LEADer/ In The Family

Photo by EPA

Photo by EPA


Manila, 19 September 2018 — It wasn’t just the content: notice how the setting and delivery of the State of the European Union speech offered ideas worth spreading?

Wherever you are in the world, State of the Union or Nation speeches in parliament tend to be highly formal occasions scripted to voice political intent from head of state of the ruling party. Commonly, the speaker will use high-powered oratory to impress the participants and viewers, and thereby underline the power of authority vested in him or her.

Having watched several such speeches made in world capitals like Washington, London, and Beijing, I was pleasantly surprised with the example set by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as he delivered his 2018 State of the European Union speech in Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament.

Observing his speech, you can spot a lot of remarkable differences from practice in some other places.

A Different Setting

Juncker chose to speak in an understated tone. It sounded more like a conversation than a major speech. He did not use a teleprompter. He did not raise his voice and there was no showmanship in evidence. Not much politics either.

He spoke from a lectern that was sitting directly on the floor, not on a raised podium, and situated in the middle of the almost completely circular seating arrangement of the members. He stood at the lowest point of the chamber.

During the speech, and regardless of simultaneous interpretation being available to all members through their earphones, Juncker shifted smoothly between three European languages, as if to make sure that the different parts of his message would come through clearly and easily to important audiences, ‘in their language.’

He started out with history, by referring to the challenges experienced by countries in Europe 100 years earlier, at the end of the First World War. And then reminded his audience why the formation of the European community and later union mattered greatly, at that time and now.

Purple Communication

Leaders I work with on mastering effective communications—Work In All Colors—and leadership styles—Lead In All Colors—will notice something familiar. The speech resembled a talk given by an elder to members of the group whose interests he respects, protects, and guards. A metaphor that comes to mind is that of the members of a vast extended family members getting together.

We refer to this kind of communication as having a Purple color. Juncker was using Purple to enact the so-called Tribe Leadership Style as he labored to bind the members of the European family around their common purpose, building on their shared traditions and values.

In fact, Juncker mentioned that working for the EU vision constituted the great love (affair) of his life. A choice of words that is rarely used in parliaments around the world when they chose to communicate in other styles (colors).

He acknowledged the parliamentarians present of the many steps they had already taken to advance initiatives put forward by the European Commission, and chided them gently, as a father would do, to get on with several areas where he saw progress was outstanding.

The day before his speech, the parliamentarians had for the first time adopted a resolution to put on notice one of the European family members, Hungary, for failing to meet its obligations. Juncker made suitable references to this, pointing to behaviors that we not acceptable ‘in the family.’


What color of language do you observe in the head of state’s annual speech to parliament in your country? Not just in the content, but in the setting and delivery?

What would be the need and the benefit of using the Purple ‘In the Family’ style in a parliamentary setting? And the shortcomings? What could be alternatives?

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