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Leadership Lessons from Canadian Politics #1 – Leaders must be Available

October 24, 2015

Although by no stretch of the imagination does this writer claim to have political insight. Nonetheless, over the course of the next few weeks, I will try to post a few musings on leadership lessons from the recent Canadian election which resulted in the Liberal Party of Canada under Justin Trudeau winning a majority government over Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. The New Democratic Party, under Tom Mulcair, went from a strong “opposition party” (#2) to a weak third spot.

Leadership Lesson #1 – A Leader must be Visible & Accessible

Although social media creates new opportunities to get a political party’s message out to people, Stephen Harper and the Conservative party alienated the television & newspaper press in the last seven years so drastically their trouncing should be no surprise. While the news media often carry a “liberal bias,” it seemed over-the-top in this election. Yet Harper himself should carry some responsibility for this as he essentially shut down the press gallery in late 2008. By contrast, Justin Trudeau was in the national press theatre the day after his victory to declare “I will be available to the media regularly.” (see this article) No wonder the press covered every day of the agonizingly long 78 day campaign – they finally had “access” to the nation’s leader again.

A leader must be visible regularly to the people s/he leads. Whether of a nation, a state/province, a business, or a non-profit organization, the person in charge must be available and accessible to the people s/he leads as well as to related constituents who may be impacted by the decisions they make. Stephen Harper is/was by many accounts a good politician and when analysts look back at his tenure in Canada, there will much to commend. Canada was consistently regarded as the “best place in the world to live” by a variety of global standards. Yet his failure to be consistently “in front” of the people he was leading as Prime MInister is really unexplainable. Yes, he may have thought it to be “humble” (falsely), but it demonstrated poor leadership.

At some point, regardless of their real or perceived bias, a leader, especially in politics, must develop a relationship with the media of at least tolerance. They may not be your friends, but you cannot alienate a major source of communication with the people you lead. If the issue was the frustration with the press gallery, PM Harper could have done an annual address to the nation, or only a monthly press conference without questions. Yet to be unavailable to the national media for seven years as leader of a nation is…not leadership.


From → Leadership

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