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 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Principled Leadership

David's talk at Ivey Business School, London
April 5, 2006

Time is extremely short so my comments will touch on only four broad topics: (1) some links between what you just heard from Joanna Gualtieri and your upcoming Crisis Leadership Conference keynote speaker Rudy Giuliani, (2) leadership generally in Canada today and some frequent errors leaders make, (3) three business leaders (Warren Buffett, the late DE Kilgour and Conrad Black) and (4) some thoughts on probably the greatest political leader the world has ever known (Abraham Lincoln).


Canadians generally should be proud to have produced a leader with the tenacity, grace, good humour, intelligence and principles of Ms Gualtieri. As indicated in the case study you have studied on her, as a portfolio manager of Canada’s diplomatic properties with the Dept of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the early 90s, she dared to speak to senior management about the abuse of the public trust in connection with a number of properties she had inspected. Her work convinced her that gross mismanagement had cost Canadians very large amounts of money between 1986 and 1998; she did her utmost to have corrective remedies applied by top management. For this, she was ostracized by her bosses and ultimately sent on leave without pay when she finally went public with her concerns as a whistle blower in mid-1998. 

The Harper government cited her treatment by management and exemplary leadership since ‘98 on the need to protect whistle blowers generally across Canada without using her name in its proposed Accountability Act paper released some weeks ago.

Rudy Guiliani is a highly-respected leader across his own country. A recent newspaper account indicated that about one-quarter of Americans already want him to run for President in 2008. His accomplishments as mayor of New York include:

  • a successful campaign against crime, based on the now widely-accepted premise that to ignore minor crimes only encourages  more serious varieties,
  • cleaning up Times Square, which had been controlled by organized crime to the point that both New Yorkers and visitors were avoiding it, and
  • nationally- and internationally-renowned leadership after the two World Trade towers collapsed from the hideous work by al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11, 2001, which included speaking in a non-partisan way  daily (Many Canadians and others  don’t appreciate just what a devastating impact this attack and the 3000 plus civilian murders involved continues to have on New Yorkers and Americans generally).

Leadership and Errors Leaders Make

A friend of origin in Latin America reminded me the other day that there is only one country in the Americas whose National Day is not also its Independence Day: Canada. There might be some nations in the Caribbean which have the same situation as ourselves, but it is an interesting insight on our national caution historically.

Is Canada also a country which dislikes tall poppies? Unfortunately, I think the reality is probably still yes to some, but I’d invite your views. This is certainly not to say that we don’t value leaders and we have many in every occupational field. I define a leader as someone who does a lot more than the minimum every day and who wants to make a positive difference as often as possible. Elected leaders never forget their daily overriding responsibilities to the electors who put them in office.

What of our educational systems at every level nationally? Some say they are much better at producing good employees than entrepreneurs and employers. If so, should we all not strive to improve things so that we obtain more of both? I salute the Ivey Business School therefore for what you are currently  doing to your courses so as to develop-hopefully-better business leaders.

Here are some of the top ten errors leaders generally make—I’ve certainly made them all-- according to an interesting book by Has Fizel;

Top-down attitude

A top down attitude comes easily to the lazy, although good leaders see themselves at the bottom of an inverted pyramid as servant leaders.

(Related to this, Fizel lists some turn-ons for younger colleagues, including: praise and recognition, time spent with managers, learning new things and fun at work. His turn-offs include: hearing about the past, inflexibility about time, being watched and scrutinized and feeling disrespected.)

Paperwork before peoplework

The higher the leadership role the more important are people. For example, some managers object to interruptions, but Henri Nouwen noted an older professor, who said: “I have always been complaining that my work was continually interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Or another: “People will never care how much you know until they know how much you care,”

Absence of Affirmation

We all need affirmation, praise and compliments. Good leaders understand the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness. They figure out how much affirmation individuals they work with need.

Three Business Leaders

Warren Buffett

Mr Buffett is certainly  the quintessential  business leader across the world today.
Permit me to offer a couple of key reasons for his fame:

  • He is extremely knowledgeable and much of his investor apprenticeship was spent reading annual company reports during many years. When he says something about, for example, expensing stock options for management, he does it on the basis of much study and thought.  Certainly on this issue, his opponents usually look self-serving and foolish.
  •  He’s a straight shooter and has principles. No-one to my knowledge has ever shown him to have acted unethically or dishonestly.

David E. Kilgour

My father was CEO of Great-West Life for 16 years, starting at the age of 41, and was long considered a leader in the life industry.

He was highly-principled. In his presence, for example, you knew you’d better be your best self. If you exaggerated something in a statement, you’d sense his disapproval. If you borrowed $10, you were expected to return it. At home and at the office (I believe) you were expected to do your best at all times. He often said that “there are no shades of honesty.”

Conrad Black

It is not my purpose to prejudge Mr. Black, whose trial in Chicago will end soon enough. Permit me only to ask:  how come the substantial legal actions against him are all taking place in the United States? We all know about the SEC and the role of various state and national agencies on the other side of the border, but where are our own regulatory bodies?


Which way will each of you go when push becomes shove? Or when it is possible to pocket a lot of money by cheating? I hope that the pledge you make when you take the Ivey ring will last a lifetime—and congratulations to the school for having this ceremony.

Abraham Lincoln

First--and all this on the 16th  President is intended to inspire each of you in your own careers-- from the preface of Lincoln by David Donald of Harvard University, published about a decade ago:
Donald tells the reader that his work pays close attention to his subject’s “unquenchable ambition, to his brain-numbing labor in his law practice, to his tempestuous married life, and to his repeated defeats…how often chance or accident played a determining role in shaping his life and emphasizes his enormous capacity for growth, which enabled one of the least experienced and most poorly prepared men ever elected to high office to become the greatest American President.”

The preface goes on: …”This biography highlights a basic trait of his character evident  throughout Lincoln’s life: the essential passivity of his nature…From his earliest days, Lincoln had a sense that his destiny was controlled by some larger force, some Higher Power…From Lincoln’s fatalism derived some of his most lovable traits: his compassion, his tolerance, his willingness to overlook mistakes. That belief did not, of course, lead to lethargy or dissipation…he worked indefatigably for a better world-for himself, for his family and for his nation. But it helped to buffer the many reverses he experienced and enabled him to continue a strenuous life of aspiration.”

Finally, a couple of thoughts from a book that came out only last year: Team of Rivals-The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She judges that Lincoln was able to defeat more privileged and accomplished rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860 because his life experience had forged a character that allowed him to put himself in the place of other persons, to know what they were feeling and to understand their fears, motives and desires. This same character allowed him to bring his rivals into his cabinet and marshall their talents to preserve the Union and win the war.

A quote from the book’s introduction: Lincoln was “plain and complex, shrewd and transparent, tender and iron-willed…His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with decency...--kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty and empathy—can also be impressive political resources.”

 Goodwin quotes the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, on Lincoln in 1909:

“The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last a thousands of years…He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together…and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives.”


So, in conclusion, I hope that you will all become the Gualtieris, Giulianis, Buffetts, Kilgours and Lincolns of your generation.

Thank you.



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