Transcript: Best Advice Executive Series: Leadership (with General Walter Natynczyk)
The advice I would give my leaders, my managers, the executives in situations they cannot change, are the leadership lessons that I've given to many before, and there's four key lessons. The first is, if a mistake has been made, if the situation is difficult, go ugly early. Deal with the issue right away because the longer you linger, the longer you put it off, the worse the situation gets and again it doesn't apply to things that have happened that are really positive but really things that have really turned sour. So deal with them right away, go ugly early.
The second lesson I would give to leaders is that if it's your responsibility, accept responsibility right away. The fact is, that often mistakes occur, and no organization is perfect, but mistakes do occur either through an act of commission which is rare, or omission which is an honest mistake and that's normally the case. So rather than fuss with the silly exercise of finding out who's to blame, accept responsibility and get on with finding the right solutions and move on.
The third lesson I would say is that often there's a lot of misinformation out there and the lesson is correct the record as soon as possible. Put out the right information because if the misinformation is not corrected, it takes on a life of its own and people deem it to be true which is really unhelpful. So correct the record as soon as possible. And once you've done all that, the fourth lesson is, get up there and communicate, but speak as if you're speaking to your internal audience, to those employees who work for you and around you, because they know the truth and they want to hear the truth from their manager. They want to hear the truth from their leader and that will build credibility and you'll be a stronger leader for it. You know for me this is a kind of transformational leader, leadership where leaders actively lead and they teach and they coach and they mentor those around them. Going back to the values again, you've got to be kind of courageous to be that leader who moves forward, is very transparent, lives the truth, speaks the truth. Over time people get it.
I think one of our greatest challenges I found in previous roles, is that when people become very ambitious, they tend to put themselves ahead of the good of their organization. I think ambition's really important but you have to keep ambition in check. You've got to have some level of balance so that you need enough ambition so that you strive to improve things and so on, but not so that it overtakes the good of the organization. And when people have the right kind of balance, then they can see these opportunities where speaking the truth, living the truth, being transparent, accepting responsibility, they can see that's in the good of the organization, it sets the right climate, it adds to a positive work environment, there is mutual respect and appreciation for others. Because you're trying to create an environment in the office and at work so that people are happy to come to work. They want to know that they've been appreciated, that if they've done something that is positive, that they get the credit, but they have great credibility in those that are leading them.
The one point of advice I would give a strategic leader, a senior leader to be successful is to realize that it's not about them. And it's a lesson I learned when I was quite junior and it's something that I really understood the moment I got out of uniform. I was retired for a few months before I got into the public service and I found myself walking three dogs, none of which were mine, when a neighbour stuck her head out of the back door while I was picking up a little gift that the puppies had left, and she shouted out, oh how the mighty have fallen. I thought about that for a few moments and I realized that I hadn't fallen, because I had never put myself up on a pedestal. I realized that my service wasn't about me; it was the good of the organization I belonged to, at the time the Canadian Armed Forces. It was the success of the men and women who served, just as today it's the men and women and the veterans in Veterans Affairs and that the role of a senior leader is to enable the success of all those who work for him or her. That's what it's about. And if you can put your organization ahead of yourself and live the values, then your organization will be strong, you will act as a team but you will achieve what Canada expects of you.
I guess the, the methodology that I would suggest in terms of communication with employees and I feel kind of badly about this because I'm recommending going old school, a lot of transformational communication tends to push social media and those kinds of tools and I think there's a huge role for that, but I think nothing can replace face to face discussion. Nothing can replace a leader who leads by walking around and I believe in leadership by walking around and going to talk to my employees, whether that be in town halls, in our departmental headquarters or across the country and sitting down in town halls sharing my thoughts of where we are, where we I think we need to go, then opening up the floor to as many questions as people have until they exhaust the questions. And then say to them but if you think up more, well I'll be back. I think it's really important to look, you know, people in the eye, face to face, and say this is who I am and this is where we're going, and, and we're going that way because the government of Canada, my minister have given us clear guidance to move down this path but this is where the department is going. And then at the same time, to listen because I'm also of the mind that the best ideas come from the, the most junior levels of an organization.
People who have to deal with, you know, the plusses and the minuses, the difficulty and solve pretty complex problems. You know, as a deputy minister you kind of parachute into a situation and you recognize you cannot be a specialist in all domains. You need to trust the employees with responsibilities that you give them. I'm also of the credo that you delegate authority to the maximum ability of your employees, empower them to make decisions in their own domain and then trust them to do what is right. And so those are the kind of themes that I share with my employees and then back with my senior leadership. I say okay, here is where we're going and I want to hear from the employees if they have issues, recognizing that my senior leaders, the executives who work for me, have got to walk the talk as well.