The political landscape in Canada has shifted significantly over the past few months. Are we now drinking the water from a different cup, but from the same well? What role has leadership played in this shift and how is this transition different than previous ones?
Politically, there is likely very little difference as an established mainstream party moves out, and another established mainstream party moves in. When the political aspects of this transition are stripped away and you examine the leadership components, you begin to see why this shift may be of more significance.
Justin Trudeau has created a leadership pathway of hope and expectation that he will need to work very hard to live up to. Time will tell if he possesses the leadership skills to execute the vision he has laid out in front of Canadians. I believe it is in the examination, the very “apolitical” examination, of Steven Harper’s leadership that that the significant shift starts to emerge.
Kouzes and Posner describe several aspects of the impact of leadership in context and on the people around them in their book, Credibility (Jossey-Bass, 1993). One of the concepts they discussed was the notion of a knowledge-based organization and society, where people work and add value with their head and not with their hands. People within these organizations will resist being controlled or treated as inferiors. Prior to the last election, many sitting MPs chose not to run for re-election. Included in this group were high profile cabinet members Peter MacKay, John Baird, James Moore and Christian Paradis. Did they see the writing on the wall or were their contributions being consistently undervalued?
During election periods, our neighbors to the south spend much of their time examining common characteristics among some of their most popular past presidents. Despite the different eras, were there some common characteristics shared between leaders like Washington, Lincoln and Kennedy? Among some others, like a high degree of respect for education, a characteristic that shows up frequently is a high value these leaders placed on discourse and dissent within their inner circles. Without the questions, inputs and filters that can be generated by a talented inner group, the leadership process will most likely become a significantly insular activity. The complex process of successfully leading a company, organization, or even a country requires a perspective beyond a single person regardless of who they are.
A second strong indicator that the beginning of the end for Mr. Harper may have originated from within and not from any external political base is the questions arising from his office’s handling of the Senate issues. How complicit or knowledgeable Mr. Harper was about decisions that were made may never be fully understood. The first possibility is that you have people that report directly to you making decisions that they should not be making or that you are unaware of. The second, and likely worse, possibility is that you have people who report directly to you who are hiding their decisions and actions from you. The plausible deniability aspect of both of these scenarios may help you legally but will not save you in the leadership realm.
Like many successful politicians before him, his father included, Justin Trudeau was elected on the promises and optimism associated with change. The political framework and structures (“the what”) that he has inherited are the same ones left behind by his predecessor. His greatest chance for his success may lie in “the how” he conducts himself as a leader. Whether it is with the media, his caucus, or his office, Justin Trudeau’s external political success may very well depend on the apolitical leadership skills he applies from within.