"Seeing the Invisible": Leadership in Action
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Canadian Institute of Management (C.I.M.)
63rd Annual National Conference
Sheraton Hamilton Hotel
June 24, 2005
Trudy, thank you for the wonderful introduction
many of you know this year's conference chair well, I was
delighted to hear that Trudy's roots are in Atlantic Canada
(she's from St. John's, Newfoundland and I'm from Woodstock,
New Brunswick). We also share a strong interest in education
not only has Trudy worked in this field
since 1984, I understand she earned the 2003 Lucy MacEachran
Scholarship (an educational scholarship you're all familiar
with through C.I.M.), plus she's known for getting right down
to education business at the Niagara Training and Adjustment
Board and T. Parsons Education Services. Obviously, she wears
many professional hats - leader, manager, action-based learner
and entrepreneur. And there's more
Trudy is also an avid
basketball fan, which ties in with a story I want to share
with you - a story that revolves around "seeing the
invisible": leadership in action, the focus of my
remarks this afternoon - a story (edited for our purposes)
that I came across at www.Leadership-tools.com
- in one of the monthly newsletters.
"A young man named David lost both legs in a farming
accident, when he was a young child. David grew up loved
and supported by his family, including (siblings) who were
all athletically inclined. Every weekend it seemed, the
family attended various tournaments - basketball, baseball,
volleyball, you name it. Living in a small town, David was
not able to participate in athletic events specifically
for physically challenged individuals. So he spent a lot
of his time helping out at practices, doing whatever he
could to be part of the team. David had a wonderful perspective
on life. He dreamed of one day becoming a great basketball
David's mother marveled as his optimism (especially about
basketball), but was never so astounded, as on the afternoon
she drove him to the local post office. Earlier in the day,
David's mother informed him that they needed to go down
to sign up for Selective Service - David had just turned
18 (as you can tell, this story is based in an American
town). Once they arrived at the post office, David's mother
reminded him why he was there. Upon seeing the look on his
face, she asked, "Do you know what the Selective Service
is?" David said he did not. She smiled and said, "Despite
the fact that you have some physical limitations, we're
signing you up for the draft."
David's eyes grew wide! His smile ran from ear to ear!
He could barely mutter the words, but at last he said, "WOW,
WHAT TEAM DO YOU THINK WILL PICK ME?"
Now that's a story about the power of vision and leadership
- the power of seeing the invisible. So let's talk
about "seeing the invisible" for the next
few minutes - the impact on your careers, your lives and your
circles of influence.
You know, "when people say, leadership involves vision,
they generally refer to the ability of leaders to look into
the future and articulate what they see in a way that's compelling
to those around them. But for some leaders, it means something
more: (it also means) the ability to see what lies under everyone's
noses, but what others, including some very smart people,
cannot see" - in other words, "seeing the invisible."
I often recall what Helen Keller said, "There's only
one thing worse than no sight - to have sight but no vision."
While leadership is hard to define, "you know it when
you see it, feel it, and hear it - it's inspiring." An
effective leader creates and instills vision, energy, trust
and clarity - a leader encourages and supports people - a
leader lets you know there's a vested interest in your success
- the team's success. "A great leader pulls others along
rather than pushing them around. It's an important distinction
so I'll say it again: Great leaders pull others along instead
of pushing them around."
Leadership is also about communication and consistency in
communication - sending the right signals, not bellowing orders.
As we're all aware, "command-and-control leadership never
earns the hearts, minds and will of others"
words of wisdom from The Growth Coach.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric has stated, "Good
business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately
own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."
Clear visions continue to help shape and drive many companies
and organizations. The Canadian Institute of Management's
vision to ensure C.I.M. designations are recognized as a high
standard of achievement in management is your guiding light.
Disney's vision is about "making families smile."
"Microsoft wanted to create beneficial software that
would compel people to have a computer on every desk at work,
home and school." RBC Financial Group's vision is to
always earn the right to be our clients' first choice. And
being first makes a difference. Broadly speaking, these are
examples of organizations seeing the invisible - leadership
Jonathan Swift said, "Vision is the art of seeing things
invisible." This reminds me of one of my favourite anecdotes:
"A (business executive) was asked if he was going to
fire an employee who made a mistake that cost (the company)
$600,000. He replied, "No, I just spent $600,000 training
him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?"
Having faith in people or as the theme of your conference
goes - "Improving Managers: It's All about People"
- is about seeing the invisible - leadership in action.
And let's remember, good leadership is also good management.
And let's not forget another facet to seeing the invisible
- as author James E. Austin refers to in his book - The
Invisible Side of Leadership - and that's community leadership.
"Research reveals that strong corporate (responsibility)
performance both benefits from and contributes to strong financial
performance in a virtuous circle." John Whitehead,
former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, believes it's short-sighted
to view community leadership as simply altruistic. He said:
"Don't think this is a charitable thing where you will
get rewarded in heaven. You get rewarded right away because
you'll be known as a company that is conscious of its (corporate)
responsibility, you'll attract better quality employees (and)
your stock will sell at a higher multiple." Research
also tells us that while giving back to communities
is very important in many organizations, the perceived benefits
relating to "human resource management, culture building,
and business generation" are very important too. Seeing
the invisible is good business.
Part of every leader's role, whether in the private, public
or not-for-profit sector, is to help people appreciate the
full value of what they contribute. As Frances Hesselbein,
editor-in-chief of Leader to Leader asserts: "That
starts by using more inclusive language — eliminating
from our vocabulary "subordinate", "direct
report" and "superior" and talking instead
about colleagues, (teams), and partners (and partners include
suppliers). How we talk about people's contributions, deploy
their talents at work, and structure the organization, has
everything to do with how people perform. "I am just
a volunteer" or "I am a cog in the wheel" does
not build a vibrant and engaged organization."
Some of you may be familiar with the book Daring to Be
Different, by author and business executive James Hatherley.
He uses the example of lifters and leaners in
his discussion, "with lifters defined as those
who uplift the organization and upgrade the quality of individual
and the meeting and committee oriented leaners
- those who (often) block opportunities and derail progress."
I'm sure we can all think of lifters and leaners in
our professional and personal lives. Motivational speaker
Jim Davidson says: "When we jump in and make a real contribution,
whether it's our job, career or a project, the momentum begins
to build and we have set the wheels in motion for even bigger
and better rewards down the road. It all starts with our attitude.
The one thing we have going for us is the power to choose.
When we truly understand that over time we really do get back
what we first give, we can then choose a course of action
that will bring us all the rewards we desire."
While reading the National Post's supplement on Canada's
Museum for Human Rights in Wednesday's newspaper, I couldn't
help but reflect on lifters and those who see the
invisible. I couldn't help but reflect on the late Dr.
Israel Asper, founder of CanWest Global Communications Corp.
When Izzy announced the establishment of the Museum on April
17, 2003 (a project he envisioned more than twenty years ago),
it was no coincidence the April date marked the 21st anniversary
of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
His interest in civil/human rights was a lifetime interest.
His vision revolved around the creation of a distinctive,
architecturally exceptional museum to help recognize human
rights as the foundation for equality, dignity and freedom
- "the only human rights museum of this scale in the
He envisioned the Museum as an "international icon the
equivalent of Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris."
He envisioned "the Queen, Nelson Mandela and the descendants
of Martin Luther King and Gandhi coming to Winnipeg for the
official opening of the Museum." He said: "There's
a tendency among Canadians to aim for the middle
be reaching for the stars." Izzy Asper was all about
leadership in action
and today others, most notably
his daughter Gail Asper (Managing Director of The Asper Foundation)
are making his passion and his dream a reality. When Gail
spoke about lifters and leaners at a luncheon in Winnipeg
last week, it was pure leadership in action. Like her
father, Gail Asper sees the invisible
Here are more seeing the invisible stories:
- On Tuesday night, while watching a re-broadcast of the
2005 National Aboriginal Achievement awards on APTN, I was
reminded of documentary filmmaker Brenda Chambers, who received
one of the awards for media and communications. Brenda was,
in part, honoured for her groundbreaking series, Venturing
Forth that focuses on aboriginal business, language,
culture and youth. Brenda is currently president of Kelowna-based
Brenco Media Inc., an independent video and television production
and beyond her many awards, she sees what others
don't automatically see. She realized early on that aboriginal
issues could "no longer (be) invisible in mainstream
media" - she realized early on that "making film
and TV shows which cross over to reach aboriginal and non-aboriginal
audiences" was the way to get First Nations stories
in front of a larger audience. Brenda Chambers sees the
- Hannah Taylor is an amazing nine year old Winnipeg girl
who started painting ladybugs on jars to raise money for
the city's homeless last year. She founded the Ladybug Foundation
and has earned "recognition, respect and support from
politicians, business leaders, artists, musicians and the
general public across the country." Hannah speaks up
about the homeless in cities and towns from coast to coast
- she was the youngest person ever to address the Empire
Club of Canada in April. Hannah Taylor sees the invisible
- A young man named Matthew surely "isn't just any
8 year old boy. Matthew is concerned about and involved
in the welfare of other human beings and animals who share
his city (Toronto). That's why, for his birthday this year,
instead of presents for himself, Matthew asked his friends
to please make a donation to The Pathways to Education
Program" - a program, in Toronto's Regent Park,
the oldest and largest public housing project in Canada.
"Matthew knew that in doing this, the gifts his friends
gave to him was the gift of helping other young people get
to school, stay in school and move on to post-secondary
programs. Matthew and his mom are an inspiration to their
friends, colleagues, their community and Pathways."
Just ask Marni Schecter-Taylor, Director of Development
and Communications for Pathways to Education. RBC has supported
this seeing the invisible project over the last four
years - and we'll take special pride on July 4, when our
summer internship program begins for members of Pathways'
first ever graduating class. "We've seen Pathways blossom
from an idea on paper to an exceptional best-practice program
- a program, which has demonstrated the potential to be
replicated in communities across Canada and abroad."
Matthew and Marni see the invisible
- In 2003, when more than 400 people converged on Parliament
Hill in Ottawa for a conference on Diversity and Islam —
Bridging the Gap, the first initiative of the Canadian branch
of Women Engaging in Bridge Building (WEBB), Nazreen Ali,
president of WEBB Canada, already knew it was right and
timely to be building bridges and fostering understanding
between Muslims and non-Muslims. She and others are focused
on the journey. Nazreen Ali sees the invisible
- John Godfrey, Minister of State (Infrastructure and Communities)
and Member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of Don Valley
West, continues to focus efforts on the children's agenda
and early childhood development. John "realized early
in his career that an investment in children would benefit
all sectors of society and would enhance Canada's future
social vitality and economic prosperity. He's a strong advocate
of the notion that promotion of early childhood development
can have long-term benefits that will extend throughout
a child's life, engendering positive consequences in adulthood."
Minister John Godfrey sees the invisible
- The Caledon Institute of Social Policy profiled a story
about one of RBC's clients, who several years ago, had "the
energy and drive, to insist we make our documentation accessible
to people who are blind or partially sighted. (This client)
also turned that determination into a successful business
which now produces information in multiple formats in a
number of languages. Sharlyn Ayotte realized she could apply
her understanding of communication styles to create an access
and production system which would generate alternative,
multiple formats on demand (e.g., large print, Braille,
audio and e-text). Today, her company. T-Base Communications
is one of Canada's largest producers of information in multiple
formats." Sharlyn Ayotte sees the invisible
- Chioma, who only goes by one name, "is dedicated
to speaking to elementary and high school students about
making the right choices in life", with a focus on
education - the 3Rs of respect, restraint and responsibility.
In 1999, she started Chioma Productions Inc., a home-based
business in Toronto that includes the motivational speaking
series, "Chioma Talks." She's an amazing individual
(with an equally amazing story) who encourages Toronto's
youth to pursue whatever goals they might have - no matter
what colour their skin is or what social background they
come from. Chioma sees the invisible
- In November 2002, Diana Burke, Senior Vice President of
Information Security Systems and Technology for RBC Financial
Group (Toronto) received the Tony Coelho Award from Bender
Consulting Services of Canada (BCSC), a firm that specializes
in providing employment opportunities for Canadians with
disabilities. Diana was the first Canadian to receive this
"she's worked at the highest
levels at RBC to promote the competitive employment of people
with disabilities, influencing other business leaders to
do the same." When it comes to promoting diversity,
Diana Burke continues to see the invisible
As you can tell, I have several stories to share about people
and organizations that see the invisible - people who
see what others don't necessarily see or choose to see - people
who often see what's right under our noses. And I'm sure there's
many more seeing the invisible: leadership in action
stories sitting in this room. So here are some parting thoughts
for you and perhaps some ideas for our open discussion:
- "Leaders are like eagles, they don't flock; you find
them one at a time."
- "Leadership is a combination of strategy and character.
If you must be without one, be without the strategy. (In
any event), do what's right. That's the secret of leadership."
(General H. Norman Schwarzkopf)
- "If leaders are careless about basic things - telling
the truth, respecting moral codes, proper professional conduct
- who can believe them on other issues?" (James L Hayes)
- "It's important to see the uncomfortable truth -
to get comfortable with the uncomfortable."
- "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what
to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
(General George S. Patton)
- "One of the most important things about a great leader
is this thing called selfless service. You're not doing
it for yourself, you're not doing it to stroke your ego,
you're doing it in spite of yourself."
- And here's some sage advice that's close to home. "Choice,
not chance determines destiny. Let gratitude be your attitude,
as it's the greatest virtue and the parent of all virtues."
That's Thomas F. Williams talking, as part of his C.I.M.
valedictorian address on June 4, 2004.
And finally, according to Max DePree, "the first responsibility
of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank
you." So thank you very much - and let's all raise the
bar when it comes to seeing the invisible": leadership
Now let's hear from you