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Where Vision Meets Action – The Ampersand March 2021

March 1, 2021

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Well, it’s March. Again. Yay. Our ‘one year ago this day’ photo memories are about to start looking really familiar. “Oh, ya, I remember that! That’s me. Sitting at my kitchen table. In my sweats. In my house.” And yet, memories notwithstanding, so so much has changed. COVID has been the CTRL-ALT-DEL of our time; a complete reboot of how we think, behave and interact.  And also, how we lead.


Everything we thought we knew about leadership requires a fresh look. Everything we thought we knew about everything, for that matter.


The team you brought into this pandemic may not be the team that gets you out of it. Structure, predictability and hierarchy have given way to agility, uncertainty and empathy.


The style you brought into this pandemic may not be the style that gets you of it. Top down, command and control bed checks and drive-by’s have given way to bottom up innovation, individual accountability, and inclusion.


The ideas you brought into this pandemic, or developed during it, may not be the ideas that get you through to the other side.


I read recently in the New York Times that ‘Pandemic Puppies’ have become a serious concern. “People who got puppies during the pandemic are struggling. Limited interaction with other dogs has made it hard to socialize puppies. And some dogs have become so attached to their owners that they show distress and anxiety when left alone. Dog trainers are in demand thanks to a boom in adoptions from shelters and sales from breeders, spurred last spring by widespread work-from-home policies and profound social isolation.”


Short term fixes borne of necessity and designed to bring immediate gratification must be weighed against longer term implications. What makes sense today, may cause problems tomorrow. We need X-ray vision to see around the next corner.


We are Doc Brown and Marty McFly building the DeLorean.  We’re standing at the precipice, about to spend thousands of dollars hard-wiring our entertainment room only to see everything go wireless; we’re at a trade show about to plunk down huge sums on the latest video conferencing equipment for our corporate boardrooms, only to see Zoom Unlimited emerge for $20/month.


We are Peter Chiarelli, then General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers, about to sign a stone-handed lumbering Milan Lucic to a seven year $42 million dollar contract just before the NHL goes small, skilled and speedy. We’re on the phone with our broker selling our under-performing Amazon stock and redeploying the proceeds into a can’t-miss Blockbuster Video franchise. We are there now. Staring into the future as it unfolds, both slowly and quickly, before us.


So what are you going to do about it?  Buy or sell? Lead or follow? Innovate or Depreciate? I’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it and how, just maybe, we can help you answer the questions.


Last year, soon after the pandemic hit and our new reality set it, we commissioned a consultant, Dr. Jill Birch, to explore its implications on leadership. Since then, Jill has talked to countless leaders across Alberta – and Canada – asking them how the pandemic, our changing economy and equity, diversity and inclusion will change the future of leadership.


Leaders were clear on two points. First, they told us the heart of Alberta leadership rests in entrepreneurial leadership. They believe, and we agree with them, that it’s our resilience, inventiveness and pragmaticism that got us here. As one leader said, “Balancing the tension between evidence and action-taking will be the key to future success.”


Second, leaders imparted advice that has stayed with us: “Don’t leave behind entrepreneurialism but enhance it.” We were urged to identify new capabilities to help leaders see through the eyes of others, understand change, connect the dots, become better collaborators and most importantly, support them to develop and engage future leaders. Leaders said, “Help us shape the attributes that will help us get there.”

As a result of this research, and an immediate connection with Jill, both in style and substance, we decided to go a step further and form an alliance with Jill and her firm, BirchGrove Leadership Inc., a national leadership consultancy whose philosophy of leadership reflects our own.


Together, our vision is to help organizations achieve their goals by developing entrepreneurial leadership that is innovative, change driven and committed to equity. Our mission is to deliver services that propel mission-critical learning, drive performance and align with strategy. Together, we’re introducing a suite of leadership advisory services that holistically address our clients’ human capital needs.


And we’ll do so in our uniquely Pekarsky & Co. way. We’ll partner with you; we won’t preach at you. We will be responsive and service oriented and candid. Our Retreat Facilitation will bring out the very best in the room; Our certified roster of Executive Coaches will be tailored to suit your particular needs; Our Unconscious Bias and EDI training will be leading edge and come from an Alberta perspective.


We’re not trying to out McKinsey McKinsey. Rather, we are bringing our unique brand and voice and ethic to an underserved market. Our Total Assessment Experiences and our Mission Critical 100 will ensure we don’t just transact on our searches and be gone but ensure all are set up for long-term success. We’ve done the research and we know these are essential components of a successful search, not simply accessories, the proverbial fuzzy dice and neon underglow of a search process.


You can read Jill’s full bio here. In short, BirchGrove has pioneered a framework in relational leadership embedding the entrepreneurial spirit with renewed energy and commitment. These are the virtues and values that form the foundation of the Pekarsky & Co. zeitgeist.


Our team, under Jill’s tutelage and leadership, will formalize what we have informally been doing for years – serving as trusted advisors to our clients and community; as Leader Whisperers to organizations large and small; as caring, thoughtful and practical deliverers of excellence.


Our eight new leadership advisory services deliver custom leadership development to your organization where Alberta leaders told us they need it the most: fostering deeper self-awareness, driving growth during disruptive times and harnessing diversity to become more innovative.



While broadening offerings to our client community, these services pave the way in ensuring we are on top of the latest trends and issues affecting the many sectors and industries we serve. The more we have the opportunity to support your leadership needs, the better able we will be to provide counsel in the critical areas of succession planning, talent development and growing mutual team accountability.


We recently sat down with Jill to chat about leadership and how Pekarsky & Co. can leverage our existing 12-year track record as trusted advisors in the executive search space into this leadership sector.


Jill, welcome to the team. What is it about COVID-19, Alberta, Leadership and Pekarsky & Co. that led you to join forces with our team?


Thanks Adam, I’m thrilled to be joining P&Co. at this critical moment in leadership.  For the past 18 months or so, I’ve been focused on the ways that COVID, the rise of social justice movements and environmental concerns will impact our leaders. As I interviewed your clients, it became clear that these three forces are already transforming Alberta, shifting the leadership landscape. As I became more deeply entrenched in this project, my commitment grew to serving Albertans in their quest to reset, rethink and redesign leadership. In looking at the Pekarsky & Co. team, your reputation and the amazing goodwill you’ve developed, I saw an opportunity for us to truly make a difference in bringing a new lens to leaders and their organizations as they contemplated their plans to emerge successfully from the pandemic.


Pekarsky & Co. wouldn’t be the first executive search firm to pivot into leadership development; we might actually be the last! Why do you think this can work?


Adam, I think between your energy and commitment to leadership and my experience and background we will become a new dynamic duo: one that’s based on substance and not flash. When I was interviewing Alberta leaders, they told me they wanted to work with a true partner, not an organization politely forcing “formulaic prescriptions.”  I’ve been that partner, co-creating customized programs that drive results.


Your clients also shared they wanted to work with someone who has “been there.” I know their pressures: I’ve been a CEO and member of several C-Suites in the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors. And I also bring a passion to design and facilitation from my work at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions, where I helped strengthen ties between their Executive Search and Leadership practices.


Organizations are also looking for diverse sector experience and this is another area I bring to your clients. While I was with the Schulich School of Business, I worked collaboratively with companies from American Express and the Commonwealth of Nations to Bell Canada to Atomic Energy of Canada and the government of Singapore. There’s nothing that energizes me more than fusing a company’s strategy to the growth of their leaders. Pekarsky & Co.’s unique contributions to sourcing talent coupled with the goodwill you bring will allow us to deliver a superb leadership development offering.


What is it about spring 2021 that makes this leadership piece more relevant than spring 2020?


Spring of 2020 will go down as one of the pandemic’s most challenging periods and leadership’s biggest opportunities. That April, I participated in a forum to get a grip on how the world’s natural eco-systems could help our broken spirits and organizations. There were 90 of us, facilitated by an expert in eco- system thinking, Kathleen Allen, who used examples of how honey bees, forests and ancient tree bridges could teach us a thing or two about how we might overcome adversity and foster change.


As the session came to an end, Kathleen made a comment that has stayed with me ever since. She talked about the gift of the moment when we recognize a new paradigm is about to replace an old one. You’ll know it, she said, when you observe an unrelenting ferocity to hold on to old ways. As spring melted in summer, we saw this up close: deep divisions sprang up, politically, generationally and environmentally. Imagine people taking the risk and ignoring social distancing to protest during a pandemic! As I watched events unfold, I became convinced that we were witnessing one paradigm giving away to another. Adam, our struggles to shift the paradigm will go on for some time but what intrigued me was how the core of my research in relational leadership so resonated with the kind of behaviour we need to see not just today, but in the years to come.


Remembering that moment, helped me reflect more deeply about not just what’s happening around the world, but specifically what I had learned as I worked on this assignment for Pekarsky & Co. Let’s face it, it’s hard to let go. People become nostalgic as they reminisce about booms and busts, about hell and high water, about Eddie the Eagle. These were moments when incredible adversity was overcome. These were also moments of brave exploration, times where inspiration arrived just when it was most needed. And that’s the spirit we want to recapture as we work with Albertan leaders.


For the past fifty years Albertan leaders have risen to heights that likely even surprised them. They’ve overcome adversity, been resilient and have battled through very tough times. You’d think that if leaders just applied more grit, more determination  that it would be enough. It sounds like you think something’s missing.


Based on what your clients shared with me, this time it’s different. You know as they were talking to me about surviving a bust to get to the next boom, they talked about the importance of teaching and learning together to better  adapt, innovate, become more agile and, in many cases, how to just plain survive. It’s funny, I hadn’t heard anyone use the term “learning organization” for a while, but as I spoke to leaders, many said that for any meaningful paradigm shift to occur in Alberta we need to change how we lead and how we develop leaders. Old ways of leading will not bring about new ways to make a living.


Can you elaborate on that?


Sure. Over the next generation, a significant paradigm shift will be realized. It feels like we’re at the beginning of it. Like all change efforts, some people will work incredibly hard to create change, others will wait it out. And as we’ve seen, some leaders will cling more tightly than ever to the power, position and authority they have worked so hard to amass. After all, they haven’t been adversely affected. For them, resisting change is easier: they’ve become comfortable, maybe even complacent, with existing structures and systems.  But for people at forefront of movements it will demand a whole new kind of resilience and grit. Standing up to make change will be some of the hardest work we’ll be asking our leadership to do. It will mean creating the New West.


Don’t you mean the new New West? Doesn’t seem that long ago that Prime Minister Harper was touting the power of the New West and the Alberta Advantage.  Seems odd now to think of it that way, doesn’t it?


Yes, it sure does! I couldn’t believe my luck when I stumbled upon a book that now seems anachronistic as I was conducting the research for Pekarsky & Co. It was Gordon Pitts’ 2008 book Stampede: The Rise of the West and Canada’s New Power Elite. In his book, Pitts chronicled what he saw as Alberta’s impending domination of the Canadian economy. It was in his assessment of Alberta business and its leaders, combined with the voices of Alberta leaders that led me to think about a framework that embodied the entrepreneurial heart of leadership with new ways of leading. I was really drawn to this particular insight of his:


“To understand how the West will evolve, you could do no worse that study its business leaders, who are like no other in Canada – straight forward, no nonsense, pragmatic, just like the hard- nosed grinders they admire in hockey. Edmonton’s greatest hockey player may have been smooth, cerebral Wayne Gretzky, but it was sharp elbowed, dangerous Mark Messier who best reflected the blue-collar business ethos.


These images matter because leadership styles matter. A region’s business leaders set the tone for the entire community…the West has always been about business, first and foremost and business leadership is even more important now…The western business class is growing up. Unlike its counterparts in the East, it is still largely first- or second – generation money, not the inherited wealth of several generations…Because they are new to business and have built their own companies, they tend to be more entrepreneurial than their Eastern counterparts – even those who are hired-hand professional managers rather than owners.”


It was through this insight, combined with the research and dozens of interviews I conducted with some of Pekarsky & Co.’s – and Alberta’s – most respected leaders, that a hypothesis emerged to better understand how Pekarsky & Co. might serve the leadership needs of Alberta.


And, are you going to tell us??


You bet. My hunch is Alberta leaders are eager and ready to tap into a new kind of energy: entrepreneurial energy, that is. They recognize they are at the proverbial fork in the road. Look in one direction and there’s a “safe” path  – maintaining the status quo – but you and I know this is no longer safe. Ah, but look toward the second path, the one that contains the rough outlines of a future largely unknown, and that’s where I saw the glimmer in their eyes. Albertan leaders are ready to take on the immense, but exciting challenge of  shaping a new  diversified economy.


There’s a question and an issue rolled up in this hunch. The question is: “How are Alberta’s leaders identifying and developing the new entrepreneurial leadership capabilities needed to support them on this path?”  The issue is also in the form of a question: “How will Alberta leaders come together to collaborate to get up the curve faster and farther in anticipation of seizing advantage as the pandemic ends?”


The answer, I hope, is that they turn to us for any and all means of support, comradery, and community building.  For all of us, now is the time to ensure Alberta leadership is stronger and more supported than ever.


It will take all of the existing entrepreneurial capabilities and a whole new mindset to reimagine the New West. Pekarsky & Co. is committed to accompany our clients on this journey towards a new path with a “Made In Alberta” response, one that the McKinseys or BCGs or Deloittes of this world simply can’t offer. One that  must be both entrepreneurial and embracing of the new, New West.


We need to embrace the fact that the world has changed. We need to stop trying to get back on track. What we need to do is forge a brand-new track.”


-Todd Hirsch, ATB, Chief Economist