Archive for the ‘Servant leadership’ Category

That wasn’t fear, that was rejection — Some thoughts about language

April 24, 2012

If we want a new model of politics and democracy in Alberta, we need to start by changing our language.

1. My friend Paul McLaughlin is quoted in a CBC story, which read: —
“‘Fear won out over anger,’ Paul McLoughlin, who writes the Alberta Scan newsletter, told the CBC radio show Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday morning, referring to “bozo eruptions” from two Wildrose candidates as well as Smith’s waffling on the reasons for climate change.”

Respectfully, I disagree. It seems to me that Alberta’s self-confidence won out over anger. As soon as the WRP emerged as the prospective alternative to the P.C.s, many Albertans decided they simply wouldn’t wear the mantle of a Wild Rose government for four years — given that it was presenting itself as “firewall favouring”, “ready to go it alone”, “climate change denying”, unconcerned about human rights… In fact, none of these trigger phrases may be fair comment about the Wild Rose Party, but they came up, often from within the Party itself, and the party didn’t (or couldn’t) make things right. Given that the campaign wrapped up offering a choice between punishing the Tories or asserting self-confidence about themselves and the future, Albertans chose to assert self-confidence.

There is a world of difference between saying that Monday’s election was dominated by fear and recognizing that it was dominated by a determination to avoid the chains of smallness, isolation, incivility, and victimization.

At the same time, 1,000s of Albertans are angry, and the anger has only been suspended. The new Tory government has work to do.

2. Let’s do ourselves — and Premier Redford — a favour. Let’s not refer to our government as the “Redford government”. Let’s promote the idea that we elected a team of M.L.A.s, and that every member of the team is responsible for what happens in the next 4 years, and will be held accountable. Let’s encourage every M.L.A. to have the courage to speak the truth they know. Let’s encourage Premier Redford to move away from the recent history of Paramount Leaders and — with her colleague M.L.A.s — into the arena of servant leadership.

3. The Globe and Mail quotes Ms. Smith as saying, “Ms. Redford won her (P.C.) leadership on the basis of getting Liberal and N.D.P. supporters to vote for her at the leadership, and clearly she did the same thing tonight (April 23rd).”

Respectfully, all party membership is infinitesimally small. Ms. Redford would not have won the P.C. leadership if every single card carrying member of every “left” party — but no one else — had joined the P.C.s to vote for her. If Ms. Smith meant that Ms. Redford had the support of 1,000s of Albertans who are sympathetic to social justice, economic opportunity, inclusion and optimism about Alberta’s future, then Ms. Smith is probably right in her assertion. But the way she phrased it leaves the impression that she was trying to use party labels to demonize “wrong-minded Albertans”, the same Albertans whose support she will want to encourage in the next 4 years.

The additional problem is that the Wild Rose Party cannot look strong, self-confident and committed to democracy when it is simultaneously blaming others for a defeat engineered by a conspiracy. The Wild Rose Party is not a victim.

4. Rejection, in politics, need not be permanent, and it need not be negative. Some of our most important lessons are learned from failure, especially when we change our ways.

Certainly, there are many politicians who know that acceptance is often not very long-lasting, and Tories should know that it doesn’t mean approval. To say that the Wild Rose Party was substantially rejected on April 23rd doesn’t marginalize them, or their work or their prospects. All parties must seek to understand the election results and use them as a springboard to more demonstrable respect for all voters, and more powerful engagement with voters.

Years from now the 2012 election in Alberta will be remembered as the watershed election. Moving on, we need to change our language to express our greater hope, our higher expectations, and our commitment to engage, together.


Left or right — Looking the wrong way at the Alberta election

April 22, 2012

The Edmonton Journal (Saturday, April 21st, 2012) carried a column with an interesting headline: Divided Left Wasted Glorious Opportunity. (here)

The columnist is missing the great story about the election — the emerging story about the future of politics in Alberta. The headline is firmly grounded in the past.

The historic description of politics as being left or right originated in France more than 200 years ago. The description is irrelevant to politics today. We have fiscal conservatives who are social liberals. We have religious conservatives who are civil libertarians. The terminology is almost meaningless: it will be completely meaningless by the time the next provincial general election rolls around.

It is quaint and unproductive to think of the left, or the right, coalescing. Such coalitions are irrelevant in the face of an even greater change that is coming.

The dominant model of electoral politics — the adversarial party model, dominated by paramount leaders — is almost unworkable, it is becoming more unworkable every day, and it cannot be redeemed. Given changed attitudes, values, and expectations, and changes in technology, and many other changes, the electoral-party model we understand is already being abandoned by many, including many people who have already abandoned old-style parties in favour of something different and more promising.

The ill effect of “uniting the left” can be considered in light of the alternative — uniting the right. At the moment, it is quite likely that either the Wild Rose Party or the P.C. Party will have the most seats after the election. The same thinking that promotes uniting the left would promote a coalition of the Wild Rose and P.C. parties — and that is very likely to happen. Strategic voting for the P.C.s, in order to “block” the Wild Rose, increases the likelihood that the “hard right” will dominate both parties, seek to combine in some formal way (as happened federally) and dominate the government for the next four years. (Which might not be as bad an outcome as its detractors might fear: the “hard right” is as amorphous, internally conflicted, ideologically paralyzed and tension filled as is the “hard left”.)

One of the major problems of the existing party system is precisely that all the historic parties are implicated, even the ones that have never been the government. For comparison, think of the N.H.L. Every team in the N.H.L. buys into the culture of the N.H.L., even if they finish last in the league, because they benefit from revenue sharing and the small patronage that is thrown their way (for example, first pick in the draft). Similarly, opposition parties that have been around for a long time adopt the dominant political culture and conventions, insist on hanging on to the names and chants that were storied long ago, and play by the rules in the hope that, next year, they will win the Cup.

Thousands of Albertans are joining new political organizations, because they have a new vision of what can be, a new vision of what politics can accomplish, and new ideas about how to do politics. They imagine the emergence of true democracy, from the ground up, rather than what is called “subsidiarity” — decisions made as close as possible to the grassroots, and it is the paramount leader at the top who decides how close to the grassroots the decisions get made.

For these Albertans, uniting the left is a trivial goal, because the terminology is meaningless and counterproductive. For these Albertans, getting behind one of the “outs” in order to put an “out” in, is simply delaying what needs to be done. The Liberal Party, for example, is every bit as committed to the idea of the paramount Leader as is the Wild Rose Party or the Progressive Conservative Party.

People who really believe that the old style of politics has failed beyond repair, people who really value the opportunities facing Alberta, people who really believe in working with neighbours to make good things happen — these people will look past the well-established parties. They will look at the new organizations that are trying to do politics differently. They will look at the organizations that put their emphasis on the local candidate rather than the provincial leader. They will look at the organizations that make candidates accountable to the constituency rather than to the paramount leader. They will look at the candidates who:
• present themselves as whole people who are prepared to be the servants of those who elect them;
• are trying to be collaborative, rather than confrontational;
• are trying to be inclusive, rather than exclusive and divisive;
• are evidence-based decision-makers, rather than ideologues.

Uniting the left… how passe. Let’s unite the cooperators, the innovators, the doers, the compassionate, the justice-seeking, the respectful. And let’s invent a new and more fruitful way of practicing democracy without an obsessive unhealthy attention to electoral success.

Democratic Reform — can’t we be more upbeat?

April 11, 2012

“Democratic reform” is a term that doesn’t often excite most citizens. And most citizens view those excited by democratic reform as having a masochistic streak.

The term makes it sound as though we have failed, or have at least let our democracy fall into disrepair. The term suggests that we need to redeem the status quo with some pretty serious restoration or some incrementtal improvements, to get us back on track.

Let’s shift our focus. Instead of thinking about “reform”, why don’t we think about AiD — an “Adventure in Democracy”.

The democracy we are familiar with is essentially 175 – 200 years old. It’s held up pretty well in the face of immense technological and social changes. It’s time for us to adopt a more modern view of democracy itself, at which point the challenge is not to cut out the corrupt, or restore the familiar, or make incremental improvements to the status quo.

The way our political mechanisms work reflects the pre-democratic conviction that sovereignty flows from the top down — citizens are not really moral enough, or educated enough, or social enough to really participate in the decision-making process, so we should only allow limited citizen participation (consultations, and advisory boards, and letter-writing, etc.) and leave the decision-making to the ‘proper authorities’, the elected representatives who have become moral enough, or educated enough, or social enough through the experience of being elected (or perhaps, through the experience of belonging to a party that does their thinking for them).

There is a model of government called “subsidiarity”, which says that decisions should be made as close as possible to the people who will live with them, and the person or people at the very top should decide exactly where decisions are made. Democracy represents a model of government in which decisions are made as close as possible to the people who will live with them, and the people who will live with them decide exactly where decisions are made.

Every Albertan is also a Canadian, and also a citizen of a city, town, or village, or rural municipality. It is not for the government of Canada to decide how the decision-making pie is sliced, and it is not for the government of Alberta to make that decision, and it is not for our local council to make that decision. All of these elected representatives are our servants, and they must let citizens decide which servant will do which work.

We don’t need to reform democracy, in order to improve on the status quo, or correct our previous errors.

We need to think of democracy as an adventure into unknown — and incredibly rich — territory. We shouldn’t think of our work as ‘reform’, and the drudgery that needs to be done ‘to clean up’. We should think about creation and invention, faithful to the ideas of:
• freedom from tyranny (and from being a tyrant);
• harmony
• the rule of law;
• natural equality;
• citizen wisdom; and
• education; and,
• forward-looking wisdom without certain knowledge.
(my thanks again to Paul Woodruff).

Particularly at this time, we don’t want politicians telling us how they would ‘reform’ the system. Left to their own devices, that could prove to be very self-serving. We should welcome input from every candidate and every party, but now is the time that citizens should claim the primary role of inventor of the democracy to come.

The sky’s the limit for good ideas — great ideas. However we have arrived at the felt need to do good work to promote democracy, let’s make the most of the opportunity.

To promote the conversation, think of
• the electoral process, including how we choose our representatives (first past the post, or proportional representation, or some other means); who is entitled to vote; means of representative accountability (such as recall);
• the role and organization of parties; campaigning, including financing elections, advertising, using new technology (robo-calls);
• the role and organization of the Legislative Assembly and the role and organization of caucus (including party discipline); the purpose of Committees; the Officers of the Legislative Assembly, setting M.L.A. pay;
• citizen participation (citizen initiatives) and decision-making (for example, when the Constitution of Alberta is amended [yes, there is a Constitution of Alberta]) — Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, and whiste-blower legislation.

One of the choices available to Albertans in this election is to be the last out of the past as far as democratic processes are concerned (the most sophisticated expression of the old way of doing politics), or we can be first into the future, exploring 21st century ways of living democracy.

Alberta’s current election is about local government as well as provincial government

April 11, 2012

In many circumstances, and on many occasions, local government is more important to citizens than is the provincial government. EXCEPT..

The provincial government frames everything that local government can or cannot do.

Between now and April 23rd, Alberta’s voters should spend a lot of time thinking about their property tax bill, the condition of streets and cul-de-sacs, appropriate policing, municipal parks, local infra-structure to support a strong local economy, and the list goes on… What your municipal council is able to do depends a lot on the largess of the provincial government.

The relationship between the provincial government and local government is outmoded and dysfunctional. Citizens bear the brunt of this reality, in terms of: service limitations; taxes that pay for questionable supervision and layers of management, instead of service; the cost of lost opportunities; and, (dis-)satisfaction. Whether the service is provided locally or provincially, the same taxpayer pays for it all. Whether the elected representative serves locally or provincially, they are servant of the same citizen. The citizen is no richer or smarter on the day s/he votes for a provincial representative than on the day s/he votes for a local representative.

For the good of us all, the relationship between our local government (community) and our provincial government (community) needs to be re-framed. We won’t get specific programs or policies right until we have the framework right.

There is a good argument to be made that local government is more important to our well-being than is the provincial or federal government. It is certainly true that local government has more seniority (it’s been around longer), is closer to citizens, and operates in a more organic (natural) way than does the provincial or federal government. Local government appears to have an advantage, as well, in operating without the oppressive conformity of the party system.

It is not helpful to have a provincial government that approaches its relationship with local government in a patronizing way.

Voters should go to (here) for some thoughtful discussion starters about the relationship between local government and the provincial government. Mayor Nenshi offers a city perspective. Almost everything on the site is just as relevant to towns, villages, and rural municipalities (perhaps with slight modification). The relevant party positions are consolidated and provide a good basis for voters to start a conversation with candidates. Party positions should be read with a watchful eye for patronizing language, a predisposition to the provincial agenda rather than local agendas, and a fixation on quantities and means rather than quality and ends.

Full disclosure. I think the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta had the most comprehensive and modern take on the relationship, about five years ago. I worked with the public school trustees who developed the ideas, so I have a vested interest in the model they adopted.

1. Local government is (at least) as important to citizens as is the provincial government. Ask your candidates if s/he believes this.

2. The relationship between the provincial government and local government should be treated as a respectful partnership. When such a partnership works well, individual citizens benefit: so does the local community and the provincial community. Each partner has something vital to contribute, and it is not for the provincial government alone to decide, or change, the terms of the partnership. Ask your candidates if they believe the respectful partnership should be embodied in a written covenant — a local government charter?

3. A local government charter should structure the relationship of every municipality with the provincial government. There may be different provisions differently applied, to recognize very different circumstances but, Mayor Nenshi, while I love Calgary and Edmonton, I think Lethbridge, and Hinton and Provost — and all other municipalities — are just as entitled to certainty in their relationship with the provincial government as are the two big cities.) Ask your candidates is they believe every municipality should have the benefit — and the responsibility — of a local government charter.

4. The terms of the partnership should be determined, and amended, by Albertans (who are citizens of both the province and the local municipality). Citizens might reasonably be concerned, even if the provincial government agrees to a local government charter, that such a charter might be developed unilaterally, even after ‘consultations” with local government. (How many times have we heard citizens say, “The government invited us to talk, but they sure didn’t listen.”) Perhaps the wise government would make a commitment that a local government charter will be jointly developed, and will not be enacted unless a) the AUMA and the AAMD&C formally agree to it; or, b) the people of Alberta decide, in a referendum where they have a choice between the local government charter preferred by the provincial government and the one preferred by locally elected representatives. Perhaps citizens should put the politicians on a strict deadline. For example, perhaps if there isn’t agreement on a local government charter within three years, the citizens will choose one or the other. Ask your candidates is they agree with the idea of joint development of a local government charter, and citizen endorsement.

5. Thereafter, a conventional piece of provincial legislation can be easily and unilaterally amended at any time in the future. In other words, even a local government charter could evolve over time to embody a provincial government’s very patronizing outlook. Perhaps a wise provincial government would make a commitment that a local government charter, once adopted, would not be amended except with the agreement of Albertans, in a referendum. Ask your candidates is the agree that the provincial government should not be able to amend a local government charter unilaterally.

On a visit to Claresholm a few years ago I passed a big billboard alongside the highway. The message was: “Less Ottawa, more Alberta.” The sponsor was mixing apples and oranges, rejecting the distant politicians and mandarins in favour of the nearer community. Today the message might well read: Less Edmonton more Claresholm”. I believe in Alberta. Alongside many Albertans, I worked for 40 years to make a success of our province. I believe that, in the past 20 years, we have weakened local communities and weakened Alberta at the same time. There are ways to make our communities stronger and thereby make our community of communities stronger. This election is about the future of villages, towns, and cities — it is about the future of local communities, as much as it is about the future of Alberta.

(Next, revenue sharing.)

Conscience Rights — with thanks to Graham Thomson and Danielle Smith

April 10, 2012

Alberta is in the midst of a great election campaign. Voters and the media are talking to each other, and listening to each other, and sometimes politicians join the conversation. Ideas are being tested, and sometimes changing, and all of us are being informed.

Graham Thomson’s column in today’s Edmonton Journal is a good example (see previous post).

His exchange with Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith provides some clarification about positions. The exchange also raises further questions.

Ms. Smith seems to be downplaying conscience rights as a matter of much concern for voters. Her argument is that the mechanics of operationalizing conscience rights make them more theoretical than real.

But, a provincial government could always use the “Notwithstanding” provision of the Charter (section 33) to override the Saskatchewan decision. Professional codes of conduct are always subject to provincial law, so the issue for government — and for voters — is not whether the government needs to get involved. The issue is whether the government wants to get involved.

As Ms. Smith makes clear, she is most often going to follow the direction set by her Party. If the Wild Rose party forms the government, as they have these wide-open conversations and set the direction for the government and the province, what arguments will Ms. Smith bring to the table, about ends. She says she is not going to be pre-emptory, and I accept that. But she is also not going to be silent — at least, I hope not. What personal leadership will she offer?

With all of her ‘clarification’ about process, Ms. Smith has not been any more clear about whether she herself favours or is opposed to legislating conscience rights. In the absence of any clear statement from her about her personal position, we have to believe that she would accept and implement whatever the Party decides. If the Party can find a way of overcoming the Saskatchewan decision, where would Ms. Smith go with conscience rights? If the Party decides to explore invoking the “Notwithstanding” clause, where would Ms. Smith stand on that issue, and then where would she go with conscience rights?

Grahams, give her another call.

Smith’s learning to adjust (Edmonton Journal, 10 Apr 2012, PageA12)

April 10, 2012

Smith’s learning to adjust
GRAHAM THOMSON gthomson@edmontonjournal. com
Edmonton Journal
10 Apr 2012

If public opinion polls are correct and Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford is piloting the political equivalent of the Titanic, the Wildrose Party is the iceberg and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is the tip bobbing telegenically on the…read more…

Tech Tags:

A life well lived — thank you Earl

April 3, 2012

On Thursday afternoon, at 2:00 p.m., at Strathcona Baptist Church, there will be a celebration of the life of Dr. Earl Hawkesworth, who died last week at the age of 96.

So many death notices convey the same information, and we are unmindful, unless the person is family, or a friend, or currently in the news.

Earl’s passing should be noted by all Albertans, for two reasons.

Thirty-five years ago he was Deputy Minister of Education (1971 – 1982). Prior to that he had been a superintendent, school principal, and classroom teacher. He led a wonderful life, and he was at the centre of many educational developments that have stood Alberta in good stead for years.

He was also a great representative of a model of public service that is far too scarce in this day and age. It is appropriate, in the middle of an election campaign, to remember and honour the importance of the public service to the success of our political process and representatives. It is important to consider the appropriate relationship of the public service to the politicians — if the public interest is to be well served.

In 1971 — the last time the government changed in Alberta — the incoming Progressive Conservatives ‘inherited’ a very professional public service, with a reputation for integrity, independent and expert advice, and a deliberate and careful partisan neutrality. Alberta’s public service was well regarded around the world. Public servants came here from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia to understand the workings of the Energy Resources Conservation Board (led by Dr. Govier). Thailand modelled its secondary school system on Alberta’s junior and senior high schools. There were many other examples of Alberta’s public service having a world-wide reputation.

There were, undoubtedly, many reasons for this. Some of them stand out in my mind.

1. Public service, like elected office, was thought of as a vocation. The rewards were not primarily monetary, for M.L.A.s or for Deputy Ministers. No one argued that the pay and benefits had to be atmospheric in order to attract the best and the brightest.
2. Senior public servants were forbidden to belong to a political party (not the government party and not any other), and they were discouraged from attending or participating in partisan political events. No one argued that the Deputy should be at the Minister’s campaign headquarters on election night, or that senior managers should “cut some slack” for juniors in the department who wanted to moonlight on the governing party’s campaigns.
3. Public servants were expected to give honest advice, and the best possible advice, to Ministers. There was no ‘gilding the lily’, or giving the Minister what s/he wanted in preference to the best possible advice. Advice was evidence and experience based, not ideologically driven. In any case, the Minister was responsible for the decision, and the Department would make the Minister’s decision work.
4. Politicians made political statements, and answered questions about politics and policy. Departmental communications people made statements about administration and expert knowledge.
5. Deputy’s were, first of all, experts in the work of the department, and then they were systems managers. Forty years ago, no one argued that deputies would serve the government better if they were management specialists, without deep knowledge of the department’s work.

Earl was my Deputy Minister for the first two years I was Minister of Education. He was a man of deep integrity. He loved the effect of education on students, opening them up to the world, revealing attitudes, talents and skills that made for good people and good citizens. He had a deep respect for teachers and for teaching, partly because he had done it and knew it isn’t easy. He believed deeply in public service and in the common wealth. He treated everyone with respect. He had a gentle personality, and a good sense of humour, and a backbone of steel. Initially, he was one of my many mentors. We became friends. If he thought I was making a mistake, or doing wrong (and they are two different things), he was clear and direct, but he didn’t harangue. When his views were known it was for the Minister to make the decision. (I think that, if I’d gone far astray, Earl would have resigned.)

During the time that Earl was Deputy the government initiated Early Childhood Services, bi-lingual education, special education programs, Native education programs, Designated Community Schools, and many other initiatives. He oversaw the end of Departmental examinations (in 1972 – ’72), and then laid the groundwork for Diploma Exams and Provincial Achievement Tests eight years later. (My standard defense is that Provincial Achievement Tests today are a perversion of what was intended 30 years ago.)

Earl was a great man, and a great standard-bearer for the public service of that day. As we celebrate his life, we might pause for a moment to think about what kind of public service we want in the future, and how we want our public service to relate to our political representatives.

Contempt of Parliament is contempt for Canadians

April 7, 2011

Canadians often express cynicism about politicians.  The cynicism is at least partly responsible for a low voter turnout in elections – including federal elections.  We should look in the mirror.

The current federal election campaign is the direct result of the Conservative government having been found in contempt of Parliament, and rejected for its contempt.  This has never happened before in the 145 year life of our country.

Most Canadians seem unconcerned.  Perhaps some of us take a quiet satisfaction in the reality that Stephen Harper thinks pretty much the same thing we do about the goings on in the House of Commons.  After all, isn’t cynicism about politicians pretty much the same thing as contempt of Parliament.  Isn’t Prime Minister Harper just treating Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Ducette the same way we do in many of our conversations?  And deservedly so?

As Canadians, we need to think this through very carefully.  Important matters are at stake.

It’s true, politicians are sometimes (often?) too full of themselves.  Parties and the House of Commons are sometimes pre-occupied with their institutional selves, and partisanship.  They forget the people they are meant to serve.  But we – citizens – should never forget that every M.P. sits in the House of Commons as our servant – our agent.

Hundreds of years ago the idea of contempt of Parliament was a hard-won acknowledgement by someone with dictatorial powers (the King) that he (and his government) could not rule without the consent of the people’s representative, and he had to treat the people’s representatives with respect (the opposite of contempt) even if he disagreed with them.  Among other hard fought victories, the King and the government agreed that they had to tell the truth to the representatives of the people.  There had to be full and timely disclosure.

Today Mr. Harper is saying – if I may paraphrase, “We Conservatives can treat most of the representatives of the Canadian electorate with contempt and govern in that mode.”  If we Canadians accept that a government can withhold information, and dissemble, no matter what Parliament commands, then we accept contempt of Parliament, we accept the premise of dictatorship.  We accept contempt of Canadians.

Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, and Gilles Duceppe are sometimes too full of themselves.  Sometimes they and their colleagues are too partisan.  Each one of them has platform planks that make me groan, or cause me worry about the future of Canada.  All of that is true of Mr. Harper, as well.

But, the core reality is that every Member of Parliament is elected as the representative of Canadians.  Whether I agree with Mr. Layton’s electors, or Mr. Ignatieff’s electors, or even Mr. Duceppe’s electors, they are my fellow Canadians.  We are all in this together.  When a government treats Parliament with contempt it is treating every Canadian with contempt.  When a government excuses contempt by falling back on partisanship, it is simply saying that it has no aspirations that drive its values – those values are not being driven upward:  they are on a downward spiral.

Perhaps we are unconcerned about these circumstances because our own M.P. was a Conservative.  Perhaps we are still pre-occupied with the cheap shots that we remember other parties dishing out in days gone by.  Perhaps we think that turnabout is fair play.

But it isn’t.  Football is not better if we tolerate and try to forget the cheap, vicious shot from the home team while booing the same kind of cheap shot from the visitors.  Coaches, players and teams are penalized for such performance.  The game on the field suffers and the reputation of the game suffers.

If we don’t care about democracy, and if we are satisfied to be treated with contempt by our government we will first get mediocre government and then we will get bad government.  We don’t even need to vote.

On Leadership — Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua (Part 3)

April 6, 2011

MacGregor Burns wrote a great book on Leadership.  He made two important arguments that many have since adopted.

Burns proposed that there are three stages of leadership:  transmissional; transactional; and transformational.  Transmissional leadership is Joe Stalin (or the boss) saying, “Do this or I will fire you (or worse).”  Transactional leadership is Stephen Harper saying “If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.”  Transformational leadership is Nelson Mandela saying, “We are going to recreate South Africa as the rainbow nation and each of us, whether black, or white, or mixed race, is going to be transformed – different in the result than we are now and in some important way, better off.”

Burns argued that both transmissional and transactional leadership are insufficient and inherently undermine democracy.  He thought that transformational leadership is essential and inevitable (but perhaps not imminent).

The second important insight that Burns had was that “leadership” is not really the label for the characteristics of the person who is the leader.  It is really the label for the characteristics of the relationship between the ‘Leader’ and the ‘followers’.  Burns characterized progress as being like a ricocheting bundle of energy that bounces back and forth between parallel rails ascending upward.  As Gandhi is reputed to have said:  “Sometimes I am the leader of my people; and sometimes they lead me.”

(Perhaps we should study leadership less and citizenship more, including both effective leadership and discerning followership.)

My personal experience with Peter Lougheed, and my reading about Luis Urzua support Burns arguments.

Transformational leadership:

• is all about relationships;

• respects every person, and helps each person grow and lead as best they can;

• moves people to a place where they may be better off, and changes them in the process;

• does not leave the sick, or wounded, or destitute, or grieving behind;

• is democratic;

• offers hope to the larger community, beyond where transformation is being worked.

Whether in a place as blessed as Alberta in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and ‘80’s, or in a place as bleak as a deep and shattered mine in 2010, transformational leadership is what we need, and sometimes discover.  We need to look for it more often, and look for it inside ourselves and in our neighbours.


On Leadership — Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua

April 4, 2011

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.