My Kind of Canada – Where Leaders Behave

Today, one day after an historically small proportion of Canadians participated in a decision to preserve the status quo, it would seem we have officially arrived at gridlock. 

grid·lock n. 1. A traffic jam in which no vehicular movement is possible, especially one caused by the blockage of key intersections within a grid of streets. 2. A complete lack of movement or progress resulting in a backup or stagnation.

Some might lament the residual effect of old scandals, or successive minority parliaments, or even the emergence regionalized political parties.  Others might blame voter apathy, a lacklustre civil service, or a profound breakdown in trust that is impossible to attribute to any single cause.  But most would probably agree that we’ve arrived here as a result of a combination of these factors. 

Somehow, I don’t think it needs to be this complicated, and I wonder whether we may all be missing the point entirely… 

Ask yourself what kind of Canada you want.  Are you confident you have the knowledge and expertise to state without hesitation precisely what is best for us all?  Are you sure you really know how to achieve peace, prosperity and justice at home and abroad?  Do you understand the complex traditions of parliamentary procedure and the intricacies of Canada’s machinery of government?  Could you articulate in detail exactly what changes are necessary and would you be equipped to make the right decisions at every step of the way – without the benefit of a diversity of perspectives or careful and thoughtful analysis? 

Probably not. 

And yet this is exactly what we have come to expect from our leaders.  We have become too easily impressed by a show of knowledge, dazzled by a flash of feigned expertise and even distracted by seemingly authoritative policy platforms.  It’s all about the issues we think, and about making sure we align ourselves behind an agenda we can relate to or support the representative who shares our view of the world.   We’ve been very busy dutifully considering pros and cons, studying up on complex questions of science, economics or culture, and furiously speculating about the possible impact of a strategic vote.   We have come to accept the premise that we too must know it all, and that if we take our citizenship seriously, an election should be a rational, rigorous intellectual process.  To vote on instinct, without all of the relevant information, has become antithetical to how we operate as a society – and places too much emphasis on personality. 

I disagree.  I think too narrow a focus on the correctness of any given idea leaves us blind to the critical question of leadership.  

Leaders Who Behave!

Leadership isn’t about how sharp or quick a person is.  It shouldn’t be about subject matter expertise or the precise details of a plan.   Instead, we voters should place our trust in leaders who we believe will do the right thing, regardless of circumstance or rhetoric. Our judgements should be made on the quality and character of an individual’s behaviour rather than the breadth or depth of their knowledge, and our evaluation of their performance should be based on how well the behavioural attributes of leadership have been demonstrated. 

How open is their mind?  How well do they listen? How would they act in the face of a difficult challenge? How well is conflict understood, and how is it managed? How are interests balanced when making a decision?  Once a decision is made, how transparent are the reasons for it, and how well are they communicated?  Most of all, how well are suggestions treated and what exactly will a leader do with them?

An emphasis on behaviour over knowledge is by no means a new idea.  The notion of behavioural competency assessment is about as established as it gets in the world of human resources management, and anyone who has been through a “behavioural interview” can attest to their revealing nature. 

When filling a job, managers who want to distinguish between equally qualified candidates will pose the same hypothetical “what did/would you do?” question to each individual.  In doing so, the manager can much better gauge a candidate’s capacity to problem solve through analysis, judgement and flexibility.  At the end of the interview process, a manager makes a subjective decision about “fit”, based on instinct and informed by personal and organizational values.

Change the Questions We Ask:

If this approach can apply to each other, then why not to our leaders – especially at election time?  Next time around, whether it be the national televised debate or a chance encounter at a coffee shop, here are a few questions to ask.  Maybe you’ve heard them before… 

♦ Give an example of a time when you could not participate in a discussion or could not finish a task because you did not have enough information.  

♦ Tell me about a specific occasion when you conformed to a policy even though you did not agree with it. 

♦ Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to gain information needed to solve a problem; then tell me how you analyzed the information and came to a decision. 

♦ Describe a situation in which you were able to read another person effectively and guide your actions by your understanding of his/her individual needs or values.

♦ Describe the most creative work-related project you have completed.

♦ Give me an example of a time when you had to analyze another person carefully or a situation in order to be effective in guiding your action or decision.

♦ What did you do in your last job to contribute toward a teamwork environment? Be specific.

♦ Give me an example of a problem you faced on the job, and tell me how you solved it.

♦ Describe a situation in which you were able to positively influence the actions of others in a desired direction.

♦ Tell me about a situation in the past year in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.

So What Kind of Canada Do I Want?

My Canada is a place where we don’t simply respect our differences, we try to understand them.   It is a place where we recognize that a diversity of experiences and perspectives, combined through genuine collaboration, can fuel innovation and drive change.   It is a place where our hearts and minds are receptive to new possibilities, where ideas are welcomed and nurtured, and where bold actions are celebrated. 

My Canada is also a place where kind and constructive honesty between people is more valued than perceived politeness, where we dig deep to uncover the source of our disagreements and where our efforts to come to real and lasting resolution are sincere.  Most of all, in my Canada we have the courage to do things differently, the integrity to confront our mistakes and the sensitivity to learn from them. 

This is the kind of behaviour I expect of leaders in the face of very real challenges, regardless of where I might stand on the issues. 

In my kind of Canada, this is kind of leadership that will earn my trust.


Beaver image from here
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