red line  THE AMPERSAND  red line

Bringing people together in a more personal, authentic way
than an ‘and’ could ever do.

How to Lead Without A Mandate

October 28, 2019

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


I’m quite certain that if we ever ran a search for a CEO and nearly 70% of the Search Committee voted against the successful candidate, as happened in our recent federal election, that candidate wouldn’t get the job.


The parallels between executive search and national elections, admittedly, are not perfect.  In search, after all, it typically takes near unanimity to land on a successful candidate. In Canadian politics it apparently only takes 33.1 % for the victor to triumphantly declare a “clear mandate.” Alas, the Canadian parliamentary system is what it is, and I have neither the inclination nor the expertise to use this space to opine on electoral reform, and first-past-the-post versus preferential voting systems. On matters of political commentary, I will always defer to Rex.


On matters of executive search, however, I possess both the inclination and the expertise to declare that in the very rare instance where a candidate is offered the job and that candidate was not the consensus choice of those doing the choosing (forget about not being the choice of over two-thirds of those doing the choosing), he or she faces a steep uphill climb nearly always ending in failure and a redone search.  And it happens more than you might think, usually where the search committee is large and divided and the political clout of some voices around the table is greater than others.  You know, like Ontario.


The leaders who do make it, the very few who win over the naysayers in the face of a decidedly unclear mandate, almost always only do so because of one singularly critical trait: a terrifically heightened EQ; that notional measure of one’s adequacy in such areas of self-awareness, empathy and dealing sensitively with other people. If our newly re-elected Prime Minister’s first 10 minutes on the job are any indication – spiking the football with a victory speech that didn’t even permit the other party leaders to make their own concessions (including the one who got more votes), as is the Canadian thing to do, while waxing poetic as only a drama teacher can, pretending to be as well-loved as Cristiano Ronaldo– the early returns are most certainly not good.


Clearly, Albertans are annoyed, comprising as we do a good chunk of the nearly 70% of Canadians who didn’t vote for what we got.  As has been noted by none other than Alberta’s Premier, “Albertans cannot understand why they have been called on to contribute $20 billion more annually to the Government of Canada than they receive back in benefits, and yet our ability to develop that wealth is increasingly blocked through cancelled and killed pipelines and policies like Bill C-69.”


Can I get an Amen?


Having said all that, I think we need a little less RuPaul and a little more Taylor Swift: Alberta, you need to calm down.  Before I explain, and lest you think I’ve gone soft, my personal politics — and they are entirely my own — are such that I can barely listen to our current PM on the TV without wanting to chew on tinfoil or throw something.  Respectfully, I happen to think he’s an empty suit, a fraud, a phony, a liar and a hypocrite. But that’s just my personal opinion.


My professional opinion, as one who has spent the better part of the last 20 years evaluating senior level leadership, assessing the credentials of candidates against the requirements of the job and against each other, identifying the skills and attributes required to be successful, and advising discerning hiring authorities on what to look for in a leader, our current “CEO” is woefully ill-equipped to lead.


And just as I was never swayed as I child to eat my vegetables because there were starving kids in Africa, I am equally unmoved by the ‘it could be worse’ line of reasoning as people nod and raise eyebrows in a southerly direction.  I don’t live there; I live here.  And trust me, my Alberta-separatist roots, passed down to me by my beloved grandma Millie (may she rest in peace) lurk just below the surface.  I’ve even gone so far as to consider what the men’s Team Canada Alberta hockey team could look like at the next Winter Olympics.  Carter Hart in goal; Taylor Hall, Brayden Point and William Nylander up front; Mike Green and Josh Morrissey on D.  Not bad. Not bad at all.  (Our short track speed skating team, however, would be dreadful).


Still, for all the rhetoric and anger and alienation, I’d rather have Crosby, Stamkos and McDavid. And I’d rather be part of the solution, not the problem.  It’s only one small part of our job as a search firm to bring the best possible slate of candidates forward and guide our client through the hiring process.  Another part is pointing out the gaps in the candidate’s background and providing the client with the tools to manage those.  Still another part, once our client has made its decision, is to support them by serving as a trusted advisor to coach and navigate and integrate through those first few critical months and years.  We don’t wipe our hands clean and turn our backs on our client, even when we feel they could have made a better choice. We meet them at the bottom of the cliff we warned them they were headed over and we help them pick up the pieces.


In the case of our national ‘choice’ the concerning factor is that he doesn’t appear to acknowledge the gaps, though they are many, nor confront realistically the nearly insurmountable task ahead. But like a good advisor to our client, Albertans need to work with what we have, and use our wisdom and expertise to influence the narrative, not ignite it with threats of separation and #Westexit (‘cuz Brexit’s going oh so smoothly for those in the UK) and other slabs of red meat tossed at the ‘base’ whoever that is.


We export the cleanest most ethically and responsibly produced crude oil on the planet and we can export Alberta know-how, maturity and wisdom, too. We don’t need to pelt Greta Thunberg with eggs but educate her on all the amazing things we’re doing to both keep the planet alive while allowing her generation to continue to use their cell phones, nail polish, toilet seats, shampoo, deodorant, sunglasses, ballpoint pens, and eyeglasses, all of which are made from crude oil.  As, by the way, are life jackets and luggage, which could make her boat ride home a bit precarious.


It’s too easy to take the bait and make petty jokes and point angry fingers. Getting into Twitter spats and throwing our toys is not a good look. Just as we are leaders to our clients, Albertans must be leaders to their country.  We need to be trusted advisors who stick to the facts and not alarmists who make threats and pollute social media with bile.


Which brings me back to Taylor Swift:


“Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out
And I’m just like, “Hey, are you okay?”

And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression
But I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun.”



No, Taylor, stressin’ and obsessin’ ‘bout somebody else is no fun.  And we’re doin’ too much of it lately. Let’s show some leadership and solve the problems from within.


All that said, I note the same Taylor Swift song ends with another lyric that could prove prophetic:


“So, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.”


Until then,