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In leadership there is no effort without error

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Teddy Roosevelt said this in 1910 — and it is perhaps more true today.

A true leader is that daring person. And that is what we are all yearning for — a leader to unite us despite our differences.

Recent polling has got many of my friends and colleagues prolifically prognosticating, whether they be in public opinion, punditry or partisan politics. It seems that the most popular thing to do is speak to your own base as loudly and proudly as possible. Canadians shouldn’t take pride in that, there is no pride in division.

Headlines and commentary are dominated by how one group is purported to feel. For example, “Women hate O’Toole!” some people say. Others exclaim, “Singh cannot connect with anyone except kids!” While many have noted, “the West hates Trudeau!”

All these analyses are lacking in they do not bring focus to the heart of the matter. Our leaders (like ourselves) are becoming more insular within our own groups. Our leaders cannot understand the other person’s perspective. All of this is because our leaders are communicating to those from within — not to all Canadians.

I have had the privilege of working for groups incredibly ideologically different. I have advised local municipal leaders, local businesses owners, large unions and multibillion-dollar companies. The one thing many of my clients, whether labour leaders, business people or partisan politicians, have lamented: “Alex, I just don’t understand their thinking. I don’t get their motivation.”

Perhaps this is the real problem or perhaps the oversimplification forces our leaders to safely communicate their message to those who are likely to agree. Our leaders have become so hyper focused on communicating to their own group that many are completely unable to see things from another viewpoint. Being a leader, and not just getting elected, requires courage to attempt to lead everyone and not just people who will follow.

One of my favourite prayers (misattributed to St. Francis) says, “It is better to understand than to be understood.” In all their effort to be understood, they’ve missed out on understanding those with viewpoints that are different than theirs.

The further crime is that is leaders are not trying to reach out, work with and synthesize with those who have differing opinions, their policies become are meant to serve their own base. The division grows and grows.

I wonder if this is what we truly need; more division and strife. Many of us yearn for unity, especially while we are all dealing with a global pandemic. We’re in it together and we want our leaders in both the business and government to do the same. We need our leaders to be able to listen. We want our leaders to come to us and understand our wants and needs. But then what? We do not want apologies — we’ve heard enough of them.

I do not believe anyone could claim, especially over the last five years, that our politicians have been perfect. The public understands that mistakes are made. We all make them.

But an apology alone is not enough. We want amends. Yes, please recognize your wrongdoing. What then? The important part of an amends is a commitment to action. Trudeau, O’Toole and Singh each could be catapulted forward through owning errors and speaking to us all. There are glimmers within each of them to take bold action yet these actions are never sustained. Canadians want bold action from our leaders — we yearn for it. I know that safety is often the counselled response.

Now is not the time to play it safe. Now is the time for our leaders to dare greatly. It is the time for them to lead us all.


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