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A Dynamo Female Leader with Steadfast Principles who lived to 102

February 7, 2016

Elsie Tu 1

She came to detest British colonialism. In her mind as a community leader, it underscored the perception of British arrogance and a class-based system. However, it would take some time for her to become an outspoken advocate for the poor, a critic of government corruption and a thorn in the side of the rich. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne”, England, she lived to 102 years of age, dying on December 8, 2015.

Meet Elsie Tu, born Elsie Elliott, who moved to the Hong King, then a British colony, in 1951. The wife of a missionary (Bill Elliott), she initially saw her role as assisting him in his work to spread the gospel of Christianity. This required her to know her place in Hong Kong society and to essentially remain mute on political issues. After years of playing the good wife, Tu (later from her second marriage to Andrew Tu) became impatient, wanting to address the atrocious conditions many citizens were living in, such as the slums of Kai Tak in Kowloon.

She ended up leaving her husband and became active in not only assisting the poor but exposing police corruption. At the time Hong Kong had no middle class, where the elite rich and British civil servants ensured that this division remained intact. In 1963, while a member of the Urban Council, her perseverance to expose police activity in the trade of narcotics made newspaper headlines. Three years later she fought to prevent an increase in ferry tolls between Kowloon and Hong Kong. Her role as a central figure led to her arrest following the 1966 Kowloon riots stemming from the ferry rate increase.

Tu’s childhood in a coal mining area of northern England influenced her later-in-life’s actions for various causes. The second of three daughters, her parents were of very modest means. However, what the family lacked in material comforts was more than made up for by intelligent discussions at the supper table on far-ranging topics. Her father greatly influenced Tu to pay attention to the human condition and the rights of people, and to use politics as the springboard to get things done.

Elsie Elliot

As an adult, and far ahead of her time, Tu became a strong advocate for gay rights. She fought for better housing for Hong Kong’s poor, along with improved welfare services, bus routes and children’s playgrounds. And as a key part of her focus on the elite and police, she was instrumental in the creation of the Independent Commission against Corruption.

Tu and her husband, Andrew, founded the Association for the Promotion of Public Justice in 1979. Focusing on the human rights issues affecting Hong Kong’s thousands of Filipino domestic servants, she made it known that she paid her Filipino maids twice the legislated minimum wage. The couple also campaigned successfully for decriminalizing homosexual acts.

She later served on the Legislative Council (1988 to 1995), continuing to attack authorities for the repression of Hong Kong’s poor people and keeping alight the need for justice for all. When Hong Kong underwent its transfer from Great Britain to China in 1997, Tu went at it again, criticizing Britain’s weak if not “disgraceful” reforms that had been introduced too late.

While Tu’s politics weren’t always clear, being accused by some that she was pro-Beijing, what was always in focus was her unswerving commitment to standing up for Hong Kong’s underclass. As she once stated: “I’m not for China, I’m not for Britain. I’ve always been for the people of Hong Kong and for justice.” This stance linked directly to the views of the United Nations Association, which believed in self-rule and democratic reform for Hong Kong. As a consequence, Tu became a spokesperson for the Association and used this role to lobby ministers in London.

Elise Tu was not perfect. She may have been rough around the edges at times and occasionally unfocused on her brand of politics, but one thing she wasn’t was being unclear on her principles and for whom she was fighting.

The world needs more people like Elsie Tu. That’s how big change occurs.

Those who now yearn for the days when Hong Kong was a British colony should be aware of past cruelties, and realize that Britain took no steps to introduce a democratic system until it was certain that Hong Kong would ultimately be returned to China.
– Elsie Tu


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A Nation’s Test of Character: Do We Truly Value our Veterans?

January 31, 2016

Lord Veteran

One of the best props a politician can use is the Armed Forces. Remember President G. W. Bush in October 2003 standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the huge sign behind him proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” to celebrate victory on his War on Terror? This “leadership” event happened to be off the coast of San Diego with the aircraft carrier anchored safely. Oh, how Bush looked initially macho, just having changed out of a flight suit into his Presidential navy blue suit. But the truth hit home quickly as the US media jumped all over the contrived photo op.

Or in my country, Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (booted out of office in October 2015) couldn’t resist using Canada’s military as the backdrop to boost his popularity. And then there was Harper’s predecessor Jean Chretien who didn’t know the front of an army helmet from the back. Yeah, it was pretty funny.

What’s not funny is how Canada’s and America’s military veterans, not to forget those in other ally countries, are treated by their political masters once they have either completed serving their countries or been forced to exit due to physical or psychological injuries. (Photo: Claude Lord, homeless Montreal veteran who lives in a shipping container.)

Plenty has been written in the media about injured vets being ignored by their governments. Most reprehensively is the lack of attention and treatment for PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which affects people from all walks of life and across all ages. PTSD is pernicious, an insidious disease that can destroy people’s lives and those around them.

But as if PTSD and recovering from physical injuries (such as amputations and traumatic head wounds) aren’t enough for those who have served their countries, the final kick in the teeth is too many veterans being homeless. Yes, you heard me correctly. Canada – and the Land of the Free – have thousands of vets living on the streets.

A March 2015 report by the federal government’s Employment and Social Development Department found that at least 2,250 veterans are homeless in Canada. This represents 2.7% of Canada’s total homeless people that use temporary lodging. The data come from a 2014 database that tracks 60 homeless shelters across Canada. Given the defined nature of the study, it’s reasonable to assume that there are more homeless former Canadian soldiers than publicly disclosed.

Vet Sign

In the general population, the average age of those incurring homelessness is 37, but for homeless veterans it’s 52 years of age. Of particular concern is that female ex-soldiers have a very high rate of homelessness, with 16% experiencing multiple occasions; in contrast, 6% of females outside of the military experience homelessness. With male and female veterans one sees alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health problems as characteristic reasons contributing to their plight.

Take a moment to listen to CBC’s The Current show on homeless Canadian military vets

In the United States, with its massive military machine of about 1.35 million enlisted across the four services (Canada’s only some 68,000 plus 26,000 reservists), the number of homeless veterans is about 47,700. That amounts to 3.5% of US Armed Forces as being homeless; in comparison, Canada has a veteran homeless rate of 3.3% (excluding reservists, or 2.4% including them).

homeless-veteran

It’s a very sad scene that two G7 countries, one with the claim of being the greatest nation on Earth and the other proclaiming to be peaceful and open to immigrants, would be so disrespectful and callous in their treatments of those who have subjected themselves at times to horrific conditions in the gore of war, all in the call of “serving” their countries and keeping their fellow citizens safe.

What’s wrong with us as citizens? Why do we let our governments get away with this shit?

Are we selfish, immoral beings who espouse our superficial respect for members of the Armed Forces, but only as long as we ensure we remain safe in the confines of our homes and communities, sipping on a skinny latte, multi-tasking on our smart phones and complaining to our coffee companion about how hard we have it? “Oh my boss is such an ass-hole.”

You get my drift.

We should all be ashamed – as Canadians and Americans – that we’ve reached this point.

How do we collectively turn it around?

Of course, politicians go into defensive hyper-drive when confronted with the statistical reality of their countries’ finest. New Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau has promised action, as has his chief of defence staff. Ditto for the United States. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard this same refrain before.

Promised action leads to inaction, deflected by other priorities. Attention spans of our elected officials are indeed limited. It’s up to us, as citizens who cast votes, to demand that our elected representatives stay true to their promises and not waiver when faced with competing priorities. Respecting the men and women who serve and who have served our respective countries is a calling of the highest order. That’s the leadership challenge.

Claude Lord of Montreal deserves that promise to be kept.

Death became a desired option. I hoped I would hit a mine or run into an ambush and just end it all. I think some part of me wanted to join the legions of the dead, whom I had failed.
– Lieutenant General (ret’d) Romeo Dallaire (Force Commander, Rwanda, 1993-94; retired Canadian Senator; and PTSD victim)


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Women’s Long Journey for the Right to Vote

January 25, 2016

Suffragettes,_New_York_Times,_1921

 

On January 28th a special day needs particular attention in Canada: On that same date 100 years ago women in the Province of Manitoba were the first in Canada to be given the right to vote. This served as a catalyst for the other provinces to follow suit, albeit in a sporadic fashion. Also important to note is that immigrant women from countries such as China were not allowed to vote until later. And for Canada’s indigenous peoples it would be many decades until men and women could vote. Read on to learn about women’s hard fought battle across several countries for the right to vote. This is a story of leadership perseverance.

It’s easy to forget history, or to pay lip service to it. But history matters and can teach us a lot. It especially helps put current issues, whether political, economic or social, into perspective. If you’re a woman, perhaps Generation Y (19 to 34) or Gen X (35 to 48), you view your right to vote as unquestionable. In the vernacular, it’s a no-brainer. However, it wasn’t always that way.

The history of women fighting for the right to vote was long and arduous, requiring female leaders to galvanize action. It started in Great Britain in 1872, extending into the early 20th Century. These women were called Suffragettes, derived from the word Suffrage and defined as the right to vote in political elections. The National Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed in 1867, later evolving to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies 1897.

However, it wasn’t until the creation of the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903 that the movement became militant. The WSPU functioned until 1917, and during this period it was the primary militant organization operating in Great Britain. Two women were particularly instrumental in the movement’s advancement: Emmeline Pankhurst, a radical militant who led the Suffragettes, and her daughter Christabel Pankhurst.

Chaining oneself to railings, breaking windows and even engaging in arson of unoccupied buildings were some of the tactics Suffragettes used to raise awareness and to provoke those in authority. Those caught and criminally charged spent time in London’s Holloway Prison. Some of the women went on hunger strikes, only to be force fed by their guards.

During World War One, all political activities, including suffrage protests, ceased. In 1918, the coalition government passed the Representation of the People Act. This legislation gave women over age 30 who met minimum property requirements the right to vote. Ten years later, parliament passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, enabling women over age 21 to vote.

american-suffragettes.jpeg

In the In the United States, the suffrage movement began in the later 1840s. The first two national suffrage organizations were formed in 1869, merging in 1890 after years of rivalry to produce the National American Suffrage Association. Protests and lawsuits followed during the 1870s as women fought for the right to vote, only to be turned down by the Supreme Court. Decades of protests ensued.

Alice Paul formed the militant National Women’s Party in 1916 to increase pressure on the federal government. One major outcome was the arrest of 200 of its members in 1917 while picketing the White House. Similar to protest activities in Great Britain many of the women were arrested and imprisoned, where some went on hunger strikes, only to be force-fed.
The perseverance of these women paid off on August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed and became part of the U.S. Constitution. It states:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

In Canada women’s suffrage also underwent a long process, though not with as much militancy. The federal government’s inaction finally produced legislation to give women the right to vote in 1918. However, this came after women were given the right to vote in Manitoba in January, 1916 (Saskatchewan and Alberta followed a few months later) and Ontario and British Columbia in 1917. Quebec women fared the worst, thanks to the push-back from the Catholic Church. In that province, women were not allowed to vote until 1940.

Nellie McClung led the campaign for women’s right to vote in Manitoba, She rented the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg in 1914, holding a mock parliament in which she cast herself as premier with men playing the role of having to plead for the right to vote. The event was a political and financial success. McClung was also part of a five-women contingent who worked to have women recognized as “persons” by the Supreme Court of Canada in order that they could qualify to be a Senator. This campaign succeeded in 1929.

For Canada’s First Nations peoples, they didn’t receive the unencumbered right to vote until 1960. Until then and since Confederation in 1867, First Nations had to surrender their status. The Inuit had their right to vote restored without qualification in 1950.

CopsWhat seems to be hard to grasp for people nowadays, the right to vote was historically a male purview–a white man’s domain. Moreover, having the right to vote required one to own property. Witness the fight that African Americans had to wage to obtain the right to vote, which didn’t come until fully 1964 with the 24th Amendment.

Last October, Canadian went to the polls to elect a new national government. It was the first time in the country’s history, going back to 1867, that there was a three-way race among the main political parties. Political analysts agreed during the campaign that it was the most important election in many decades.

Unfortunately, Canada has a very weak voting turnout, whether at the national, provincial or municipal levels. The October 2015 election saw 69% of eligible Canadians voting. While nothing to brag about, the 2011 election had a meager 61% of eligible voters turning out at the polls; the all-time low was in 2008 when only 59% of Canadians voted. The turnout for youth voters in 2011 was abysmally low at 39%. In contrast, 75% of those 65 to 74 years of age voted. And what about women who voted in the 2011 federal election? That was also modest, at 59.6% while men were at 57%.

Living in a rich, safe and secure country can produce the mindset of “all is well.” Apathy sets in among the electorate, with a minority of citizens actually engaged in politics. But that’s dangerous because voting outcomes don’t reflect the actual population. And it certainly dismisses the hard-won rights for women to vote. We, as a society, conveniently ignore history’s teachings.

Never retract, never explain, never apologize; get things done and let them howl.
– Nellie L. McClung


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Good Managers Know How to Make it Right

January 18, 2016
Call Centre
It was a miserable evening – raining and dark, now that fall had arrived. Sue made her way across the large Costco parking lot carefully, pushing the big shopping cart and keeping our two oldest grand-daughters close to her.Arriving at her car she quickly put the girls inside, and then proceeded to load the trunk. The car was not running since the keys were in her coat pocket. As she lifted the last item, a large floor mat, into the trunk the cart began to roll slowly away, heading towards a Toyota van parked four feet away. With her hands full, Sue could only watch the cart bump into the van’s rear door behind the driver’s side.In a flash the driver was out of his van, irate and making a fuss over his rear door. No visible damage was apparent, but Sue took photos nevertheless. The driver demanded that they exchange insurance information. Sue obliged. As they parted ways, the driver promised to call Sue the next day once he had inspected his van’s door in the daylight and if there were any damage.

Two weeks passed, and then the phone call came. But it wasn’t from the driver of the van but from our insurance company of 16 years, Meloche Monnex of TD Insurance, part of one of Canada’s largest banks. The insurance rep, Wayne, stated that Sue had had a claim filed against her on our automobile policy. This is when the frustrating nightmare began with a bureaucratic organization, one that had represented our home and auto insurance needs for 16 years.

The summation of the incident was that Sue was 100% at fault, even though her car had nothing to do with the accident. Her attempts to have the issue escalated to either Wayne’s manager or to TD’s ombudsman were met with the statement that he decided what was taken to higher levels. And as Wayne put it, he didn’t seem to understand why Sue, with an unblemished driving record for 42 years, was upset. We were getting our “free” accident.

frustrated

What Wayne didn’t seem to grasp was that with this strike against Sue and our automobile insurance coverage, we were now in the difficult position of changing insurance companies. We sought advice from an established local independent insurance company and to inquire about going with them. The reply was that this accident claim was now hitting us in the pocket book. The insurance rep called in the owner, in the business for over 35 years, who looked at us in disbelief when we told our story. If anything, as he put it, the claim should have been applied against our home insurance. But there was the issue of whether any damage had been done to the van.

The next two weeks were very frustrating as I explored ways to get to senior management. And during that period Sue and I had to rush to her mom’s home, 1,200 km away, when her husband died. It was upon our return home that I sought out a contact in the TD banking group. Finally, I had success when I was given the email address of Wayne’s manager. A detailed accounting was sent via email to Moe, the manager. Within two hours I had an email reply, followed by a phone call from Moe.

Success!

Moe understood the errors made by Wayne in dealing with the claim by the other driver and his insurance company. In addition to Moe stating that he would deal with Wayne that afternoon, of particular interest to us was his explanation of the stunt that the other company had pulled. To avoid having their client (the van owner) pay a hypothetical deductible on his comprehensive coverage, the ball had been thrown into our court by the other insurance company to hold Sue 100% at fault. The obscenity of the process was that nothing was ever paid out to the van owner. In other words, there was NO damage to his van.

This is the perversion of Canada’s insurance industry, where policy holders are but pawns.

Boss

My point in sharing this story is that there was a key lesson here for Meloche Monnex’s management. Yes, we got the problem addressed to our satisfaction. However, it required sustained effort on our part and some luck when we thought we’d hit a wall. But what about the experiences of other policy holders? Indeed, this was a comment made by Moe when he pondered aloud to us whether this had happened to others who had been served by Wayne.

There were two main parts to the solution and the regaining of our trust with Meloche Monnex. Moe got it right by acting quickly when he was informed of our problem. That’s part A. What he blew was part B, the rebuilding piece. As we concluded our telephone conversation with him, Moe said that as a gesture of addressing our inconvenience and bad experience he would send us a $25 gift card to Tim Horton’s (a national coffee chain). Sue and I broke out laughing at that point, since we detest Tim Horton’s and never frequent the chain’s stores. At a more serious level, this failure to effectively address part B – trust rebuilding – spoke volumes to us. The $25 gift card offer was actually more insulting than being offered nothing. The irony is that Moe never sent the gift card.

If a company doesn’t make it right when a longstanding customer or client has a very negative experience, then it’s only going half way. In our case, we’re now with the local independent insurance company we met with during our frustrating time with Meloche Monnex. When a company abruptly loses clients of 16 years due to the actions of a single employee, it has a lot of soul searching to do to determine and identify how it lost its way in customer service.

The role of the managerial leader is to make it right when things screw up.

Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures. Tom Peters


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The Leadership Question: Will Pope Francis Make the Big Apology?

January 10, 2016

PopeLeadership is not just an individual phenomenon but a collective pursuit of a nation’s citizens.

No country is perfect – especially pluralistic societies. My country, Canada, has earned an enviable reputation of being a leader as a tolerant society, one receptive to immigrants, progressive in its social programs, and firm but fair in its judicial system.

Well, sort of. Let’s be realistic here. Canada is indeed a decent country, but it has its own unenviable warts. And one of those warts is a gargantuan one, dating back to long before Confederation in 1867. Like the United States and other countries such as Australia and South Africa, it has to do with the exploitation, repression and abuse of its indigenous peoples. In Canada’s case, it refers to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

The darkest period in Canada’s 148 year history was its Indian Residential School system, which began in the 1870s and which finally shut down in 1996. However, the lasting effects of this system continue to have significant negative impacts on those who were forced into the system as children.

Little GirlYoung indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes, transported to schools run by a variety of churches: Anglican, United and Presbyterian. By far the church that was most responsible for indoctrinating indigenous children was the Catholic Church. The physical and emotional pain suffered by these children at the hands of supposedly well-intentioned white, religious people makes one weep. As a 60 year-old Canadian with four adult children and five grand-children, I can only hang my head in shame at the abject failures of past federal governments to treat indigenous peoples with respect and to embrace their involvement in Canadian society. The vast majority of Canadians have paid virtually no attention to this systemic problem.

Over 150,000 children were put through the residential school system; an estimated 3,000 died. Today, there are some 80,000 survivors. Witness this statement from Public Works minister Hector Langevin in 1883 when he told the members of the House of Commons:
“In order to educate the [Indian] children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them we must do that.”

It’s hard to process this statement from a senior Member of Parliament and a father of Confederation, for whom a major federal building was later named: the Langevin Block across from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Yet Canada has not really advanced very far in over 100 years with respect to how it treats its indigenous peoples.

SinclairOn December 15, 2015, a major event took place in Canada. It was the concluding ceremony of the final report from the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Led by Justice Murray Sinclair (see photo), himself First Nations, and his team investigated over seven years the physical and emotional abuses and deaths that occurred among First Nations and Inuit youth in the federal government’s residential school system.

Young indigenous children were torn from their homes, only to be beaten and raped, with many dying from diseases such as tuberculosis.
Present at that momentous day in December was the country’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Visibly touched by the ceremony, Trudeau stated his commitment to building a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. It’s his top priority, and that of his justice minister (First Nations herself). Without pausing, he announced that the commission into the disappearances and murders of some 1,200 missing indigenous women had just started (something that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to do).

Trudeau’s moment of reality will be when he realizes that a number of the report’s 94 recommendations will require the active cooperation of the 10 provincial premiers. Just attempting to change the culture of the federal bureaucracy with respect to how it views indigenous peoples will be a daunting task. Trying to effectively influence 10 premiers in the context of a federation, in which the provinces have clearly defined jurisdiction, will require a superhuman effort.

Handcuffs.jpgBut that’s Canada, circa January 2016. What about the churches that were the front line deliverers of “service” to the thousands of indigenous youth over many decades?

To date, several churches have issued formal apologies through their head offices. The United Church was the first to do so in 1986. In 1991 the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate apologized, followed by the Anglican Church in 1993 and the Presbyterian Church in 1994. And in 2008 former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada, issued in the House of Commons an apology to those who suffered in the Indian Residential School system.

That leaves the Catholic Church, the most prominent player in the residential school system, as the only organization that has not formally apologized. Indeed, the Church has left it up to individual dioceses to issue apologies.

The failure of the Catholic Church to formally issue an apology from the Vatican is not just sad it’s tantamount to immoral leadership. Now that the Church has a dynamic leader who has made a prominent show of embracing the poor, denouncing the excesses of capitalism and criticizing the impact of carbon emissions on the planet, it’s time that Pope Francis steps up to the plate and issue a direct apology to Canada’s indigenous peoples, past and present, for the major role that the Catholic Church played in the Indian Residential Schools system.

Prime Minister Trudeau stated in early December that he intended to speak to Pope Francis in early 2016 on the importance of an apology being delivered to Canada’s indigenous peoples. This will be the dual leadership test: a practicing Catholic prime minister speaking to and (hopefully) influencing the Pope to follow-through. How this process is conducted from start to finish is the big question. And it will be interesting to see how Canada’s media follows and reports on it.

Girl in Classroom.jpgThe failure of Canada’s media to “get it” when it comes to the plight of Canada’s indigenous peoples is exemplified in a broadcast just before Christmas.

On December 22 on CBC’s The National, the country’s biggest evening TV news cast, anchorman Peter Mansbridge convened his weekly at Issue panel. This edition, the year-end review, featured Andrew Coyne, Chantel Hebert, Jennifer Ditchburn, and Rex Murphy – all very competent political observers, except they’re all Caucasians from upper middle class backgrounds. Part of the panel involved questions submitted by viewers. One of the questions went this way: “For each Syrian refugee allowed into Canada, should one indigenous person be given special consideration, such as through additional funding and programs?”

Three of the four panel members fumbled around for a response, refusing to answer it directly and instead stating that the Syrian situation is a world-wide issue and one requiring Canada’s focused attention. The problems facing indigenous peoples is important but needs separate attention.

Only Newfoundlander Rex Murphy understood the question, eloquently and concisely answering that with respect to the Syrian refugees it was Canada’s “election” to assist them. For the country’s indigenous peoples, it was Canada’s “duty.”

There’s a world of difference between “election” and “duty.”

Yes, it is Canada’s duty – all 36 million Canadians – to demand that their governments, federal and provincial, begin to effectively address what is tantamount to the country’s most important priority, as articulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And part of this process involves the Catholic Church through Pope Francis to issue a direct and sincere apology to Canada’s indigenous peoples.

This is Pope Francis’ ultimate duty.

The survivors showed great courage, conviction and trust in sharing their stories. These were heartbreaking, tragic and shocking accounts of discrimination, of deprivation and all manners of physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse
– Justice Murray Sinclair (from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report)


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Good Leaders Let the Light In

January 4, 2016

Happy New Year, Readers!

I’m kicking off the New Year with a leadership post aimed at inspiring you to explore the opportunities that present themselves in 2016. Don’t wait for perfection. Take action by empowering yourself, learning along the way and enrolling others in your vision.

Vision Execution


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen



Human beings are fallible. Regardless of organizational, community or societal position, we all mess up at times.

Pope Francis, as demonstrated through his actions since assuming the role of Pontiff of the Catholic Church, certainly doesn’t see himself as perfect. Effective corporate leaders who practice servant leadership acknowledge their foibles and limitations, continuously working to bring out the best in their followers. Two excellent examples in the business world are Max De Pree, retired CEO of furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, and the late Ray Anderson of Interface, a pioneering flooring manufacturer in zero emissions.

As a consequence of our human imperfections, attempting to achieve perfection in our offerings to followers, whether it’s leading a team, a company or community movement, is an exercise in futility. It’ll never happen. The world is too complicated and too interwoven in seemingly disparate events, combined with our unique individual flaws. Therefore, as Canadian poet Leonard Cohen puts it: “Forget your perfect offering.”

And at the same time, the leader’s challenge becomes that more daunting when it comes to ringing the bells that can still be rung. In other words, nothing ever lines up in the real world awaiting perfect execution. One event affects another which influences yet something else. In short order the leader’s plan requires adjustment.

DucksThen there’s the human dimension: keeping everyone on the team – or organization at the bigger level – aligned towards a common purpose. As the adage goes, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, the leader’s aim is to have all the bells ringing. In doing so, it becomes easier to adapt to a changing environment.

The shocks that hit an organization or a community can be more readily dealt with when people are acting in unison based on a shared vision. At a macro level, this can be applied to a nation. Witness the divisive politics and the lack of a shared vision in the United States, where the country is slowly being torn apart, undermining its long-term future of being the beacon for global democracy.

This is where the strong leader enters. This is someone who can see the possibilities and the opportunities for creating cohesion, whether it’s an organization undergoing dramatic upheaval due to global competition, a community whose major employer has shut its doors, or a country that is fractured as a result of racism. It’s a tall order for an imperfect human being, but the success lies in enrolling everyone involved.

This is how the light is let in.

This is your job as leader: determine how to let the light in.

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
– Vincent van Gogh


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Time to Reflect this Christmas: Six Leadership Lessons from a Lab

December 20, 2015

This Christmas leadership post is dedicated to my five grandchildren: Lily, Ashley, Briar, Ethan and Logan: May the world be a brighter place in which to live when you are adults.

Max Xmas 1AIt doesn’t seem that long ago when Sue and I, accompanied by our two youngest daughters (at the time 16 and 21) drove to the far side of Ottawa to check out a seven week-old Yellow Labrador puppy.

He was the last of the litter at the farm where he was born to a pure bred male Yellow Lab and a female Labrador-Retriever cross. Man, he was adorable – a ball of hyperactive fur, running and rolling around the barn. His stoic father briefly entered the scene, taking a look at us and then sauntering off. I guess the four of us passed the test, for not long afterwards we were on our way home. By then, Elizabeth and Joanne had named the little fellow, Max.

Upon arriving at home, we put Max on the grass to have a pee, only to watch the previously brave little puppy stand trembling on the lawn, not sure what was going on. But all was well, and has been since we brought Max into our home nine and a half years ago. Four adult children, who all live in the Ottawa area, with our five grandkids has made our home all that much richer. And Max is in his glory.

Yes, when the entire clan descends on our home – a fairly regular occurrence – we need a traffic cop for crowd control. But it’s a lot of fun. And for Max, he’s busy meeting people at the door (I haven’t figured out how to train him to hang up coats) and escorting them to the living room. When the little ones want to pet Max, he lies on the floor soaking in their attention, with the occasional little grunt or groan emanating from his huge chest.

Max brings perspective to life.

As human beings increasingly addicted to speed, from wanting instant replies to text messages to yelling at a coffee shop barista for taking too long to laying on the horn in a crowded mall parking lot at Christmas, we’ve pretty much lost perspective. Intolerance of which I recently wrote a leadership post, seems to be re-emerging after years of progress in diversity in Canada and the United States.

I despair at times when I observe the state of the world. Being a retired federal economist and leadership project manager, not to forget long-time news junkie, our world seems to be on a fast-rolling treadmill of non-stop disparate events, many of which are having negative effects on Planet Earth and its inhabitants. I’m especially saddened with how some of my fellow Canadians have engaged in not just hate speech but in some cases violence towards Muslims.

I reacted viscerally when I read of the incident in early December when a young Muslim woman on a Toronto transit bus was berated by an older white woman, who not only told her to go home but hoped that she would be raped. The two dozen passengers sat mutely by. Or the case of the mosque that was set on fire in Peterborough, Ontario, around the same time.

Trudeau SyriansYes, many Canadians have welcomed the initial arrivals of Syrian refugees (25,000 by the end of February). And Canadians are proud of the humanitarian stand of their new prime minister, Justin Trudeau (photo of Trudeau at Toronto International Airport meeting the first planeload of Syrians in December). But to think that on the cusp of 2016 Canada still has a segment of the population with intolerance, and in some cases hate, in their veins is a sad commentary on this country.

I am not a practicing Protestant, but I’m confident that if Christ were alive today he would be appalled at the behaviors of pseudo Christians towards those of another religion from distant lands. Shame on Canada – and shame on America for the political fear-mongering spectacle that has been unfolding in what is supposed to be the Land of the Free.

Shortly before publishing this post, one of the most important events in recent Canadian history took place on December 15th. It was the concluding ceremony of the final report from the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Justice Murray Sinclair, himself First Nations. Since 2009, Justice Sinclair and his team investigated the abuses and deaths that occurred among First Nations and Inuit youth over seven decades in the federal government’s residential school system. Young indigenous children were torn from their homes, only to be beaten and raped, with many dying from diseases such as tuberculosis. That system, which began in the 1870s, finally shut down in 1996.

A visibly emotional Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the ceremony (former Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to attend the earlier summary report meeting). During his address to the audience, Trudeau stated unequivocally that building a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples was his top priority, and that of his justice minister (First Nations herself). He then looked the audience in the eye and said, “I give you my word.” He followed this with announcing that the commission into the disappearances and murders of some 1,200 missing indigenous women (between 1980 and 2012) had just started (a commission that Stephen Harper refused to initiate).

My sincere hope for 2016 is that, as Prime Minister Trudeau so eloquently stated, the burden begins to be lifted off the shoulders of Canada’s indigenous peoples, for they’ve carried it long enough.

Max  - Erica Aug 2012And that brings me back to Max.

Max is now almost 70 in human years. That in itself deserves some measure of respect.

From his life experiences as a fun-loving Lab, he has six leadership lessons to share with you at this time of year when people are supposed to be thinking of being kind towards one another. Take a moment to reflect on Max’s leadership lessons.

1) Love everyone, regardless of color, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical ability.

2) Never judge anyone; accept who they are – warts and all.

3) Protect the vulnerable, for they deserve as much respect as you.

4) Lead your life by looking ahead, not by looking in the rearview mirror.

5) Never lose your sense of humor, no matter how old you get; keep everything in perspective.

6) When someone steals your slippers, try not to get mad; will it matter in five years? Ten years? As the saying goes, don’t sweat the small stuff.

Max is nearing the end of the line in a couple more years. He’s had some health issues recently and Sue and I strive to do what we can to keep him well and happy. I know that day is coming in the not too distant future when Max will no longer be with us. It will be a very sad day when it arrives. I’m not sure how we’ll help our grandkids through that process, given how much they love him.

But in the interim, we can all learn what the Maxs of the world bring into our homes and communities: love, devotion and trust.

Thank you for your loyal readership over the past seven years. It’s been an honor to have been on the WordPress platform and to have readers in over 160 countries.

Merry Christmas everyone. Stay safe, enjoy family and friends, and make sure to laugh a lot.

I’ll see you all in January.

Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
– Ann Landers


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