Thursday, February 27, 2014

The question of leadership

Now that's my kind of Leader!
Much ado was made this week about Liberal Party leader and (perhaps) Prime-Minister-in-waiting Justin Trudeau’s gaffe of a failed Olympic hockey joke in reference to the ongoing civil unrest in Ukraine. Of course other parties jumped all over it, turning an insensitive remark into major fodder for domestic attack politics, completely divorced from any actual concern for the Ukrainian plight which continues unnoticed among our own recriminations.
The narrative is that if Trudeau can say something so offensive, then clearly he isn’t fit to lead the country. Because a true leader must always say the right thing and make the right decisions, and quickly, too, or we all suffer. Right?
Well, I guess that’s the case, if your model of leadership is a single person who makes all the key decisions himself and does all the talking for us. But is that what we really want or need in a leader? Do we want to put all our eggs in one basket, and leave everyone else out? Not me. I live in a nation growing in size and diversity. As we do, it becomes less possible for any single person to represent us all at once, to take into consideration all our many and diverse needs and interests and decide our course for us. Good decisions are group decisions.
We truly do need better leadership than is on offer, but not in the one-for-all fashion these narratives suggest. The best decisions aren’t made by the single wisest, most mature, most experienced, or most charismatic leader; they are made when many of us share concerns and find consensus together. Our political system is actually designed for this, with each far-flung community electing their own local spokesperson to take their concerns to Ottawa, to gather with over three hundred other such local spokespersons and find, together, the solution that works best for all of us. This isn’t supposed to be lightning-round, either; laws are meant to take days, weeks, months or even in some cases years of careful deliberation and revision before being imposed, sufficient time for these hundreds of local representatives to examine all sides, see all views incorporated, correct mistakes and redress omissions. To talk until everything has been said, then decide.
I don’t want one person to make the one, right decision in every situation and then tell me what it is. That’s not a leader, that’s a dictator. I want someone to listen to my concerns, and your concerns, make sure all stakeholders are part of the process, and help us make the best decisions together. The leader’s job isn’t to decide, but to make us decide. Ensure that important issues (like, for instance, the climate crisis) are discussed and dealt with, not ignored or left for future generations. Make sure experts, taxpayers, citizens, victims, benefactors, and all other stakeholders take part in deciding. Then the leader carries out that decision.
With that vision of leadership, what matters most isn’t experience or knowledge or a confident voice to drown out the rest, but a commitment to process and an ability to listen and ensure everyone is heard.
Sadly, this kind of leadership is neither supported nor rewarded in our current hyper-partisan winner-takes-all approach to politics, so none of the major parties currently offer that kind of leader, nor does it look like they will any time soon. And that’s the real leadership failure: the kind we need most of all is the kind we’re least likely to get.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "None of the major parties offer ideal leadership"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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