Tag Archives: leadership principle

The meaning of leadership

You can find them in all walks of life, in all fields of endeavour. They seem to walk taller, though not necessarily speak louder, than the rest of us. They rarely shout, but they always inspire through their deeds and words.

They are the leaders among us.

I was reminded of this while reading a short piece in the Telegraph-Journal about Scott McCain, owner of the Saint John Sea Dogs, who addressed his team before a recent play-off game in Windsor, Ontario.

According to team forward Bokondji Imama, “He told us that he was already proud of us and that we’ve had a hell of a season, so that kind of gave us back our confidence. He said that whatever happens, he’s always going to be proud of us and he’s always going to love us.”

Added team captain Spencer Smallman: “He came in and just wanted to reassure us that from a organization standpoint, he had full confidence in us. He definitely psyched the boys up. It means so much. He’s a powerful guy. He’s right at the top, and none of this would be possible without him. We’re very grateful for him, and to hear those words and see it in his eyes how confident he is us, I think the confidence spread through the room.”

I know Scott McCain personally, and he has always struck me as a natural leader. But are leaders born or made? As U.S. business consultant Erica Andersen wrote in Forbes Magazine a few years ago, “What I’ve learned by observing thousands of people in business over the past 30 years, though, is that – like most things – leadership capability falls along a bell curve.  Some people are, indeed, born leaders.These folks at the top of the leadership bell curve start out very good, and tend to get even better as they go along. Then there are the folks at the bottom of the curve: that bottom 10-15 per cent of people who, no matter how hard they try, simply aren’t ever going to be very good leaders. They just don’t have the innate wiring.

“Then there’s the big middle of the curve, where the vast majority of us live. And that’s where the real potential for ‘made’ leaders lies. It’s what most of my interviewers assume isn’t true – when, in fact, it is: Most folks who start out with a modicum of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.”

This must be indisputably good news for New Brunswick and the rest of the Atlantic Provinces. It’s doubtful there’s ever been a time in the recent past of this region when good leaders have been in heavier demand. And the possibility that most of us, given the chance and under the right circumstances, can become the heroes of our lives is, frankly, comforting.

So then, what shall our leadership qualities look like? Think about Donald Trump’s nest of psychological predilections and reverse them.

Good leaders are not narcissists. They are empathizers, because to motivate people, they must understand what makes others tick.

Good leaders are not bullies. They are negotiators, because to get anything done well, they must inspire, not threaten or cajole.

Then there’s the usual shopping list of characteristics business magazines and related websites are fond of trotting out: honesty, confidence, the ability to delegate chores, passion, a sense of innovation, integrity, authenticity, patience, open-mindedness, determination, decisiveness.

We can observe genuine leaders in all sectors of our society – government, education, health care, the arts, business.

Just take some time and look closely.

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What is the measure of true leadership?

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If New Brunswick’s economic morass demonstrates anything it is that, as the province careens from one predictable trauma to another, true leadership is becoming as rare as snow in Sudan.

Worse, perhaps, than genuine ignorance, virtually everyone saw this wall of debt from a distance – the current government, previous ones, pundits, political scientists, my Great Aunt Minnie – and those who had the authority and tools to knock it down, instead, laid more brick and mortar.

Some years ago, during the depth of the financial crisis that, overnight, wiped out trillions of dollars in private equity, the sad spectacle of Alan Greenspan – the once mighty head of the U.S. Federal Reserve – admitting to a Congressional Committee that his once unshakeable faith in the planet’s economic order had been thoroughly undermined in just a few, short weeks was shocking, indeed.

Now, we almost expect our leaders and heros to reliably fail us. Across North America and Europe, unemployment remain stubbornly high, the income gap between the rich and the rest continues to widen, consumer debt is at an all-time high. The tent-angry 99 per cent have folded up their makeshift cities and gone home.

In fact, as bobble-headed experts inform us from their studio couches on TV the economic diseases which afflict us are so complex, so systemic, so globally entrenched that it’s unlikely any policy, of any so-called leader, can accurately prescribe a cure. So, the thinking goes, why bother even trying?

All of which cuts to the core of our current problem: A growing distrust not only of our existing cohort of movers and shakers, but of the leadership principle, itself. 

Unlike every other malignancy that’s spread through our ailing economy, this fretful cynicism forecasts the early death of our various bodies politic, if only because we now need a calibre of leadership we haven’t seen in decades: Talented men and women in all professions and vocations stepping forward and risking their reputations in the sea of scorn that’s sweeping the planet; tough-minded, innovative, perspicacious individuals charting newer, smarter, more sustainable courses for businesses, governments, schools, and universities in the years ahead.

And yet, the question is not so much who emerges to fill these roles, but how society regains its confidence in new leaders – the confidence to recognize those who are the real deals, and those who are the carnival barkers. Given how wrong almost everyone has been about almost everything over the past decade, it’s a brutally tough assignment; but it’s not impossible.

What, in fact, makes a true leader? Is it vision, passion, discipline, persistence? Is it strength, courage, loyalty, rhetorical flourish? These are all important traits. But while these qualities may be necessary for enlightened, trustworthy leadership, they are not necessarily sufficient.

Consider, for example, a man who “persistently” pursues short-term profits at the expense of long-term revenues. Or a women who “courageously” champions a policy, program or technology despite the fact that her competitors are manifestly more successful performing the same functions. Are these the leaders we need, or do they represent too much of what we already have in the boardrooms of the world’s Burger Kings and Tim Hortons?

In fact, the true measure of leadership on the precariously uneven playing field of the modern era will be knowledge, understanding, responsibility, and cooperation.

Knowledge of the way this province’s finances really work. Understanding of the means to achieve a productive balance between free enterprise principles and regulatory protections. Responsibility for getting to the truth of the threats – sooner rather than later that would injure our collective hopes, expectations and livelihoods.

And cooperation – always cooperation – not partisan hatcheting.

The notion that any man or woman owns the right to break the world as long as he or she is strong enough or smart enough to get away with it should have died along with the careers of Alan Greenspan and all his other Ayn Rand-loving ilk. 

Now, in this New Brunswick election cycle, we must look to ourselves for the leadership we seek, and become the heroes of our own lives.

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