On Leadership — Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua

I am at home, after a great weekend with Alberta Party people from across the province.  I’ve spent the weekend among leaders, and I am thinking about leadership – servant leadership.

Two names and stories come quickly to mind:  Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua.  When the story is behind us, we remember Peter as a great leader and Premier of Alberta.  We remember Luis as the shift commander who was one of 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a Chilean mine.  I worked with Peter Lougheed, and the learning, character building experience was incredible.  I wish I could say that I know Luis Urzua personally.

We have important lessons to learn about leadership, and about ourselves, from Peter’s story and from Luis’s.

When Peter Lougheed was elected Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta in March, 1965, there were very few Albertans who would have called him charismatic.  He wasn’t an extrovert, he wasn’t a polished public speaker, and “working the crowd” didn’t come naturally to him.  It is fair to say that, two years later, when he and five other Progressive Conservative candidates were elected as Members of the Legislative Assembly, not one of the other five was elected because Peter Lougheed was Leader of the Party.  Dr. Hugh Horner, Lou Hyndman, Don Getty, Len Werry, and David Russell were all elected because they were well-known, active, solid, respected leaders in the local community.  They had enthusiastic local supporters and great local organization.  When voters in these five constituencies looked past their local P.C. candidate at the new Leader, they weren’t looking for a reason to vote P.C.; they were looking for confirmation that the provincial Leader wouldn’t be a drag on the local candidate they respected.

In the spirit of the old model of politics, the problem with wanting the next leader (of any party) to be charismatic is that ‘charisma’ is a superficial reference to the kind of character that is revealed in building strong teams, dealing with wicked problems, enduring losses and savouring significant accomplishments.  Peter had charisma in 1965, but I don’t think it was apparent to the public at that time.  I suspect that most of the people who might have been looking for a charismatic leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1965 might have chosen another candidate, if one was available.  What seems so obvious about Peter’s leadership, after the fact, was not at all clear, except to a small group of people, at the beginning of the story.

To understand this more, we should consider the story of Luis Urzua.

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