The meaningful need for relationship leadership

A friend once told me that to be resilient, especially in the face of the worst tragedy in our lives, we have to learn to develop meaningful relationships.

So what was my surprise when at the start of the confinement, none of my children’s teachers thought of organising virtual social gatherings.

They were pretty well organized to send out assignments, but hey, school was never just about work.

In fact, science tells us that we discover the joy of learning through a positive relationship. Whether with one or more teachers, students, subjects, the joy of pleasing parents,…

In short, the taste for learning almost always arises from a relationship.

This is why we cannot design an education system without an a priori reflection on the bond, the way to stimulate it and, to maintain it for the benefit of learning.

The priority of the pedagogue must be this. And especially during confinement.

We saw from research this will open the path to a better life.

But not only, you will have understood that a more social approach to learning is also the key to a more pragmatic education.

Result-oriented on the long term, it would value the role of relationship leadership to strengthen and empower an exceptional civilisation.

Therefore, today, more than ever, we have to recognize the importance of prioritizing this notion and give it the recognition it deserves. In the world of learning, but also in other areas of our lives.

It’s time to replace the mindset of mass-individualisation with a more collaborative mindset. It’s time to stop further dividing this society, by finding ways to stimulate our oneness.

In this article, I have analysed hundreds of recommendations coming from three sessions of Together-Ensemble, on the future of learning, the future of economics and the future of mobility.

But, let’s start with the future of education and how we can introduce the leadership of relationships in the curriculum of a more resilient youth, and later on society as a whole.

  • Place autonomy at the centre of the approach to learning, and recognise the key role of relationships to support success, by providing concrete cases to solve.
  • Provide social contacts to complement digital learning, in particular, contact possibilities with a variety of different cultures. Time to make the most of our global world.
  • Create a European community for teachers – allow peer-to-peer learning, exchanges and experimentation.
  • Empower and emancipate schools and networks of schools.
  • Empower and guide parents in pedagogy, in order to give them a more active role in online teaching.
  • Provide knowledge to everyone in society about all new scenario that we will have, in particular related to a model of inclusiveness, interconnectedness and, cooperation. The purpose is to role model and empower to bring about change through transformative collective experience.

And then, to continue the journey as a happy society, our economic drivers must also be centered around the values ​​of relationships and collaboration. If we were to measure their impact on a more satisfying life, I’m sure we would understand the need to shift some investments…

Below, you will find the main recommendations to make circularity the essence of any economic development and management of daily city life. This will be the new credo for a civilisation, that only leaves great gifts behind.

  • Provide a new systemic approach to promote circular practices and a human-centered approach.
  • Organise many conversations with all actors, thinkers and doers. Circular economy is linked to the sharing economy idea. Some institutional, social and technical issues will have to be considered collectively. For instance, any transformation needs to consider social aspects, social innovation, inclusion, access to facilities and, resources.
  • Instill a change consumption attitude (people side) and on the part of suppliers, move towards an obligation to make products repairable. Accompany the behaviour shift, which cannot be imposed, at the risk of creating resistance and freeze.
  • Organise collective reflections about what is really sustainable (local food, traditionally made..) and go for it.
  • Develop the concept of circular cities with new urban agendas, linking personal health benefits with sustainable way of living.
  • Give a clear role to SMEs (small and medium-size enterprises) and Startups. Only them can really challenge the status quo.
  • Develop the power of consumers:  supply will adapt to what consumers demand. But, we saw how hard it is to make any change, so this will require a huge shift from passivity to nearly a form of activism (co-leadership).
  • Create a Citizens Assembly for the recovery.
  • Share knowledge and information and develop discussion platforms, at all levels.
  • Create and set up communities of interest – open and transparent discussion platforms co-designed with citizens. The platforms should deal with specific themes, and invite guest scientists.
  • Organise more questions and answers events to provide more reliable information and understanding on complex issues.

For all of this, awareness and cooperation among key actors, such as businesses, consumers, NGOs, governments, are needed for cities and citizens to make the circular future a reality.

Again, I hope you see the clear need to put the leadership of relationships at the heart of this ambitious agenda. Because, let me tell you, things won’t work out by magic!

We should even take a step further by rethinking our mobility around relationships.

This to me, could be a great tactic to achieve at the same time the well-being of people and the well-being of our planet, while converting everyone to the need to be co-responsible and innovative in all other areas of our lives.

The huge change of mind-sets and behaviours we need, will have to be lived in our bones. Mobility is the perfect excuse. It’s not something anyone of us can escape.

Re-thinking mobility to make citizens players of a common destiny is what we need, IMHO! A down-to-earth large scale change strategy, which takes place in small steps. But for this, I hope we understand the need to play collective. All these individual mobility devices are exactly the opposite of what an exceptional civilisation should encourage!

  • First task: see what we have learnt at individual and societal levels from COVID-19, and discuss the impact on personal and collective mobility strategies.
  • Tackle the issue of natural systems which are collapsing with a global approach, Green mobility will be part of the new civilisation we need to build. To find the right balance, not to push greening too far without considering the human side, to listen to the public and, encourage long term thinking “What are we leaving for our children?”.
  • Highlight the benefits and well-being connected with a green attitude.
  • Provide more information, easy access info on CO2 consumption of journey options.
  • Show people that small changes can make a huge difference for road safety and air quality.
  • Encourage the shift to a new norm, where online business meetings are the rule and, physical meetings the exception.
  • Incentivise ethical behaviours by major polluters, empowering related legislation. And resist pressure from industry, by making holistic policymaking the norm.
  • Cooperate better between different transport companies to ensure a real intermodal offer.
  • Encourage multimodality – walking, cycling, public transport, shared options (car/bike/train and bike schemes) and car when needed.
  • Create Mobility As A Service platforms on local, national and international level.

See how key it will be to master the leadership of relationships to achieve the above changes we need.

But, do not worry, you won’t go unequipped.

This series is not over yet. I will give you tomorrow some tips coming from a “Dream Big for Europe” session with David Gurteen, about a new style of working, named conversational leadership. And to make it even more precious, I will add further tips from my own research. I like to spoil you so watch this space!

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

All these great ideas are coming from three sessions of Together-Ensemble organised in June 2020 with hundreds of participants from the EU Institutions:

  • On 4 June 2020 to deepen their reflexions on the key elements of pedagogy to reinforce learning as a highly social process, the need to strengthen the European education system or to empower students in the process. With Maruja Gutierrez-Diaz, Tremeur Denigot and François Jourde.
  • On 11 June 2020 about how to build a more sustainable economy in Europe, in the presence of Rune Meyer, Thomas Arnold, Laure Baillargeon, Bruno Mola and Céline Charveriat.
  • On 18 June 2020 on how to design a future mobility in Europe with Matthew Baldwin, Wouter Metzlar and, David Batchelor.

Bios of the speakers can be found below:

Maruja Gutierrez-Diaz is a former senior adviser in DG EAC who is a consultant on education and innovation.

Tremeur Denigot is helping the JRC to engage teachers in sustainable science activities to stimulate critical thinking and science literacy among their students.

Francois Jourde is responsible for digital education at the European Schools, as well being a lecturer in innovation and education technologies.

Rune Meyer: founder of The Circular Economy Club, which helps to accelerate startups with a circular economic business model, moving them from incomplete to complete, ready for their first round of investment. 

Thomas Arnold is Advisor for Sustainable Development Goals in DG Research and Innovation. He is committed to our big sustainability transformations, which are both at his heart and at the centre of his professional activities. He is one of the co-founders of the informal Doughnut4EU working group and is also engaged in EUStaff4Climate.

Laure Baillargeon works at DG GROW since 2007. She worked successively on eco-design of products, economic reforms (European Semester), policy coordination and strategic planning. Since 2018, she worked to launch two initiatives through the use of participatory meeting techniques: the Strategic Forum for Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) and the Circular Plastics Alliance.

Bruno Molat works in DG REGIO and is one of the architects of the EUStaff4Climate COVID-19 Solidarity Response fund. Several donations have already been awarded since the fund has been created only a couple of weeks ago.

Céline Charveriat is the Executive Director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, a sustainability think tank which produces evidence-based research and policy insight in the field of sustainable development and climate change. She began her career in Washington DC as a researcher at the Peterson Institute and the Inter-American Development Bank and worked for over 10 years with Oxfam International.

Matthew Baldwin is Deputy Director-General of DG MOVE and has been appointed as European Coordinator for road safety and sustainable mobility. He is also managing the Commission’s network of COVID-19 transport contact points. Previously, he was Director of Aviation in DG MOVE.

Wouter Metzlar is a managing consultant at Berenschot, where he advises governmental organizations and companies in the mobility and transport sectors on policy and strategy. He has worked on a broad range of topics, including governance of the railway sector, innovations such as the hyperloop and sustainable modes of transport.

David Batchelor is Chief Strategy & External Affairs at the SESAR Joint Undertaking, Europe’s research partnership to modernise air traffic management.  Previously he has worked in DG MOVE on aviation and environment, and was the European Union Observer to the ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection.

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