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 while 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 and learning 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 player.
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" some 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 in action.
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 performance 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 world."
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:
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:
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 in action!
Now let's hear from you