Thursday, September 30, 2010

Leadership Quality No. 3: The Courage to Rethink

Continuing on my leadership series, I discuss an aspect not well received by the media.
"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."
Whenever a politician changes their mind, the media and opposition politicos, pundits and bloggers howl "flip flop" or in the case of MPs like Belinda Stronach who switch parties in response to a change in thinking, either by the party or MP, "turncoats." Even worse we're seeing the losing politicians in a House vote declare the issue not over. When former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney held a free vote on capital punishment, his government lost. He gave a good "losing" speech and moved on. Contrast that with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent loss over the long-gun registry bill. Although it was clearly not a big issue (like 4 years to get the bill into Parliament, a private member's bill too), he declared on the steps that he would not rest until they got the long-gun registry cancelled. No moving on for him. The majority had spoken -- the NDP the only party to be truly democratic in its voting -- but Harper responded sulkily and defiantly to the opposition of his ideas. No wonder thinking in our governing chambers has become more superficial and short term.

The media and political watchers only exacerbate the problem with their desire for short sound bites; even Twitter tempts us to go for the easy black-and-white thought with its limit of 140 characters. Truly, it's no wonder deep thinking, which includes hearing and responding thought-fully to feedback, has been deep sixed in every one of our governments, municipal, provincial, and federal.

Yet minority governments and collaborative kinds as should occur in Toronto Council Chambers require a leader to hear feedback and to have the courage to change their minds or to incorporate portions of others' ideas to make their own policy better. For those who don't know, Toronto City Council is not supposed to have party politics (not that it stops the NDP from being overt in saying who their candidates are, the Liberals less so), and the Mayor does not have absolute last say, and so for Council to work well, the politicians have to respect and listen and respond well. Instead, we get petty bickering, rigid stances, mocking, and no incorporation of "the others'" ideas. And as we've seen, the House of Commons has degenerated into personal barbs and petty BS in response to legitimate questions or answers to the point that some question if school children should be exposed. A minority government no longer works as it did in the Pearson era when Canada got CPP (Canada Pension Plan for disability and retirement income), medicare, and the flag. None of these would have been possible without former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson being prepared to listen, respond to feedback, and work with people who had different ideas from himself. His minority government worked for the benefit of Canada. Harper's is the antithesis, where feedback is mocked in the House and on Twitter by his minions. There are days when I read MP Tony Clement's shallow, stupid thinking on the long-term census and am so disappointed in how he, a politician I considered capable, makes himself look like an idiot, literally.

Today, I think it would take an extremely courageous politician to say I was wrong on that issue, I've listened to the opposition, I think they have good ideas, and I'm going to change my mind because I think they're right, knowing full well they'll be piled on either by the media and pundits and/or constituents. But a good leader can do that and take it.

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Quality No. 1: Vision

Quality No. 2: Rousing

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