Just in time for the election - QSB Leadership Professor Julian Barling Writes Open Letter to Canadian Politicians
January 02, 2006
The following opinion piece appeared in the online edition of the Globe and Mail on January 2, 2006.2006-01-02 - With our election only three weeks away, I would like to send a message to our political leaders: Please think of this campaign as your opportunity to inspire Canadians to want to be led by you. Your role is not to continually remind us about how low we have sunk; leadership is about convincing us about the heights that we can attain. We trust you have a vision to elevate us – otherwise, why would you want to lead our country? Share your vision with us.
Remember that, should you be successful, you will be the leader of all Canadians. Think strategically: Even under the most optimistic scenario, whoever becomes prime minister will do so with most Canadians having voted for someone else – or worse still, having not voted at all. If you spend the next several weeks denigrating the majority of Canadians, they will be very reluctant to follow you if you are privileged enough to become the leader of this country.
Learn a lesson from Nelson Mandela. How was he embraced by the overwhelming majority of South Africans of all political persuasions so soon after his release from prison?
Mr. Mandela knew that, to realize his vision of a non-racial, just society, he had to be the leader of all South Africans, not just those who voted for him – despite the fact that he won an outright majority of the votes. He did not denigrate his opposition, choosing, instead, to meet and embrace his former prosecutor and jailer.
Know that there is a difference between leadership and management. Continually reminding us how you would never allow a "sponsorship scandal" tells us how you will manage, not how you will lead. Leadership is about much more than controlling the bureaucracy. And such comments are redundant, anyway: Surely none of you would allow such scandals.
So tell us how your vision differs. Tell us what you think Canada should look like five or 10 years from now. Mr. Mandela continually reminds others, both verbally and symbolically, of the values that have always driven him to leadership. What are yours?
Remember that there is a huge difference between leadership and cowardice, and that we know the difference. Name-calling and obvious untruths in contexts such as Parliament, where you know there can be no consequences, is simply not leadership. It is cowardice.
Learn yet another lesson from Mr. Mandela. Emerging from more than two decades of imprisonment, he chose to turn away from revenge, and move toward reconciliation. Why? Not because of weakness, but because his strengths kept him from being diverted from realizing his cherished dream of a non-racial society, Don't tell us why we should not vote for the other three parties, tell us why we should vote for your party. As Lyndon Johnson yelled to a crowd in the 1964 campaign, "I just want to tell you this - we're in favour of a lot of things and we're against mighty few." The reality is that, if we all listened to each of you telling us why we should not vote for the others, there would be a zero-per- cent voter turnout. Your role as a leader in the democracy is to encourage participation in our democracy.
Once you have committed to these leadership basics, ensure that all candidates for your party abide by them, too. If you cannot lead the people who share your vision, why should we believe that you can lead all Canadians, especially those who do not share your vision?
Learn a lesson from Rudy Giuliani. On 9/11, with New Yorkers experiencing their most significant existential crisis, Mr. Giuliani was truly inspirational when he somberly reminded his constituents that "tomorrow New York is going to be here. And we're going to rebuild, and we're going to be stronger than we ever were before."
If you really believe we are facing significant national issues, your role as a leader, like Mr. Giuliani's role as leader of his stricken city, is to convey a sense of hope and optimism for our future. And remember that, like New York, Canada is going to be here tomorrow. Remind us what you think this Canada should be like.
Take the challenge from Martin Luther King Jr., who insisted in his "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial: "We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline." Mr. King not only inspired with his beliefs and values but insisted there was a right way to achieve them.
Use the next few weeks as an opportunity to display the very best of your leadership. Leave us with the difficult but wonderful dilemma of having to choose between the very best on election day.
Julian Barling, Professor and Associate Dean – Research, Queen's School of Business