The Long Way Home: Leadership in Action, Blisters and All
I’m a 58 year-old guy, and I’ve been in the leadership space for over 25 years. One thing that continues to irritate me is the ongoing infatuation with male leaders, not just those in the business sphere but also in politics and the public service. It’s why I decided that for my annual leadership review I would profile only talented female leaders from diverse walks of life in different countries. Hence my Leadership 2013: An All-Star Female Line Up!
The first female leader I profiled is an amazing young woman from Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Kate MacEachern. Here’s her story.
Former Canadian Army corporal Kate MacEachern is as tough as they come. Before quitting the army in August 2013, the 34 year-old single mom drove a tank as a member of the Armour School at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick. But that’s not why she’s tough. In the summer of 2012, she set a Guinness world record by walking in full military gear with pack 572 kilometers from CFB Gagetown (just west of Fredericton, the provincial capital) to her home town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
What drove Kate to undertake such a punishing trek, which is called The Long Way Home?
It’s called PTSD–post traumatic stress syndrome. Now well documented in the Canadian Armed Forces, and especially the U.S. military, Kate wanted to bring attention to this problem and to raise money for veterans. Her 2012 trek raised $20,000.
This past year she decided to go even bigger: To march from Nova Scotia’s Canso Causeway to Ottawa, Ontario (the nation’s capital): 1,860 kilometres. So in the summer of 2013 she requested from her superiors to repeat her trek. Go for it, they replied, but not in uniform. This time you’ll do it as a civilian.
What’s bizarre about this story is that former Conservative Minister of National Defense, Peter MacKay, sought Kate out during her first march, excitedly commending her tenaciousness and commitment to a vital cause for Canada’s enlisted men and women, telling her that she “epitomized leadership.” Mackay (from Nova Scotia) even walked with Kate during part of her march.
And then the Government of Canada abandoned Kate in 2013 when she wanted to undertake a more onerous march. Military brass refused to give her time off (45 days), citing operational needs. Kate never requested any form of assistance from the military.
But Kate MacEachern is tough and focused on an important societal issue, one that she wants to broaden to beyond the military, such as police officers, paramedics and fire fighters. And she had to give up her military career to pursue her cause.
Military Minds, an organization dedicated to helping soldiers and vets suffering from PTSD connect with mental health services, drove Kate’s support RV. In addition, the Canadian Army Veteran Motorcycle Units, a network of bikers, provided moral support.
It took Kate 45 days to complete her trek, just has planned. She arrived in Ottawa on October 19th. I followed her on Facebook, reading about her emotional rollercoaster, from the wonderful people she met to being laughed at by one group of soldiers. And she endured shin splints, rain, cold and the dangers of walking on highways. This is her first step in her journey to address PTSD, both as someone who suffers from it and who wants to place it front and center in the public arena so that it is dealt with properly.
As a young female leader, Kate has much more to explore and offer Canada–and the world.
Postscript: Not long after Kate completed her trek, Canadians were shocked to learn that in the space of just one week four Canadian soldiers committed suicide on different military bases across the country. All had served in combat, from Bosnia to Afghanistan, and were suffering from PTSD.
The morning after the news report on the fourth death, highly respected Canadian Senator and retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire crashed his car on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A PTSD suffered for the past two decades, resulting from his experience in commanding Peacekeepers in Rwanda, Dallaire admitted that overwork, lack of sleep and the deaths of the four Canadian soldiers caused him to fall asleep at the wheel. He received a standing ovation from his peer Senators when he explained his car accident and his ongoing struggle with PTSD.
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