Experts debate role and future of leadership in Europe

Feb 27 2014
The EU has too many bosses, but very few leaders. With this initial thought, Rudy Aernaudt, head of cabinet of EESC President Henri Malosse, kicked off a conference on 25 February in Brussels on the leadership crisis Europe faces and possible solutions that may be offered by businesses, academics and civil society. “I feel great frustration about Europe,” Louis de Gaulle said. The French lawyer, nephew of former French President Charles de Gaulle, regretted the lack of a strong European voice on trouble spots like Ukraine or Syria. While he described the EU’s legislative corpus as “small but effective,” he lamented that this legal system “has no soul, there is no political project beyond trade and liberalisations”. Hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the event was organised by LeadTheFuture, the European Institute of Leadership, WESTT and De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés.

This lack of soul and vision was flagged by all the speakers. Marianne Abib-Pech, founder of LeadTheFuture, drew lessons from the business sector. If Europe was a firm, “I would conclude that, quite frankly, the company has lost its purpose”. Therefore, the first task on the agenda is to answer “why we are needed and why we are relevant”. “Without answering the WHY questions nothing can be done”. To this end, Europe “needs to create a sense of empowerment and common goal, to establish a newly-found legitimacy”. In her view, this process should involve mid-level insiders and should not focus exclusively on the top echelons of the EU hierarchy, and everyone affected should have a say. Furthermore, she said that such a hypothetical “Europe Ltd” would also have to fix its financial foundations to create a sense of lasting and sustainable value. An aggressive PR campaign would also be needed to address a highly demotivated workforce. Juan Rivera, director of the European Institute of Leadership, warned against the emergence of messianic leaders guiding the citizens towards their particular visions. “The important thing is to ask the proper questions and to develop the critical thinking the Europeans need, rather than giving the answers.” But he acknowledged that, in times of crisis, people look for  answers and visions that would make them move forward. In this context, Rivera explained how the concept of leadership has evolved from a dependence relationship based on a charismatic leader to interdependence based on collaborative processes. Leadership has become democratic,” the important concept now is “followership,” he argued. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said that “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. Europe exists in a fast-changing  environment both inside and outside its boundaries. But as EESC memberand Global Entrepreneur Envoy Madi Sharma lamented, the Union keeps off its radar screen priorities like education, which would empower the European citizens, and manages its neighborhood in a clumsy manner, as seen in Ukraine. These are powerful reminders of the enormous challenges to come, she said.



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