The next six months are an opportunity for Europe to discuss what qualities it wants in its institutional leaders. Recent European elections show that we are long on discussions about why Europe has problems and what needs to be done but short on the who and the qualities needed to drive change and reform. There has been much debate about why the electorate is disillusioned with the European project in many countries and what needs to be done on skills, entrepreneurship, innovation, trade, industrial policy and the viability of the banking sector. However, the rhetoric on who we need as European presidents and commissioners over the next five years has often focused on specific names without exploring the leadership qualities that are required in navigating today’s complex world.
There are five qualities that are becoming more important for all leaders, and they transcend the macro economics and geopolitics of todays’ world. They are qualities all our European leaders need to demonstrate. They are: a hunger for innovation; digital savviness; insight into young people’s attitudes and behaviours; mastery of complex programme delivery; and a naturally collaborative approach. It is necessary but not sufficient for politicians to have proven political skills, just as in the business world it is necessary but not sufficient for CEOs to be good operators. Many CEOs run the risk of operating just like COOs because they fail to act beyond the imperatives of short-term numbers and embrace the realities of a more multistakeholder and multipolar world.
At the heart of Europe’s challenge is a need to reignite growth and create jobs. Europe is not homogeneous, but innovation is a key ingredient to improving competitiveness across the board. Europe is being squeezed between a more smart-based US economy and a faster growing China that is rapidly expanding its research and development capabilities. As the latest World Economic Forum Europe 2020 Competitiveness Report states, there is a “persistent knowledge divide between innovation-rich and innovation-poor countries”. This is true within Europe but also relative to other parts of the world. We need leaders who have a passion and hunger for innovation and who have practical experience of driving innovation across the public and private sectors.
Every organization today is a digital organization. Governments generate huge amounts of data in areas such as health, transport and crime. The US UK and Dutch governments have led the way with moves to open data. Business is finding new insights to enhance customer experience as shoppers increasingly use online channels and corporates use more data to manage their international supply chains. In this world where there needs to be a balance between data insight and transparency we need leaders to be digitally smart. Europe’s best chance of sustained growth is through the pervasive use of digital technologies whether it is to improve efficiency or develop new products and services. We are in the digital age and European leaders have to be digitally savvy and insight-driven.
One of the biggest challenges for Europe is the intergenerational consequences of high youth unemployment. A lack of meaningful employment fuels resentment and builds a dependency and entitlement culture. We need a cadre of European leaders who really understand young people’s attitudes and behaviours. Young people are lead indicators of where our economies and societies are heading. They are the next generation of consumers and entrepreneurs. There is an opportunity for us to break the mould where much of policy-making is shaped by the “generation en pouvoir” without sufficient involvement of the next generation.
Value for money will continue to be a top priority in Europe given the overall levels of government corporate and personal debt levels across the continent. Europe is prone to initiative overload whether at the European or member state level. The natural tendency for policy-makers is to initiate without always appreciating the complexities of delivery. Leaders have to be good shapers of policy but increasingly much better at understanding the risks of delivery especially when multiple actors are involved. We need leaders who have experienced some of the pain of running large projects to time and budget, and delivered beyond expectations. One of the ways we will rebuild trust in institutions is to do a better job at delivering on our policy commitments
Europe requires leaders who have political credibility but there has to be more focus on proven track record of competence beyond just the political. Europe will do itself no favours in addressing its challenges if competence is undervalued in the selection process. While political horse trading will be an inevitable part of the selection process, the European heads of state and members of the European Parliament have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership by looking beyond narrow, vested self-interest.
Leadership requires courage and humility – the recent election results show that we need both. The next cadre of European leaders should be those who have the proven qualities of innovation, digital awareness, insight into young people and delivery excellence as their critical core competences, with the emotional intelligence to act in a naturally collaborative manner.
Read the World Economic Forum’s Europe 2020 Competitiveness Report.
Author: Mark Spelman is Global Managing Director, Accenture, United Kingdom
Image: File picture shows European Union member states’ flags flying in front of the building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File