Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Leadership and paying attention: remembering Jack Layton, five years later

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Thank you, Jack. (photo of Jack Layton

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of Jack Layton’s death. “Untimely” is a completely inadequate word for his passing. It came too soon in his life and left so little opportunity to savour his historic electoral success. But judging by the outpouring of emotion — yesterday as well as five years ago — Jack’s legacy endures.

I’ll be thinking this week of my friends and colleagues, at NOW and across Canada, who worked closely with Jack over the years. I can’t claim to have really known him, having written speeches for him in one election a dozen years ago. I only ever spent more than a few minutes alone with him once, mid-campaign, on a flight to Whitehorse.

That was enough, though, to leave a powerful impression.

He was briefing me for a speech he’d be giving to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. And while he kept his responsibilities as the leader of a campaigning federal party uppermost, it was clear from the start I was talking to Jack Layton, Municipal Policy Wonk. He cared very deeply about cities and towns as a locus of sustainability and social justice.

Before that, I’d sometimes taken his facility with words to be a matter of skill and polish — and of course Jack was a well-practiced speaker. But in that conversation I realized it was also (and mostly) clarity of thought, combined with passion and conviction. Jack could speak so well because he did something that sounds simple, but that few people in public or private life pull off nearly as well: he fused the heat of his conviction and the depth of his knowledge with intellectual and emotional discipline.

One related thing I remember vividly: how thoroughly he devoted his attention to our conversation. You hear about how some politicians have a gift for making you feel like you’re the only person in the room. With Jack, it wasn’t ingratiation; it felt more like our conversation was the most important thing happening at that moment.

A deep capacity for paying attention: that’s worth looking for in a political leader. But more important, it’s worth nurturing in ourselves.

Thank you for that, Jack.

Unsolicited free advice for leadership hopefuls and New Democrats

Friday, July 8th, 2016

A photo of a big yellow arrow followed by a team of little white arrows.

For most Canadians, the season that just started is Summer. But for that band of hardy travellers on the parliamentary road to a better tomorrow — that is, us New Democrats — the season is Leadership.

Nationally and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, our party is seeking new leadership. Choosing a new leader is a pretty big deal in politics. We’re trying to find an effective, inspiring champion for our values and policies… who has the wisdom and strategic smarts to guide a party in opposition and, hopefully, a province or a nation in government… and whose background and leadership style sends a powerful message to Canadians about who and what we stand for.

The NOW team has more than a little experience with this. At a quick rough count, we’ve collectively provided strategic guidance to 21 political party leaders including eight provincial premiers. And while we’ve lost count of the precise number, we’ve worked on more than 50 municipal, provincial and federal elections.

So here’s a little unsolicited, free advice (isn’t that the best kind?) from the NOW team to leadership hopefuls — and to the New Democrats who will choose one of them to lead us into the next election and beyond.

  1. We need a leader who talks more about others than her/himself. Telling voters what drives you to serve can be powerful. But a good leader also listens to others, reflects on what they say and weaves others’ stories into their own.
  2. Look for a leader who doesn’t talk about “rebuilding the party.” It isn’t about the party. It’s about the people who are counting on us to get elected so we can change their lives for the better. So let’s not navel-gaze too much in public.
  3. Let’s elect a leader who understands that the legislature isn’t the centre of the universe. The neighbourhood, my home and my family are the centre of my universe. Too often political types get tied up in knots about the process instead of the outcome. What we do in the legislatures of the nation matters only because of the impact on people’s lives. The best leaders are the ones who can make that connection without getting lost in the weeds of Parliamentary procedure and antics.
  4. Leadership is not only an intellectual exercise. Yes, our new leader should be smart and savvy. But it’s even more important to make an emotional connection – to speak from both the head and the heart about the real issues facing Canadians. Show voters that you care about me and my neighbours.
  5. Don’t tell people to vote for “change.” Instead, give voters a reason to want change, and show how that change will be better, not worse. A lot of Canadians (more than 80 per cent) think that no matter who is in government, our lives will continue just the same as they always were. Don’t just tell them they’re wrong; show them there is another way.

A lot of people say they want the party to be bold. They want to be inspired. I confess I don’t really know what that means. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to agree we want “bold” or “inspirational” than to agree on the ideas behind those words. A bold idea could still be a bad idea. And what inspires one, might not inspire another.

For the voters we need to reach, “inspiration” may well be a lot more about a leader who truly connects with them. Who understands that life for Canadians is getting harder and harder. With too few good jobs, too many burdens and not enough support for the average family.

Good leaders understand my story and thousands like it. They talk more about me than about themselves. They can talk to me about why some things are working and others aren’t, and they can offer clear, credible steps to make it better. They are human, emotional and smart, and they want to build a better world for all of us.

As you flip through the catalogue of potential leadership hopefuls, or if you’re preparing a campaign of your own, keep that emotional connection in mind.

And remember why we want to win. It’s not about victory itself, or grabbing the brass ring. It’s about winning so that we have the power to make life better for the people we want to represent. And the better a leader does at conveying that convincingly, the better our party’s chances for success where it really counts.