your small business.

What is Jantelagen?

This word, who’s English translation is “The Law of Jante,” dates back to 1933 when author Aksel Sandemose released a fictional story of a rule-abiding town named Jante. the sentiment behind the word, though, is centuries old and is how many Swedes (as well as others in Nordic countries) live their lives. The basic definition of Jantelagen is based in humility: don’t brag money/title/power, understand that you’re no better than anyone else, and remember that we all benefit when we work together. In other words, just be a good human.

Sounds simple enough, right? You’d be surprised at how many people forget these simple life rules. Think back to all of the times someone has bragged to you about their job title, promotion, or salary (this is a huge “NO” in Nordic societies), or how often in your career you’ve heard someone say “that’s not my job.” Being a humble winner goes against much of what we were taught about how business works.

Recently, I was watching a documentary on how Sweden has influenced the music world. Yes, I’m a nerd that would rather watch a documentary like this than a really awesome action movie, but that’s beside the point. A songwriter/producer that has worked with some of the biggest names in pop music over the last 30 years was squirming in his chair every time he mentioned another star that he has either written a song for or produced. Finally, he admitted how uncomfortable the topic is for him because it felt like he was bragging about his work and name-dropping to make himself look good for the film.

This, to me at least, is a perfect example of Jantelagen. Do great work for the sake of doing great work. No need to brag about it, do whatever needs to be done, and just be excited to have a part in something amazing.

The effects of Jantelagen on business (and your employees)

Think back to your first job… Was your boss a hard driver that constantly barked out orders from their office (usually with the door closed) or did s/he only sit at the desk when they had to, choosing to be in the middle of the work with everyone else? Which of these bosses would you have more respect for? Which one is focused on creating a better team culture?

I remember my first job, working at a national chain drug store. The manager, Cheryl, was loud and moved fast. From open to close every day, she was pushing us to meet some deadline. But she did something that many don’t… She stayed on the sales floor with us. She ran the registers with us. She unloaded trucks and stocked shelves with us. Hell, she even put herself on the bathroom cleaning schedule. She only walked into the office when it was necessary, and all other times she was working as an active member of her team.

I overheard her talking to the District Manager during a store walkthrough one day, and she was bragging about what a great group of people she had at the store and how we all worked so hard to make it successful. The only time she used “I” or “me” was in statements like “I am so proud of this team” or “they’ve really impressed me.”

This was a big life lesson for me. I witnessed firsthand how someone can not only be a successful manager but be a great leader. Since that time, I’ve carried the principles that I learned from my first manager into every job. The success of those businesses wasn’t mine to claim because it belonged to the team I was fortunate enough to be a part of. It was never what I did, but what we accomplished together.

Cheryl, wherever you have ended up, thank you!

Implementing Jantelagen into your workspace

It can be easy for a business owner / team leader to fall into the old “me, me, ME” trap. After all, it’s your ideas and drive that move the business forward. However, it’s vital that we recognize each and every team member for the part they play in success. Maintaining a team-centered attitude and a strong sense of humility can give your business the boost it needs to get ahead of your competition. So how do you put all of this into practice?

1. Show some appreciation

We’re used to hearing from the boss about the stuff we’ve screwed up, but how often do we get to hear about the good stuff? For each of your team members, take a minute each week and highlight something awesome they’ve done… Prove to them that you really are seeing their work as valuable. This can be a quick conversation, and email, or even a text: “Hey, just wanted to say thanks for handling ____ situation the other day. I really appreciate everything you’re doing.”

2. Share the love

When talking about your business, either to your team or to outsiders, make a conscious effort to completely remove the words “I” and “Me.” Instead, insert words like “We” and “Us.” Once you’ve mastered this, get bold and throw in “They.” For example, “They really did a great job of pulling this project together and meeting the deadline.” The words you use are powerful, and these small changes won’t go unnoticed.

3. Get out of your office

Last, but definitely not least, don’t just say you’re a team… Be an active part of the team! It’s easy to lose sight of what your people are experiencing on a daily basis when you are sitting behind a desk all day. As much as you can, get out of the office and onto the frontlines of your business with your team members. You’ll be able to relate to them much better when they come to you with a problem, and you’ll likely see a world of opportunities to make your business better.

Looking for more ways to pull your team together to create a more effective, more productive business? Get in touch! We can work together to make this happen.