Transformative Leadership

Stepping back from the fray for a moment, it’s clear that the current LPC presidency campaign is doing little to help delegates make informed choices.  Simply put, we’re unlikely to survive without transformative leadership.  The May election results weren’t an anomaly; they continued an 8-year downward plunge that cost us 80% of our seats.  That leaves us with a stark choice: we either transform ourselves sufficiently to reverse that plunge or we disappear. 

Jim Collins’ well-researched Harvard Business Review paper Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve identifies the leadership traits that differentiate organizations which did and didn’t succeed in making such transitions.  Those traits are strikingly different from what most Boards are looking for in a transformative CEO. 

As a political party, our dynamics differ from those of a corporation.  In effect, we have two CEOs with very different jobs: a Leader to be our public face in Parliament and to speak for us to the electorate; and the National President to represent the interests of our members and to ensure that the Party creates long-term winning conditions in 308 disparate ridings.  Success requires the right people in each of those jobs. For the next two years, we have a very effective Leader in Bob Rae.  It’s up to delegates to decide who among the candidates will be equally effective in the entirely different role of National President.

Applying Collins’ research to our situation, we clearly need a Level 5 Executive at this critical point in our history.  What we will actually get is one of the four current contenders.  Honesty requires me to admit up front that none of us is perfect.  Our members will be relying on delegates to choose which of us comes closest.  Getting to the point of this post, the campaign is being run as a political contest: get-out-the-vote techniques; glad-handing at Liberal gatherings; media interviews; one-minute sound bites at debates which afford little opportunity for real dialogue; content-free imagery on websites; etc.  Those may be essential for running for political office, but they say next to nothing about likely performance in the real job that we’re running for. Speaking for myself, I’m really uncomfortable with the campaign dynamic of having to constantly blow my own horn.  It’s not about me; it’s about getting the job done.

I have put a lot of thought into what that job is really about and what it will take to do it well. I urge every delegate to rise above the buzz of the campaign and decide on what just kind of leadership you’re actually looking for. Then, critically examine all the candidate websites looking for hard evidence of relevant experience leading complex organizations through the kind of transformative changes we need.  What was the scope of each candidate’s roles and what were the real-world outcomes of their performance in those roles? Do they back up their ideas with sound arguments? That may sound like a lot of work, but isn’t the future of the Liberal Party worth it?  This race needs to be about substance, not image. Having successfully managed large-scale change elsewhere and, within our Party, having led my riding association through its own transition point (one done, 307 to go), I would welcome more of a focus on solid track records.

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