Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

The European Union – The Floundering Giant!

I haven’t referenced a government example in past blogs, but there is such a glaring example of poor leadership out there right now that I can’t resist.  

We have read a lot recently about how the European Union (EU) has been totally disorganized in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccines, causing the EU virus agony to drag on unmercifully.  When COVID hit the region, EU members were unable to agree on anything.  It played a minimal role in vaccine development and has totally bungled the vaccine deployment.  For example, 13 of the 27 countries in the EU suspended the use of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, even though the European Medicines Commission claimed it was safe and effective.  Some countries use it, some have said it could be used on people over 55 but banned it for people 55 or younger, and others have banned it completely.  

Because the EU bungled the ordering and distribution of any of the vaccine options, there are shortages in various countries.  This has generated further chaos. Hence, EU members have each gone off on their own.  For example, Hungry, in frustration, ordered a big batch of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.  Some EU members are ordering the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.  Austria and Denmark are working with Israel. 

This is in stark contrast with the US Government, where, surprisingly, it has done a fairly good job in managing things.  Specifically, Operation Warp Speed was put under the leadership of a senior pharmaceutical executive experienced in vaccinology and a high-ranking US Army general was put in charge of the logistics of getting the vaccines out to the states (some states did a good job of distributing the vaccines and some did poorly). 

So…what was the core problem with the EU: lack of leadership.  In fact, what was on display is that, in reality, the EU has authority for very few things when it comes to big projects that need to be implemented quickly across all 27 countries.  The flaw is that all the countries need to agree.  Without total consensus, countries have every right to do whatever they want!  No wonder the UK bolted.  

Here are some practical suggestions for avoiding the ravages of consensus management:

  • One Decision-Maker – Leaders need to be able to lead; they can’t be saddled with the requirement that everyone involved needs to agree before a decision is made.
  • The Smart Leader Seeks Out Opinions from Relevant Parties – Wise leaders realize they don’t know it all, and they listen carefully to the various points of view. They then propose options and seek feedback.  Then, and here is the important part, they decide on a plan and execute. 

When Not Taking Advice, Make It Clear Why Not – Some advice that individuals and groups provide will be quite helpful, and the leader may want to reflect some or all of it.  When the leader doesn’t, he or she should make it clear to all relevant parties why not. 

Many academics and politically correct folks think that at all times, all parties need to be in agreement before moving ahead on a specific plan.  A few years back the concept of leaderless team management was an HR brainchild. What has emerged from all of this is a return to the following age-old principle:  if you want to get something done, put someone in charge, hold them responsible, and give them the authority to get it done.  

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