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The Way of the Warrior Leader

November 29, 2015

Harjit 1Reflect for a moment on the word “Warrior.”

What comes to mind?

Ruthlessness, violence, cunning?

Or bravery, integrity, fearlessness?

Our mental models, formed over the years as we’ve matured into adults, begin to cement how we perceive the world, and more specifically how we interpret certain words and expressions.

In her 1993 book, The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary, the late Angeles Arrien developed an excellent framework that integrates the essential elements of leadership drawing on the teachings of indigenous peoples.

One of the four elements is the Way of the Warrior, whose guiding principle is showing up and choosing to be present. Arrien explains that the developed Warrior “…shows honor and respect for all things, employs judicious communication, sets limits and boundaries, is responsible and disciplined, demonstrates right use of power, and understands the three universal powers [power of presence, communication and position].”

GreitensIn  a different context, but one putting into practice the Way of the Warrior, former Navy Seal Eric Greitens (pictured) shares his experiences in his excellent book The Heart and the Fist. Greitens provides a real-life portrayal of what it means to be a warrior leader but yet to possess the empathy and responsible use of power in war zones.

Examples abound of Canadian and American soldiers who have demonstrated the skills of warrior leaders in battle and peacekeeping missions, whether in Bosnia or Afghanistan or peacekeeping in Rwanda, yet who have touched the hearts of the vulnerable: civilians–notably women, children and the ageing–who only want to be safe and to carry on their lives without the prospect of violence, whether it is the Taliban, ISIS or rebel groups in Sudan.

Retired Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, and former Canadian Senator, recounted a leadership story from his peacekeeping work in Rwanda in the nineties. A Canadian corporal leading a small group of peacekeepers encountered a horrific scene involving civilians along a rural road. Despite the acute risk to the soldiers of being exposed to rebel fire, and not wasting time to call for permission to help the civilians, the soldiers dove into the adjacent field to render assistance.

This example of leadership is what Eric Greitens and Angeles Arrien are talking about through their respective viewpoints.

Harjit 3More recently, and close to home, a warrior leader has assumed Canada’s prominent role as Minister of National Defence. However, this leader has a very unique ethnic heritage and military and law enforcement background.

Meet Harjit Singh Sajjan (pictured above).

Born in Bombeli in India’s Punjab district, the 45 year-old emigrated to Canada at age five. When he was in his teens he decided to be baptized as a Sikh, and later as an adult married Kuljit Kaur Sajjan, a family physician. They have a son and a daughter.

Sajjan first expressed an interest in the military when he was 15, mentioning to one of his teachers his desire to become a pilot but not thinking that he was smart enough. He changed schools to escape bad influences, and at age 19 joined the Canadian Forces reserves. Years later as a Vancouver South police detective working in an anti-gang unit, he tackled the same problems he was exposed to as a youth, all the while being an Army reservist.

He served as a Canadian Forces Army reservist for 26 years up to his election in the October 19, 2015, federal election. During that period, he did three combat tours in Afghanistan at the rank of Lt. Colonel. His work involved military intelligence and anti-terrorism, interacting with some of Afghanistan’s most ruthless politicians and local warlords.

Sajjan’s efforts resulted in a letter of commendation in 2006 from the commander of Canada’s Coalition Task Force in Afghanistan. The letter, shared with Vancouver’s police chief, stated that Sajjan was seen as “…the best single Canadian intelligence asset in [a combat] theater, whose hard work, personal bravery and dogged determination undoubtedly saved a multitude of Coalition lives. ” He was further credited with providing the intelligence for a military operation that yielded the “kill or capture” of 1,500 Taliban fighters. (source: National Observer).

Harjit 2 In addition to serving as the new Minister of National Defence (photo of him being sworn in), Sajjan is also a member of some of the most powerful Cabinet committees, including Public Safety and Intelligence. His work as a police detective who took on gangs complements his frontline combat experience.

As usual, the media has found a label for a new celebrity. Sajjan has been dubbed Canada’s “Bad-Ass Defence Minister.” Although cute to some, the label is both unfortunate and inappropriate. Harjit Sajjan is a highly intelligent man who has acquired deep and specialized experience through hard, dedicated work in serving his community and country. The label “Bad Ass” is not just juvenile but grossly undervalues his 26 years of contributing to Canada.

Yes, Harjit Sajjan is a first class warrior leader, as discussed in the earlier sections of this leadership post. He should be paid that respect by the media and citizens, noting the highly complex and rapidly evolving global security and defence environment.

Greitens 2I‘ve learned that courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin, and that every warrior, every humanitarian, every citizen is built to live with both. In fact, to win a war, to create peace, to save a life, or just to live a good life requires of us – of every one of us – that we be both good and strong.
– Eric Greitens

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From Shared Vision to Execution: The Real Leadership Challenge

November 23, 2015

Vision Execution We continue to read and hear a lot about the importance of vision when it comes to senior leaders focusing their organizations on the future. It’s important stuff, and the leadership literature ensures that we haven’t forgotten the message.

However, it’s all well and good to be regularly reminded of the importance of corporate and public sector leaders working at aligning their employees behind a common purpose and beacon to which to strive. It’s quite another beast to actually develop cooperatively with employees an executable strategy to, as Star Trek captain Jean Luc Picard would say, “Make it so.” In other words, the organization’s mission–its purpose–is the driver to move the organization steadily towards that vision.

It needs to be noted that a “vision” is actually never realized or attained. Rather, it’s that guiding light that steers the organization, through good and bad times, towards the desired state. And to do so means that everyone in the organization is clear on its values–for what it stands.

There have been many more bad and incompetent top leaders than effective ones in both business and government. The consequence has typically been financial scandals, environmental calamities and stock price collapses in business, and the resignations or voted out of office of politicians at national and sub-national levels due to improprieties or just plain ineffective policies.

Depree There have been few managerial leaders in the business world who have attained the sustained respect by peers, academics and industry journalists as Max De Pree (pictured). Now 91, De Pree was the CEO of office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller. His father, D.J. De Pree, founded the company in 1905 after acquiring the Star Furniture Company in Michigan (he renamed it in honor of his father-in-law, Herman Miller).

What made Max De Pree such an incredible business leader was his incredible respect for employees and involving them in the company’s decision-making. He believed in people building their leadership skills, assuming responsibility for their work and actions, and achieving results. He didn’t pander to employees, but also didn’t throw non-performers under the bus. In these cases, employees were treated humanely when they were let go.

The author of several concise leadership books, De Pree’s approach contrasted sharply compared to such hard-ass peer CEOs as Jack “Neutron” Welch of General Electric, who achieved results for the company but in more draconian ways; firing employees and managers was a matter of course.

Herman Miller remains one of the most respected companies in the United States. Fortune Magazine has placed the company at the top of its list of most admired companies in the U.S. for the past 18 years. The company has retained its employee culture of innovation, strong financial results for shareholders and people-centered management approach. Since retiring as CEO in 1987 and from the board of directors in 1995, De Pree founded the Max De Pree Center for Leadership in 1996, and has served as a mentor to many young employees in the company.

Current Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker (since 2004) operates in a vastly different manner from his competitors (eg, Steelcase), preferring to work in an open office setting at a modular desk. His executive follows suit. Walker, however, is always on the move, participating in meetings held in open areas in other parts of the building. His team’s focus is on executing the company’s mission, achieving results for shareholders and enabling employees to bring out their best efforts. Of significance, Walker has over the past six years led the company in a drive to work towards reducing its carbon footprint to zero by 2020.

The overarching challenge for organizational leaders and for those leading teams throughout the organization, is to align and enroll their people in a common purpose, and then lead them forward towards that guiding light. Strategy execution will follow as a natural part of the process.

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.
– Max De Pree

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When Leaders Take the High Road – and Take Action

November 16, 2015
Lincoln Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States on November 6, 1860. Soon after, he faced what would become his biggest leadership challenge: seven states seceded from the union, with the secessionists stating that the Constitution allowed for states to leave it.

Lincoln’s opposition to secession was based on five reasons:

1. The states could not separate physically.

2. Secession was unlawful.

3. A government that allowed secession would disintegrate into anarchy.

4. Americans were not enemies but friends.

5. Secession would destroy the world’s only democracy, proving to future Americans and to the world that a government of the people cannot survive.

Four months later Lincoln delivered his inaugural address on March 4, 1861.

Intently trying to prevent the outbreak of war, Lincoln concluded his address with this impassioned plea:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Trudeau The rest is history as the United States was almost torn apart. While the country remained united, it took the lives of some 620,000 soldiers, in addition to civilians. That would translate today to six million people, based on two percent of the U.S. population being slain during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the U.S. has still has not fully healed.

Fast forward to October 19, 2015, in Toronto where just-elected Justin Trudeau (pictured above campaigning) spoke to his fellow Liberals in the hotel ballroom and to 36 million Canadians on national TV. Trudeau chose to borrow a line from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. Lincoln was still hoping to heal America’s widening rift: “We are not enemies, but friends, the better angels of our nature,” he told the people of the seven seceding states.

While in a very different context, Justin Trudeau stated: “You can appeal to the better angels of our nature and you can win while doing it.” His remark was part of a broader effort to express to Liberals and Canadians that it was time to move forward, remembering that “Conservatives are not our enemies, they are our neighbours.” He continued noting, “Canada is a country strong not in spite of our differences but because of them.”

It was a unique moment in recent Canadian political history where a decade of acute Conservative partisanship, not to forget the scandals of the previous Liberal government, had created a sense of darkness in the country. The 2015 fall election campaign had only deepened the country’s dark mood, accelerated by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s negative advertising against Trudeau, his attempt to use Muslims as a tool to scare Canadians, and his controversial anti-terrorism legislation (Bill C-51).

Justin Trudeau, 43 years old and a relative political novice, took the high road, talking about “real change” and the need to engage Canadians (pictured below with his wife Sophie). He delivered on that during his campaign and in the short time since winning the election he has moved quickly to lay the ground work for new legislation and attending to the country’s many problematic issues.

Witness his swearing ceremony and that of his new cabinet on November 4. Several Canada firsts occurred on that beautiful sunny day in the nation’s capital: first child of a former prime minister to be elected (his was father Pierre Trudeau), a cabinet composed half of women, diversity from across Canada (eg, immigrants and the disabled), provincial representation, and opening the ceremony on the grounds of the Governor General to the public.

Trudeau and Sophie Of course, there’s no comparison to a politician of Abraham Lincoln’s stature. Lincoln led the United States during its most difficult period in its 239 year history. Widely revered and viewed as being one of the top three American presidents, he was a complex man. His oratorical skills, dry wit and ability to connect with people contrasted with his strong tactical political skills, combined with his ends-justifying-the-means approach when necessary.

However, Lincoln, like Trudeau, was not initially viewed as being a serious contender for high office. The gangly six foot three president with sunken facial features didn’t fit what the public perceived as a potential president. And when Lincoln won the presidency he set about educating himself on warfare, pouring through books on military history from the Library of Congress. Trudeau, in a modern context, is proving to be a quick learner on a vast number of files, from defense and security to employment to healthcare to international trade. (Trudeau stands six foot two and is very athletic.)

It’s easy for a contemporary politician to adapt a historically significant phrase from, in this case, 150 years ago. However, Justin Trudeau wanted to emphasize his commitment to taking the high road while holding the country’s highest political office, and to immediately take action to initiate positive change for the country. Time will be, of course, the true and ultimate test for Canada’s new prime minister.

Citizens place their trust in their political leaders. It is the foolish politician who doesn’t respect this trust because a four year government term passes by quickly. The elusive second, and even third term, may never materialize.

I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back.

– Abraham Lincoln

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Real Leaders Embrace Duality: The New 21st Century Leadership Competency

November 9, 2015
Goats Our world is not black and white when it comes to the wide array of interconnected issues and challenges facing those in leadership roles. Whether you’re a politician leading a developing country, the head of a multinational company or the owner of a small business, every day you’re facing new problems. And one major part of a leader’s daily challenge is the people dimension.

As society becomes increasingly mobile, with people migrating from poorer countries to Western nations, one emerging issue is the potential for a clash of values, beliefs and traditions. This is being born out in Western Europe and Great Britain, and to a lesser extent in the United States and Canada. Specifically, the focal point has become the integration of Muslims in Christian-dominated countries, fueled by a post-911 security crack-down and the very recent and ongoing surge of people exiting Syria.

What we’ve witnessed over the past 15 years is the political pandering to the legitimate concerns of citizens, but which have been ramped up by the manipulation of politicians and those running their defense, security and intelligence organizations. In Canada, for example, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper devoted a decade to creating an “Us and Them” division between what he called “Old Stock Canadians” (presumably old white people) and those who didn’t purportedly share the values of Canadians.

Justin Trudeau Stephen Harper’s overwhelming defeat at the polls on October 19 by 43 year-old Justin Trudeau (pictured; oldest son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau) was enabled by Canadians finally realizing the poisonous path the former prime minister had tried to take the country. While some of Harper’s Old Stock Canadians formed his electoral base, soaking up his fear-mongering messages about niqab-wearing Muslim women and Jihadists hiding under beds, most Canadians rejected this polarizing approach.

What a national leader such as Stephen Harper never seemed to understand was that the world is composed of many shades of grey. When you have a country of 36 million citizens in the world’s second largest country by geography, with immigrants arriving daily from dozens of countries with diverse cultures, the future is one of diversity: of culture, of beliefs, of ideas.

Whether it’s gay marriage, reproductive rights for women or wearing a turban as a Sikh with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (a hot issue 25 years ago), national leaders have to adopt the mindset of duality–viewing both sides of a contentious issue. Duality may be simply explained as the quality or condition of being dual, of a situation where two concepts are being compared or held in contrast.

The issue of a Muslim woman insisting on wearing a niqab at a citizenship swearing in ceremony drove Stephen Harper to distraction. Despite losing his case to the Supreme Court of Canada he vowed that his government would appeal it. During the summer-fall 2015 federal election campaign, he made the niqab issue one of the center pieces of the Conservative’s platform. The irony is that while Canadians were against the niqab being worn at such an important ceremony (83% based on a Statistics Canada poll), in the end they voted in part against Harper’s politics of intolerance and fear. Other preceding polarizing issues advocated by the Conservatives have been abortion, gay marriage and incarceration (Harper’s manipulated war on non-existent crime).

Yin Yan The key point is that a national leader must be capable of holding two diverse and opposite concepts in his or her mind while working through solutions that will be accepted willingly by the electorate. This means that leaders, whether in politics or business, must be able to see the possibilities and opportunities as they navigate through the daily onslaught of problems brought to them.

In business, as companies become more virtual as they connect with customers, suppliers and employees in far-flung countries, leaders need to practice tolerance for things that are different from their established mental models. Different customs, work habits, religious beliefs, ideas and so forth become an embedded part of the leader’s dualism: seeing and accepting both contrasting sides of an issue or situation. The only way a leader can create an inclusive organizational culture is by embracing diversity.

Duality may be seen as the new leadership competency of the 21st Century. Regardless of level in society or the organization, those of us who wish to lead others would benefit from developing our ability in this area.

Take a moment to share your thoughts and suggestions.

A country can be great not in spite of its diversity, but because of its diversity. When people come together to create opportunities for one another, the dreams we hold in common will crowd out the fears that would divide us.

– Justin Trudeau (speaking in December 2012 at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention)

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Elon Musk: the 21st Century’s Change Catalyst?

November 1, 2015
Musk As a society, we like to talk about how much and how fast change is affecting us. For example, we’ve become overly enamored with the rapid advancements in consumer electronics over the past 20 years and social media during the past decade. Yet we’ve become collectively drooling, multi-tasking drones who are more concerned with the next iteration of Android and Apple devices, incapable of focusing on tasks one at a time or indepth reading, in contrast to scanning media headlines.

We tend to forget the many monumental change events that have occurred in the past, such as the huge impact of the introduction of the steam engine, electricity, atomic energy, the telegraph, the integrated circuit, and the combined introduction of the internal combustion engine and highways, the latter of which strongly influenced the expansion of cities to create what became known as suburbs.

And we forget that major change comes slowly, and often with huge resistance from citizens. As much as innovators such as Steve Jobs, Marc Zuckerberg and Reid Garrett (co-founder of LinkedIn) deserve admiration for their accomplishments, they pale in comparison to the above-noted inventions, not to mention other 20th century ones such as the polio vaccines (Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin), the first manned and motored airplane (the Wright brothers), and the radio (Gugliemo Marconi).

In short, these major inventions and innovations helped propel society forward in the 19th and 20th Centuries, generating new wealth for citizens and vastly improving their standards of living.

Earth Let’s reflect for a moment on the mess that planet Earth is in:

• Rising sea levels due to climate warming (press delete on the rantings from America’s Republican right-wing fringe)
• Disgusting air and water pollution in emerging economies (most notably China)
• Technological advances (eg, hydraulic fracturing) in extracting yet more oil and natural gas from once impossible to access reserves (thus prolonging our dependence on dirty fuel sources)
• Government paralysis on how to store spent nuclear fuel
• Inadequate public and private sector investments in renewable energies (the consequence of substantial continued subsidies to the non-renewable energy industry)

Despite these huge problems, and respecting the efforts of those individuals diligently working on finding solutions, society is largely ignoring them. Contemporary innovators who are in the public eye (e.g., Tim Cook of Apple and Travis Kalanick of Uber) are effectively consumer innovators, and not societal-shifting change agents, as were people like Marconi, Sabin and Orville Wright.

Fortunately one guy gets it.

His name is Elon Musk.

And he’s got big plans for the human race.

In addition to his well-known achievements in creating Zip2 (sold for $305 million to Compact), co-founding Pay Pal (for which he received $165 million from its $1.5 billion sale), Tesla Motors and Solar City, Musk’s biggest and most complex project is SpaceX. His vision to colonize Mars may be met with cynicism by some and doubt by others, but he’s totally focused to make it happen around 2026.

Musk’s acute concern for the future of humanity and its survival, combined with reducing society’s carbon footprint on the planet, has oriented his life’s work towards renewal technologies. With SpaceX, his engineers are working diligently on developing reusable rockets, in contrast to disposable ones used by NASA in the past and Russia.

Musk 2 This is big stuff, when placed alongside such news-friendly topics as social media developments, new Apple products or Uber. Musk’s vision to have recharging stations across the U.S. for his electric cars, Solar City’s huge battery farm, and the technological down-stream benefits from SpaceX will exert major positive gains for society and the planet. In short, these are macro events from a planetary perspective, compared to the more micro developments we’ve witnessed over the past two decades.

True societal change catalysts think big and in the long-term. They enlist a devoted group of followers by enrolling them in their vision. Sure, Steve Jobs of Apple had such a devoted followership, despite his well-known abusive practices on employees. Elon Musk is no choir boy either, known for his demanding management approach.

However, to achieve what’s regarded as the impossible, something that has and continues to plague Elon Musk by his critics, means an out-of-the-box management style–whether you like it or not. Of credit to Musk is his all-in approach: he’s been on the edge of bankruptcy at times but has always persevered. His 100 percent commitment to his cause and vision continues to propel him forward. Indeed, his life style is highly unorthodox, in contrast to other billionaires who build Taj Mahals as symbols of their power and wealth.

Elon Musk comes across as a human being, who, despite his warts, truly wants to effect very significant, positive change on planet Earth. What’s so fascinating is that he has accomplished so much in such a short time period. The next 10 years should prove to be a fascinating time as we watch how new technological developments benefit society.

The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.

– Orville Wright

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Dare to be a Real Leader, not an Apocaholic

October 26, 2015
Mandela The human condition is driven by hope.

We have, as a species, a tremendous capacity to deal with adversity, to adapt to volatile change and to move forward to make our lives better. As much as we like to complain, the world as a whole is better off than in the past. Whether they’re advancements in medical research in disease prevention (eg, malaria), civil rights (eg, women and blacks being able to vote and gays being allowed to marry) or engineering to make our motor vehicles safer and with reduced emissions, society has improved. Of course Apocaholics don’t like to face this reality.

When it comes to political leadership, creating a vision of hope is what engages an electorate; follow-through is the next important step to realize that vision. For example, reflect for a moment on the accomplishments of Nelson Mandela (pictured) following his release from a South African prison after 27 years.

In organizations, smart leaders at the top don’t create a picture of despair but rather one of creating a new future. Employees don’t want to be on a sinking ship. However, it’s also vital to be straight and honest with employees. Witness Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s burning memo to employees on February 9, 2011.

Einstein-leadership While the memo is lengthy Elop laid out the challenges facing Nokia, but ends on a note of looking to the future. After his opening paragraphs where he recounts the story of the man on the burning platform, he states: “We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.”

Elop continues, noting Nokia’s key competitors and the challenges the company faces. He concludes his memo with:

“Nokia, our platform is burning.
We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.
The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.


Take note of the use of the word “we” in Elop’s memo. His approach was to lay it out straight to employees and to seek their assistance in helping Nokia make an abrupt change in course. He didn’t lay blame or make excuses. His intent was to bring employees together to move forward towards a shared vision.

Bill and Melinda Gates play with baby in Mozambique That’s what real leaders do when the going gets tough. Laying blame, making excuses or predicting the end of the organization only perpetuates its decline. Apocaholism serves no constructive purpose. Yet, consider that for over 200 years pessimists have held the headlines of newspapers, and later television, radio and, most recently, the internet. Huge effort goes into pessimists, whether journalists, politicians, business analysts or pseudo wannabee experts, predicting the future. “Oh, the pain to come,” they exclaim.

In an environment where negativity and pessimism get rewarded, it presents top executive leaders with the added challenge to remain positive about the future. Witness the incredible work that Microsoft founder and former CEO Bill Gates (pictured) and his wife Melinda are doing to combat malaria in Africa.

Real leaders, regardless of whether they’re in the private or public sectors, lift up their followers–employees, stakeholders and constituents–through a shared vision that engages everyone. In short, people feel included and part of the solution and the future.

Apocaholics, of course, will come up with excuses of why things are bad, that they will worsen and that the end is near. But they continue to forget, as alluded to at the opening of this post, human beings are highly adaptable and incredibly adept at finding solutions–indeed sometimes after many delays–to seemingly intractable problems.

Take a moment to check out this piece from Gary Alexander, a recovering Apocaholic since leaving the church of the Religious Apocalypse in 1976. He lays it out clearly in terms of the inconsistencies and contradictions of self-professors futuristic naysayers.

So the next time you’re faced with apocalyptic pronouncements from whatever source, take them with a grain of salt and seek out the opportunities for improvement, wherever that they may be.

I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’

Colum McCann

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Suffragettes Led the Way for Women’s Right to Vote

October 16, 2015
After a 78 day grueling election campaign, the longest since 1872, Canadians are going to the polls today. The turnout in the 2011 election was only 61%. Let’s aim for at least 70% today, my fellow Canadians.

Make a difference. VOTE!

1911-Suffragettes 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 (noun), 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.

Suffragettes vs. Police (18) 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 my home country of 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 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.

What seems to be hard to grasp for people nowadays, the right to vote was historically a male purview–a white man’s domain. 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.

At the time of this post, Canada is on the cusp of a federal election on October 19. This is the first time in the country’s history, from 1867 to today, that there is a three-way race among the main political parties. Most political analysts agree that this is the most important election in many decades.

Unfortunately, Canada has a very weak voting turnout, whether at the national, provincial or municipal levels. In the last federal election, four years ago, a mere 61% of eligible voted turned out at the polls; the all-time low was in 2008 when only 59% of Canadians voted. The turnout for youth voters in 2011 as 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 57%.

Canada can do better than this–much better. And the upcoming election demands that as many Canadians vote as possible. More youth must vote. More First Nations and Inuit must vote. And more women must vote if they wish to be heard and to assume a more prominent role in the country’s political system.

Make a difference on October 19.


Look back, to slavery, to suffrage, to integration and one thing is clear. Fashions in bigotry come and go. The right thing lasts.

Anna Quindlen

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

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Jim Grand Manan FBTake a moment to meet Jim.


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