Moving forward, but bringing trust along this time.

In a period of uncertainty like the one we are going through, leaders have to rely on new norms, based on adaptation and agility.

And so, with this pandemic, everywhere around the globe, we saw our leaders take unprecedented decisions in an agile and adaptive manner.

But, after two years, it’s time to be honest.

They lacked the necessary knowledge to do it well.

For instance, they were not always well coordinated.

And in different parts of the globe, we accepted different approaches, more or less successful.

To name a few, we saw containment measures, zero-Covid strategy, control measures, herd immunity, prevention and protection measures or “whatever it takes”.

I am not the only guinea pig on this planet!

The result is a perception of inconsistent decisions, having a big impact on the overall level of followership towards governments.

But also, in cascade, the lack of logic and empathy impacted other partners, multinationals, NGOs, and even, media.

Actually, we hear everywhere how disappointed people are with our global leadership.

And so little trust there is left.

In fact, to my knowledge and experience, I agree that things could have been thought out better.

This is even behind my motivation to create a force for good for an exceptional civilisation.

Some of its responsibilities will be to:

  • Secure a more benevolent and inclusive direction.
  • Learn from mistakes and limit ourselves to the most successful approaches.
  • Co-lead a more resilient society, especially economically, mentally and emotionally, while avoiding hubris and pain.

For this article, I combined the outcomes of four different Together-Ensemble sessions to identify ways to end for good the erosion of trust. These learnings, which are part of this series on the leadership of relations, will be essential to the force for good!

The notion of trust is firstly reflexive. It all starts with the individual, How we all show up as humans: in our authentic selves.

Feeling secure is the basis of self-trust.

Do I trust myself? Then, do I trust my team? Can we trust the EU? Can we trust ourselves to impact on a global scale?

All the elements need to be aligned.

We also need to look at the bigger picture. Ask questions and listen. Have a genuine interest and curiosity for what drives others, where they come from.

But we also need to learn to react quickly before it is too late.

And, to these first recommendations, we can also:

  • Emancipate authentic leaders reflecting the need to adapt and be agile. Some think there is a problem of authenticity within governments, and that this is compromising public trust. We need to show up as a whole person, as truly human. Politicians need to do this too. We have to represent and speak up more about our values, what we believe in. And share our constraints, such as our budgetary rules. We also have to (re) think the concept of “leadership” and what it means to us as Europeans. How do we want to lead if we want to lead? In fact, could we not start to un-lead? Global leadership would follow.
  • Communicate clearly along the way with frequent and open feedback loops. The institutions are a black box for citizens. Yet, real power rests with governments. So, we should promote transparency, and certainly not compromise on it. Committees and Working groups are not visible to the public, but are essential to understand how the Commission prepares and manages policies. We also need more townhalls in national language whenever a request has a given number of signatories (small version of citizen initiative). Show the results of the work, as justification to why we need to invest more in the domain. Results need to speak for themselves. No propaganda please. It is counterproductive.
  • Change the narrative to explain the rationale for the unprecedented decisions. We are in a world of tension between openness and safety. How can we open up if we are in fear? Speak with a true heart. Recognize mistakes. Accept that errors may be done, which means that we have to work on our inability to acknowledge and apologize for failed policies of the past. But the intention should always be to move all together forward, in the most positive way. Move from I to we, brain to heart. Open the heart and do not accept ego-driven behaviours.  Since populism stems from people feeling like they lack control, we should consider changing our narrative (Line To Take, LTT) to emphasize control people have over the EU. We have to address people’s fears, for example when they perceive their own future is getting worse or without a sense of hope because of globalisation. Rationality cannot be opposed to emotions, we need to use both. Focusing on the positive AND negative emotions.#proudANDashamed. In fact, we have to work with that sweet sense of polarisation that keeps us apart and blinds us about what we have in common. And certainly, no longer be scared by it.
  • Adopt a soft power approach, a cultural model that can make Europe an attractive model for the world. Successful leadership is about science-led, compassion and mediation. There is nothing wrong in being a soft power. The public debate is low now, very simple answers of populists who tell people what they want to hear, and if you think about it, it is not that far from the mainstream political narrative. Populism is rising and influencing politics (or even taking over). Learn healthy conflicts as powerful tool to stimulate empathy and collaboration. Address the emotions. When people speak with their heart, we should speak to their heart in return, not to their minds. But identifying values is not enough, we should also prove the idea that Europe is something dynamic especially from a cultural point of view. Do we defend the European social model? Also globally? When is our next dialogue with the most vulnerable citizens for instance?
  • Reinvent the process of decision-making to include citizens, such as citizen assemblies and juries (e.g. the French citizen convention on climate, Irish Citizens Assembly on Abortion). Give citizens a greater sense of control and involvement. Identify the issues, which are most important to citizens and take tangible actions to deal with them, while confronting false information. Bring together a randomly selected group of citizens, representative of society. Provide the resources necessary to tackle complex issues of a present collective problem. Collectively develop informed recommendations. Decision makers’ role is to provide evidence. Tap into collective intelligence and cognitive diversity. As more ordinary people are involved, this will enhance trust between government leaders and citizens. Alone we cannot do a lot but together we are stronger! Remember also that as long as there is posturing, rivalry and no conversations about opposing ideas or worldviews, we will not be able to have a trust-based relationship. Complex times do not have simple answers. We need to promote new values by creating new models. Share more information and incite stakeholders’ collective intelligence. Regenerating an institutional culture based on diversity through day-to-day interactions, Not just on paper. Need strong leadership to create new channels and new approaches that can break out of historic problems or ‘stuck’ politics. Finally, acceptance of the many points of view is key. For instance, appreciate better the lack of involvement and control over the decisions being made, as well as the lack of response to the biggest problems identified by citizens (such as immigration).
  • Avoid bureaucracy, which adds distance and slowness. There are unintended consequences. People start to distrust themselves to change anything or to distrust others, putting everyone in a competitive mind-set. To mitigate bureaucracy, we need to map what is going on, the relationships and look at actions we can implement quickly with minimum results. Define priorities. Practical aspect: having an easier organisation in order to be able to rapidly and directly tackle urgent problems (poverty, climate…). Using our shared values as our basis for leadership, we must also include actions at home and not only abroad e.g. promoting human rights, democracy. We need stronger mechanism to protect them internally to not be seen as hypocritical. Promote the concept of an empathetic & compassionate organisation. EU needs to be a leader in meaningful jobs and at fighting organisational slowness. Review our processes to react quicker. Also we still do too many things on our own, we need to increase collaboration with other organisations, to make sure the right information is released in a quicker way. Distributed leadership, decentralisation and subsidiary are key.
  • Create a safe space. Prepare the ground for good relationships and interactions. Build familiarity with people and tools. Work on a more collaborative mind-set, from “I” to “we”. Invent a ritual. Ask personal questions. Share vulnerabilities and appreciation. Organise a small meeting to develop the collaborative mode, before going to a bigger meeting with more conflictual issues. Develop listening opportunities. We also need more frank discussions about representation, diversity, and inclusion to be able to lead (as EU) and be seen/accepted/successful as a leader. Leadership with the Green Deal is possible. But for this, we need to be open & transparent in the way we implement it and the lessons learnt we gather with the rest of the world. This is how we can be more influential. Organise more webinars and matchmaking events like Together-Ensemble.
  • Empower experts and delegate may also imply a transfer of power, and that’s the most problematic point. Remember that if we are not able to engage with each other through trust we would never be able, as an organisation, to engage with citizens. Be prepared to change the definition of the problem. Use constructive criticism. Encourage divergent thinking. Walk the Talk, Act Locally! Europe is still young, it has room for improvement! Become proactive, rather than reactive. Also get away from the idea of using multipliers and “thought leaders”. These are concepts of the last millennium. And push disinformation/misinformation central hub, owned by all, – Wikipedia-like but which avoids falling in similar traps – by improving the governance model and transparency. Maybe populism is a rebranding of politics. Populism stems from people feeling they lack control. So, build an open and participative system at local, national and European levels.
  • Be prudent to not raise expectations in the participatory events that cannot be reached (no action taken, or not following the outcome of the process). Be the example servant leader. Populism can be a consequence of events of the past whereby a sentiment of frustration is created. This frustration leads to a will of payback today. Mainstream media are more dangerous than social media. We need to address the perception of oligarchy.

Tomorrow, I will continue this important series on the leadership of relations, with a particular focus on the future of learning, sustainable economy and the future of mobility.

Photo by lilartsy on

For this article, I extracted powerful recommendations coming from different sessions of Together-Ensemble:

  • The first one on trust which took place on 28 May June 2020, with Stéphane Baillie-Gee, Ursula Hillbrand, Claudia Chwalisz and Florian Schwendinger, and 120 colleagues who had registered. The topic was on how to maintain trust, when adaptation and agility become the norms.
  • I am also adding the solutions from another session of Together-Ensemble, which took place on 25 June 2020 on how to address the EU’s role in a multipolar and complex world, with David O’Sullivan, Shada Islam, Ivo Velitchov, andYves Monsel, along with 150 colleagues of the EU Institutions.
  • The one from 16 July 2020 which invited 100 colleagues to address the growing support for populist parties among people from many walks of life, in the presence of Anthony Zacharzewski, Elisa Vecchione, Marco Ricorda, and Tom Brake.
  • Finally, this session of Together-Ensemble on 15 October 2020, which allowed 100 colleagues to identify strategies at individual and collective levels to address disinformation, with Christophe Leclercq, Prof JS Bamrah and Sandra Cavallo.

Find below the bios of our speakers in these four sessions:

Stéphane Baillie-Gee – Complexity management consultant expert, interested in particular about the link between trust and bureaucracy

Ursula Hillbrand – a participatory facilitator, process designer and trainer with 25 years’ experience of the European Commission, expert in trust building in a virtual world.

Claudia Chwalisz (OECD) – policy-analyst, expert on innovative citizen participation, explores the paradigm change underway towards a more participatory, deliberative, and collaborative governance based on trust.

Florian Schwendinger (DG JRC) – what governments need to do to address the erosion of trust.

David O’Sullivan is a former EU Ambassador to the US, having previously been the first Chief Operating Officer of the EEAS, the Director-General of DG TRADE and the Secretary-General of the Commission.

Shada Islam is a Brussels-based advisor/analyst on Europe, Africa, Asia, Geopolitics, Trade and Inclusion for her global strategy company New Horizons Project. She is a renowned commentator on EU affairs, and was selected as one of the 20 most influential women in Brussels by Politico. Until recently, she was Director of Europe and Geopolitics at the independent think-tank Friends of Europe.

Ivo Velitchkov is expert in Enterprise Architecture, Management Cybernetics, and Data Management. He has PhD in Computer Science.  He is the author of the book “Essential Balances in Organizations”, coming this summer 2020 and of the blog Strategic Structures

Yves Monsel is a senior consultant in organisation development and HR. He was technical adviser for the Belgian ministry of employment and training. Professor of psychology and systemic psychology. Managing director of AIM-associés and Amangi, where he develops training games and Web application.

Anthony Zacharzewski is an international leader in democratic innovation and government reform. After fourteen years in strategic roles in UK central and local government, he founded the Democratic Society  in 2006 to develop new approaches to democratic governance that are better suited to the 21st century. He has worked with government at every level from village council to European Commission, and on projects in Serbia, Ireland, France and the UK.

Elisa Vecchione is policy analyst at the JRC, working in the field of citizen engagement and deliberative democracy. With a mixed academic background in public policy and science and technology studies, she has been looking at how scientific uncertainty and contested evidence are dealt with in different decision-making settings, including policy-making and court trials, and through different scientific approaches, including risk assessment and mathematical modelling. Her contributions have been published in various academic journals, including the European Journal of Risk Regulation, European Policy Analysis, the Chicago Journal of International Law.

Marco Ricorda is a communication expert, political communication blogger, public speaker and a twice nominated #EUinfluencer. He is the Communication Officer for the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)and formerly a Member of Cabinet for President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, Head of Social Media for the ALDE group and Guy Verhofstadt, digital communication strategist for the European Commission and the economic think tank Bruegel.

Tom Brake is a former Deputy Leader of the UK House of Commons. He was the Brexit spokesperson of the Liberal Democrats until December 2019. He had been an MP for 22 years.

Christophe Leclercq is founder of the EURACTIV media network & of the Thin-Do-Tank Fondation EURACTIV. He went on a ‘Tour d’Europe’ for the project #Media4EU, then initiating Erasmus4media, now launched as Stars4media. Previously, he was EU Commission official with DG Competition (coordinator for Information Society). He studied political science (‘Sciences Po’ Paris), business administration (HEC Paris, also at NYU & Köln), and international relations (ULB, Brussels). He is a teacher at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Institut d’Etudes Européennes.

Prof JS Bamrah CBE is a senior consultant psychiatrist in Manchester (UK), Chairman of BAPIO (British association of physicians of indian origin), and past Council member of the BMA (British medical association) and Royal College of Psychiatrists. Until recently he was Medical Director at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust. JS is the inventor of the ‘Chartmyhealth’ app for smartphones which is currently undergoing development with NHS (National Health Service) partners. He has around 50 medical publications and nearly 100 in the tabloid press. He has appeared on several TV and radio shows including Sky news, ITV, BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5 live, and on regional TV. In 2001, he was acknowledged by 10 Downing Street as one of 100 doctors for providing a ‘Distinguished service to the NHS’, in 2018 he was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen for contributions to mental health, the NHS and diversity, and this week he has been recognised as one of 50 most influential BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) leaders in health in England.

Sandra Cavallo works at the European Commission’s communications department (DG COMM), heading the sector in charge of communication governance and strategic coordination. Her responsibilities include coordinating the European Commission’s external communication and awareness raising efforts about disinformation. She was previously a member of the EC’s Brexit task force and has worked for UNDP in Ukraine and Moldova, for the EU’s communicable diseases agency ECDC and for Italian public television Rai.

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