Sunday, October 16, 2005

Initial ideas about leadership and the EU

We had a great time this weekend when Allyson Lowe, Miami '96, spent the night with us. Allyson works at Chatham College in Pittsburgh and did her doctoral work at Ohio State on the EU. We got into a great conversation about the issues I want to explore while in Europe. I hope to deepen my understanding and to involve students in my seminar in the exploration of the formation and future of the EU and how contemporary notions of leadership relate to it. The seminar looks at two important tensions that are part of the EU - unity and subsidiarity. How this is manifest in the EU is that the seventeen members of the EU have determined that there are a number of issues on which they will benefit if they can create a sense of workable unity (i.e. currency). On the other hand, the member nations do not want to give up their culture, history, and unique ways of governing. Therefore, the concept of subsidiarty (i.e. education) is essential. Subsidiarity advocates that every issue should be pushed to the lowest level of analysis and response possible. Unity and subsidiarity are two concepts that may look paradoxical but the work underway in the EU may prove that, in fact, though paradoxical, they must exist simultaneously.

Allyson informed me that there is a continuum of consideration on any public matter that takes the unity -->> subsidiarity question to a bit more specific level. The idea is that for any issue, there are four broad ways to address it: standardize, harmonize, mutual recognition, or maintain sovereignty. This continuum allows a range from mutual and binding agreement (standardize) to complete autonomy (maintain sovereignty).

While I want to understand how this really works in the EU, it has interesting applications in the study of leadership. In essence, leadership has to make the decision of where to address a problem - at a high level with binding commitments or at a low level with local autonomy. Or, there could be a high level response that allows autonomy of members but a locally binding agreement. As I've observed leadership, and read in some theorists' analyses, a frequent mistake of leadership is trying to address an issue at the wrong level and perhaps with too tight or loose a strategy.

As we think of leadership and the EU, it seems important not to become too prescriptive in approach. Effective leadership would, it seems to me, take a critical look at the dynamics of the environment and concern and then identify an adaptive solution to address it that has the highest likelihood of success. Many times, we won't know what the "right" solution will be. We must, instead, analyze with all the critical information we can amass, and then determine the most likely way to proceed.

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