What I do know, however, is good leadership when I see it. I have read articles, columns and books on leadership, but I have no idea if the authors themselves were good leaders or not.
I suspect it is much easier to appreciate strong leadership than it is to understand it.
In my many years in the political arena, I have seen my share of mediocre, good and exceptional examples of leadership. We do know there are certain characteristics necessary for a leader to succeed: a good personality, ability, strong work ethic, knowledge, strategic thinking, recognition of good performance in others — the list could go on.
However, sometimes a leader can possess all of these attributes and still fall short. Brian Mulroney comes to mind. Mulroney was a strong leader who transformed Canada. He had rock solid support from his caucus and party, even in difficult circumstances. He faced enormous resistance, but negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States that truly transformed Canada.
Today, very few economists, business leaders and even trade union leaders would suggest we should cancel that agreement.
Mulroney had other successes, of course, but he had a flaw that will, in my opinion, forever tarnish his legacy: Hubris. Mulroney was unable to get Canadians to overlook his personality defects and concentrate on his accomplishments. As a result, he left his party in disarray, despite his obvious leadership skills.
My point is, strong leadership is a fragile balancing act. While I contend Mulroney’s strong leadership was tarnished by hubris, another political leader escaped that fate. Tommy Douglas, selected in a poll as the greatest Canadian, had Mulroney’s strong leadership qualities, but not his personality flaws.
By the sheer force of his personality and enormous dedication to the causes he espoused, Douglas succeeded in bringing universal Medicare to Canada.
I use these examples for a reason. I believe leadership can be called great only if it is transformational in nature. At the local level, we have a leader who has been recognized for his remarkable transformational skills.
Three years ago, the Laurentian University board of governors hired Dominic Giroux as the school’s president. We felt we needed a change agent and we got one.
Giroux, at a remarkably young age, transformed Laurentian into a leading university for an institution of its size.
He has exhibited transformational leadership skills and has made Laurentian a different and better place with a new School of Architecture, a new Schools of Mines and a very successful capital fundraising campaign, all in a very short period of time.
One person cannot do all of this alone, but Giroux has built a competent, hardworking and dedicated leadership team, which in itself requires strong leadership and vision.
Of course, all transformational leaders have their detractors, because change can be difficult and negatively impact some people.
In the end however, I admire these transformational leaders because it is always easier to provide leadership that maintains the status quo, but changes little.
So, when I read articles or books, or take part in discussions on leadership, I always look for clues as to what makes a leader a transformational one. The one constant seems to me to be an unwavering certainty and self-confidence that the right courses or strategies have been selected.
Floyd Laughren was the New Democrat MPP for Nickel Belt from 1971 to 1998 and finance minister and deputy premier in the Bob Rae government. Northern Life is publishing a series of weekly columns on the topic of leadership leading up to the city’s first Leadership Summit, Oct. 24-25.