Monday, August 09, 2010

Missing in Action: Leadership in Canada

When I was young and brash, I began work at a large government corporation. I was far down the pecking order from the top of the management tree, yet I learnt much about leadership when a new senior VP came breezing in.

Before he arrived, it was like any other office in my small experience: gossipy, hierarchical, patriarchal, stale, hating change, no humour, no creativity or thinking outside the box. With my very dry sense of humour and constant need to try new things, to say I was not popular is an understatement. So I was surprised when I felt the atmosphere in the office start shifting towards co-operative and away from combative; I was not quite so out in the cold. It was like someone had opened a dusty, stained window, and the sun blazed in for the first time. New ideas blew in along with the light; excitement energized the air. People were less at each other's throats, and clique boundaries faded from black.

I checked in with the secretaries and heard a new guy had arrived in the top echelons. This was confirmed when a request came from on high for me to create an organizational chart, representing the new way, on my computer for a big meeting or conference or something. Once I got over the shock that some big wig several layers above me knew of my existence, I plunged in. My job had morphed, ever so briefly, from constant fighting with some who hated me for the change I represented and with the IT department to give me a computer that worked to working with the larger team towards one united goal. I may've been a small cog but I felt important.

And that -- what that man did to that corporation and to workers like me -- is leadership.

It is not present in Canada at the highest levels of governance anymore.

I've been mulling over leadership for some time, and with hearing that Laureen Harper is telling would-be supporters that we will have a federal election in the Fall, I thought the time was now to write about it.

To me, good leadership is about ideas, thoughtfulness, EQ (emotional quotient), and a desire to better the human condition. Good leadership begins with a great vision that excites people and improves their lives, their society in some way. Good leadership rouses people, even the littlest people, to work towards that vision and makes it a common goal. Good leadership hears feedback and is not afraid to rethink and incorporate it into the vision or, conversely, to stick to the course and know which is best. Good leadership draws people together, makes them want to work together towards making that vision a reality. Good leadership breaks down barriers between people, helps them see each other as fellow human beings. Good leadership finds a place for each person, even if it is creating one page in an encyclopedia or sweeping up all the drafts from the floor. Good leadership takes into account every human being under their responsibility and asks themself, does this vision include the most vulnerable, does the turning of it into reality harm them or help them; it always works to inclusion and helping improve lives, all lives. Good leadership eschews ideology and trends in favour of creativity, practicality, ingenuity. It's not afraid of knowledge and learning from others. And in the end, good leadership leaves a place or country in better shape.

Over the next few weeks, I will talk about each of these aspects. Right now, I don't know about you, but I don't see any or very few of these in Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in some of Toronto's mayoralty candidates, and (not quite so bad) in Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. I can't speak to the other provincial Premiers, but I'd be interested in hearing from you what you think of your own Premiers.

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