The Fullness of Time?

The Fullness of Time?

Salvador Domènec Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis de Púbol (1904-1989)
Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man (1943)
oil on canvas 45,5 x 50 cm – on loan to the Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

How come we choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?

Alfred E. Neuman

The recent Greek crisis contains its own synthesis of parameters: its internal and external dramas, its national and European aspects, its periods of stillness and of hastening speed, its layers of personal and collective involvement, its specific links to the local, the national, the European face of our society…

In a dramatic manner, this crisis emphasizes the absence of a clear vision in order to inspire trust to people in agony, of a well-defined policy track in order to provide sense to active forces in the economy and to compose the heated spirits in the society, of a leadership advantage in order to create the difference, in Greece and in Europe alike… Therefore, this multitude of facets requires a radical shift in our approach: we must proceed to a deeper and more systematic analysis, we have to move further our focus, from the phenomena (the objects of experience) to the noumena (the things in themselves). We may then conclude that the so-called «Greek crisis» presents a combination of many unanswered questions with some ill-prepared answers with which we became simply familiar, because swimming against the current may be athletic, yet tiring…

At first, let’s agree on the defining characteristics of the crisis.
Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer1 say that crises have four defining characteristics that are

Specific, unexpected, and non-routine events or series of events that [create] high levels of uncertainty and threat or perceived threat to an organization’s high priority goals.

Venette2 argues that

Crisis is a process of transformation where the old system can no longer be maintained.

If change is not needed, the event could more accurately be described as a failure. However, for ancient Greeks the word is more anthropocentric and addresses the result of a balanced decision, the judgement, the preference/choice after careful consideration of options possible: in short, it is the human spirit which remains in command of all future actions of the human…

At present, let’s unravel some bits of those issues hanging over our heads like the levitating placenta above this visionary «parabirth» (sic) painted by Salvador Dalí in 1943…

A recent social paradox

We live today in a simple yet peculiar paradox: for the first time after WW II, the so-called «civil society» (or «citizens», for that matter) are in advance on their political, economical and social elites3. By the past, those latter used to provide a vision to the former, based on a knowledge gap, on their capacity to travel and propose best practices from abroad, or on their call for the development of a modern State, warrant of a stable welfare. This vision was their distinctive advantage, the instrument of their power, their reason of being… Today, this is no longer the case. And why is that?

To start with one reason, more people are better educated nowadays than at the past or have access to seminars, symposiums, forums, etc. that enable them to keep up with the latest evolutions of their field.

Another reason lies on the exponential amplification of information channels4 (in terms of both volume and content), which became progressively more accurate and widespread and which are read by the elites and the civil society alike.

One other reason, is people’s growing experience with «cumulative comparisons»: gradually larger numbers of people travel and live abroad, work and interact in several workplaces, express themselves and exchange openly in public and in the web. These past unknown pleasures bear in them the hidden fruit of wisdom -aka the critical spirit- and lead inexorably to the definite defeat of the unquestioned authority, in every sense and conceptual load of the word.

The last reason that can be brought out is that time and efficiency pressure to the elites forced them into «culture bunkers», where lack of exposure with the «real» issues and overprotection from risk5 gradually excluded them from everyday’s «smart» solutions.

In short, during those last decades, we have witnessed a complete and profound modification of both fundamental and critical points allowing this «culture gap» to operate in the advantage of the elites in contrast with the civil society. It seems that this alteration shall be a long lasting one, too…

An Unidentified Political Object

Commenting on the outcome of the EU summit of January 30, 2012, Greens/EFA co-president Dany Cohn-Bendit declared:

Another summit goes by and again Europe’s “leaders” have distinguished themselves by their lack of imagination and serious politics. The two-month sideshow surrounding the new fiscal compact has lost us more precious time and we have not moved any closer to resolving the Euro crisis. It is time for the EP to take the lead and give Europe’s citizens some hope.

As critic as this phrase may appear at first, it tackles several issues linked with the EU Institutions (more precisely, the people working in them).

One may argue that their inability to put forward consistent solutions dates back in the ’90s.

Indeed, under the long administration of Jacques Delors6, the European integration and action found a new momentum: Single European Act (1986), The Cost of Non-Europe (1988), Delors Report on the Economic and Monetary Union (1989), establishment of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Schengen Agreement (1990), Maastricht Treaty (1992), establishment of the European Monetary Institute, of the Committee of the Regions and of the European Investment Fund (1994), in addition to the introduction of the Qualified Majority Voting, for those who often take it for granted…

In contrast, the years that followed this extraordinary legacy7, were more than deceitful: failure to react to the beginning of the Kosovo War, inability to conduct the Agenda 2000 negotiations, ill-preparation and lack of projection on the consequences for the euro-based national economies, resignation of the European Commission en masse due to allegations of corruption, hasted enlargement of the European Union without prior due diligence and scenarios building, poor overall communication…

Yes, the list is long and becomes longer as years are passing by…

Today8, the «lack of imagination and serious politics» of the EU leaders and decision-makers is backed by a heavy institutional pandemonium, where even the best of intentions bear no future of success. We detect a patent deficiency of coherence, clear-cut indications, cost-benefit analyses, rapid reaction especially to crucial issues, where decisions were -and remain- based on a «politically-correct» oriented culture.

The Georgia crisis, the mass refusal of the Constitution for Europe (448 articles, have you read them all?), as well as the progressive introduction of party competition in the European Parliament, leading to the development of a Parliamentary system between the executive and the legislative branches: these examples demonstrate the difficulty to elaborate a common focal point within the European Institutions, where dissonance and inflexibility of decision-makers is ever-growing, instead of fading over time by getting to comprehend and assimilate better each other’s arguments.

In a morning speech on November 16, 2010, EU President Herman Van Rompuy (poet and writer of Japanese haiku and Latin verse) warned that if Europe’s leaders mishandle the current crisis and allow the eurozone to break up, they will destroy the European Union itself:

We’re in a survival crisis. We all have to work together in order to survive with the euro zone, because if we don’t survive with the euro zone we will not survive with the European Union.

From the above, it appears that the way towards an increased efficiency from the top of the European Institutions, as such, is still long. New options for the optimisation of the decision-making process within the EU and eventually for the timely response to (any sort of) crises shall be found, soon. But even a UPO does not come alone: there is a proliferation of other actors out there (not necessarily more defined for that matter) who seize their place as well, waiting for their time of glory, from their own fortified standpoint…

A long list of (unavoidable) guests in the party

At the same time, other actors from the periphery of the crisis that we are trying to deal with act with great focus, depending on the prospect of their specific interest. This element, as crucial for the maintenance of a balanced market economy it may be under normal circumstances, adds extra strain which generates more disequilibrium and make the decision-making process even more complex, as several parameters, manageable until then, go wild at the same time.

These actors, are highly diversified: governments with different agendas and priorities; funds and financial players with calculations that measure return in shorter periods than the political period punctuated by elections; press and communication groups; global consultancies and legal firms; investment and commercial institutions, you can grasp the big picture…

They are numerous as well: more than 35,000 mutual funds operate in Europe, almost the half of the total world number, operating on a total assets value of more than US$ 8 billion, the third of the total world figure. The estimated size of the assets managed by hedge funds worldwide for the first quarter of 2011 amounted approximately US$ 2,550 billion9. In less than 10 years, they account for half of the assets managed by commercial banks, which face growing strict regulations and legal constraints10.

Pressure groups, operate mainly on civic and producer issues. By their lobbying, decision-making and implementation functions, they can alter the end-result of general orientations, actions and legislation. On mid-2011, a new Transparency Register was created by the European Commission and the European Parliament showing that almost 4,000 entities existed on that purpose in the EU.

The number of internationally operating NGOs is estimated at 40,000; separate national numbers are higher.

Large NGOs may present annual budgets of several hundred million dollars and dispose for this reason a considerable capacity of communication, sometimes higher that the total communication budget of a company, a ministry or a government.

One may easily realize here that both scope and size matter: the leaders of today can no longer afford to ignore the angle promoted by those actors, sometimes in conflict with their own priorities and issues developed in their agenda, neither all relevant economic and financial implications. Those parameters, in addition to the multitude of those actors, become increasingly complex to deal with, in particular throughout the given time frame on office (for those leaders who are elected or assigned to their functions) or the fixation on quick results, higher revenue and premium returns (for CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc.). The high rates of CEO turnover and the decrease of the average period on duty demonstrates that senior management in the private sector is merely a resting place. Once at the top, one should be able to prove his/her abilities to over-perform at all times.

A learning curve, yes, but in which sense?

Education is a fundamental factor for our society. Expectations, dreams, anxiety, frustration, pleasure, differences, networks, are based on it. It includes the transmission of society’s knowledge, skills, customs and values. Having stated that, how good does it correspond to the initial need to enlighten the human spirit, as well as the one of our society’s elites, the leaders of tomorrow?

A series of question should be raised here : can we acknowledge that we have turn diplomas into job-oriented instruments? that we have witnessed the fall of the genuine capacity of free-thinking, based on knowledge? that critical mind is not rewarded in high schools and academia alike? that technological progress has entered the education sector only through its various gadgets and not by more creative approaches of the learning process? that basic reasoning skills decline and IT skills increase? that educational choices depend on lifestyle? that conformity of thought reflects on the way political parties, companies and pressure groups alike make their choices for the recruitment and management of their human capital?

So, WHAT is coming next? WHO may lead those major, far-reaching, distinctive changes in order to support growth? WHICH are the main abilities that underline this wide-ranging talent?

Back to the future: from «my-self» to «our-selves»

The bureaucratic notion of « formal » organizations which dominated most of the 20th century is about to perish. Leaders can emerge from within the context of the « informal » organization, which expresses the personal objectives and goals of the individual membership. Their personal qualities, the demands of the situation, or a combination of these and other factors, attract followers who accept their leadership within one or several overlay structures12.

For David Hakala13, leaders can be found and nurtured when certain character traits are present: Vision (from creation through completion), Integrity (outward actions correspond to inner values), Dedication (doing whatever it takes to accomplish the task), Magnanimity (giving credit where is due), Humility («follower-centric» leadership role), Openness (suspend judgment while listening to others’ new ideas), Creativity (think outside of the box, ask for «what if…?» scenarios), Fairness (dealing with others consistently and justly), Assertiveness (ability to propose crystal-clear statements), Sense of Humor (relieve tension and boredom, defuse hostility).

Nevertheless, past and recent technological progress, associated to major cultural shifts under way in our societies, could put forward, or even include, other forms of leadership, in line with the growing complexity of current decisions. Nowadays, we are about to witness tribal urban behaviour of younger generations, world-wide campaigns of viral marketing based on the promotion of similar items which appeal to diverse segments of populations from different countries, expansion of cross-countries blogs and forums.

The conversion of this mind-set to a new leadership model can be established in the Group Leaderships or Leadership Teams. As each member of a group or team has the opportunity to experience the elevated level of empowerment, it energizes the other members and feeds the cycle of success14.

However, these interesting approaches seem to overlook the leader’s willingness to act in that sense, whatever may be the personal cost. Our leaders have forgotten the «common sense», the «intelligence of the street», that almost every citizen disposes today… May we see in a not-so-distant future, our future elites coming from the «man in the street», a citizen with those characteristics that leaders seem to have lost for quite a while now?

In the ancient Agora, once a statement was made, a point of view was formulated, an argument was developed, the other citizens were actively reacting to it. By doing so, they contributed to a greater idea, that of an ever-modern triptych: Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. Hopefully, the present article may open a debate, necessary for ourselves and our society, Greek and European. By doing so, we may have answered the question raised by a great Hellenist and member of the French Academy, «Pourquoi la Grèce?»15. If one may say, because the existence of this very question and its numerous implications for us implies that Greece still remains important, to all of us, even today…

1 Seeger, M. W.; Sellnow, T. L.; Ulmer, R. R. (1998). Communication, organization and crisis, in Communication Yearbook No. 21, pp. 231-275.
2 Venette, S. J. (2003). Risk communication in a High Reliability Organization: APHIS PPQ’s inclusion of risk in decision making, Ann Arbor, MI, UMI Proquest Information and Learning.
3 By political elites, we understand mainly the leaders and the administration of the political formations, including their executive arm (ministries, companies of the Public sector, etc.). By economical elites, we consider the Boards of major companies (CEOs, CFOs, etc.), consultancies, etc. By social elites, we comprehend leaders of Trade Unions and other syndicates, pressure groups, etc. Naturally, one could always bring out an outstanding person or two and argue on the fallacies of this presentation. Unfortunately, though, exceptions do not make the rule, they are merely a reference…
4 One crucial event underlined the importance of live on-line information which has given equal opportunities to the elites and the citizens alike: the first Persian Gulf War and the global retransmission by CNN (even with a security buffer zone) of daily operations, comments and analysis.
5 After several scandals that blew away this «urban myth» of risk-aversion choices (BCCI, Y2K, Xerox, Enron, Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch, Arthur Andersen, AIG, Bernard L. Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, Lehman Brothers, etc.), one may observe how overrated and ill-managed was this whole concept.
6 Delors I (1985-1988), Delors II (1989-1992), Delors III (1993-1994).
7 Namely the Santer Commission (1995-1999) and the Prodi Commission (1999-2004).
8 Barroso I (2004-2009), Barroso II (2010-2014).
9 HFN Industry Research figure.
10 Basel Capital Accords, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, current credit requirements, to name a few.
11 13% in 2011, a six-years high, for an average 7 years on the job, according to a study of S&P and Fortune 500 firms by Crist|Kolder Associates, as quoted by Thomas Black at on September 1, 2011.
12 Henry P. Knowles; Borje O. Saxberg (1971). Personality and Leadership Behavior, Reading, Mass, Addison-Wesley, pp. 884-89. For the authors, instead of the authority of position held by an appointed head or chief, the emergent leader wields influence or power. Influence is the ability of a person to gain co-operation from others by means of persuasion or control over rewards. Power is a stronger form of influence because it reflects a person’s ability to enforce action through the control of a means of punishment.
13 The Top 10 Leadership Qualities, in HR World, March 19, 2008.
14 Ingrid Bens (2006). Facilitating to Lead, Jossey-Bass.
15 Jacqueline de Romilly (1992). Pourquoi la Grèce?, éditions de Fallois, 309 p.

SOURCEEuropean Business Review (EBR)
Published on Apr 10, 2012
Issue 1/2012 of "European Business Review (EBR)" magazine
The author

Harris D. VourkasHarris D. Vourkas is a strategy consultant for major European companies and policy advisor to Governments and local authorities.
On November 11, 2011, he founded the non-for-profit «ATHROISIS – Growth for Greece» in order to promote a new development model for his country.

Born in Thessaloniki in 1966, he holds degrees from the ULB, Sciences-Po Paris & the French ENA.

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n. from the Ancient Greek «ἄθροισις»
means addition, assembly, partnerhip

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