By Kevin Meyer
I spent last week in Germany and The Netherlands, and as with any trip abroad I found it fascinating how other societies and political systems work. Last Thursday the European Union appointed its first president and foreign policy chief. After having discussed politics with a bunch of local folks (and finding that the bar maids were the best informed!), I was actually looking forward to the announcement.
You see, it was a big test of the EU and in particular the Lisbon Treaty. Here was the opportunity for the EU to present a combined front and take an active and powerful role on the world stage – presumably more powerful than any individual EU nation. So what happened? An editorial in the Financial Times on Saturday put it well.
This was not Europe’s finest hour. After eight hours of tortured labour, the mountain brought forth a mouse. Supporters of the European Union are dismayed, just as Eurosceptics are sneeringly exultant. Both camps should have little trouble agreeing this was a colossal failure of ambition.
Ouch! How would you like to be the two folks selected? So why, and how, were several potential outstanding candidates bypassed in favor of the meek?
They ticked all the boxes – balance between left and right, north and south, male and female and so on – but those are by no means the only boxes.
By lasering in on the lowest common denominator in this way, leaders of the big member-states – wherever they formally line up in the spectrum between intergovernmentalism and federalism – are united in their unwillingness tobe overshadowed by figures of calibre and clout. They thus reveal themselves as geopolitical pygmies.
The Financial Times is apparently one of the few rags that can rival The Wall Street Journal in terms of editorial effervescence. Gotta love em.
So what’s the lesson for us commonfolk? Perhaps that trying to satisfy everyone ends up satisfying no one, if not outright also harming everyone. Conforming to laudable PC intentions ends up being ineffective, and trying to satisfy all aspects of leadership can actually lead to a lack of leadership.
Look around – you’ll see it everywhere. And obviously not just in politics.
Jamie Flinchbaugh says
The standard is “don’t offend anyone” because you might need their support in the future. Therefore, you look for people, issues, conclusions that are the least offensive. The UN works in very similar ways, and it’s why the UN moves at glacial speed.
As far as what can be learned from this for organizational change, understand how the same standard can apply. What organizational change strategy and direction can we choose that will offend the least number of powerful people in the organization? Too often, this is the master criteria. It is inevitable that the conclusion will be meek.
As an example I know of a situation where they couldn’t agree on the language for what to call their continuous improvement effort. No one just says “we’ll call it CI” or anything like that. Now the name isn’t really that important, but because no one wanted to take a political stand, they go around saying “this effort” and “the stuff” because they can’t just give it a description. Pretty sad.
Leadership involves taking an organization to a place where they are not currently. It is inevitable that some people won’t like that direction. You will offend people. Tough. That’s the price of leadership.