Culture, Greece and the EU

All this debate and talk about Greece and the EU has finally got me so upset that I felt compelled to write my thoughts about the situation.  I apologize in advance to my readers if this sounds like a tirade, but I think most of the debate is totally missing the point.

When you observe organizations and people long enough you realize that establishing new policies and procedures alone are not effective at bringing about real change inside a company.  And we see that happening in Greece, the lightening rod for all that is rotten in the EU.

Greece is in finanical meltdown not because of the financial policies of the EU but because of its own culture.  A culture of entitlement, greed, graft, and corruption at all levels. While the government is definitely corrupt and fiscally irresponsible, it doesn’t stop there. The culture of Greece is corrupt down to and including the worker level. Greece is not only financially bankrupt, it is morally bankrupt, and it’s a reflection of the culture.  You can blame government policies of buying votes with jobs and other corrupt and irresponsible practices that have created a “lazy, entitlement” culture in Greece, and that may be the cause, but new policies are not the solution. It’s now a culture problem.

Here are some of the elements of the Greek culture that the citizens believe are their “rights”! This is their culture:

  • Children inherit the pensions of their parents,
  • Greek MPs are paid 16 monthly salaries a year,
  • Bonuses are paid to civil servants for washing their hands,
  • University professors use EU research funds to buy cars and houses,
  • Greek ministries where only half the staff turn up for work, yet still get paid,
  • Luxury holidays for state employees,
  • 800 former politicians  received €80M in grants to “transition” back into the private sector
  • Immunity from the law for members of Parlialment
With all this abuse by the people, not to mention a world-class corrupt government, it’s no wonder the world is focusing its attention on Greece as a litmus test for the leaders of the EU.  Are they going to do something real or just give them more money?

The argument that a failure in Greece would risk a failure of the entire EU is akin to the argument that banks are too big to fail, and we’ve seen how that one has played out. Loans to small businesses dry up while bankers continue to get big bonuses from trading commisions (not real value creation).  So the EU pours more taxpayer money into the Greek “slush fund” they call their economy in order to avoid the real issue. Oh, I almost forgot, they agree to pass tougher laws and policies in exchange for the money. Fat chance that even if passed they will stick to the laws and policies.

To me the real issue is whether the EU is a common economy with a common set of rules or just a collection of nation states where a few countries play by the rules and the rest milk the system? Currently the EU looks a lot like an unsustainable and unholy union. And its leaders are totally ineffective at making positive change happen.  Sort of like the Board of Directors deciding on a new strategy and the rest of the company going about business as usual.  Lots of powerpoint slides and conferences but nothing changes.

The EU cannot regulate behavior any more than new company policies can change the way people behave inside a company.  Culture is stronger than policies.

Culture change takes  courageous leadership plus accountability on the part of citizens.

When the Greek people decide to become accountable and give up tax avoidance scams (like getting their Filipino servants to pose as tourists and “hire” their master’s yachts in order to avoid 23% VAT taxes by claiming the yachts are rented), and cheating the government at every turn, like not paying electricity or water bills for years, then change can begin.  And when real leaders with business acumen and moral compasses decide to run for public office only then will Greece be able to become a sustainable member in standing of the EU.  Until then the Greek culture is dragging everyone in the EU down with them.

My vote is to cut them off, oust them from the union for failing to comply with the rules. That way they will “have to change” because it is the only alternative available.  It may not be comparing like for like but I do remember when Brazil defaulted.  And now look at the zeal and entrepreneurial spirit of the Brazilian people, not to mention it’s roaring economy.  It’s not the end of the world to face the real music, but it can be the end of the old world of an unaccountable culture.

My father used to have a saying, “why buy a cow when the milk is free?”

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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