Leadership under fire may seem very different from corporate life, but the lessons learned are just as applicable, says Major-General Lewis MacKenzie.
These lessons, he said, were learned the hard way during his tenure in the military. They were lessons learned from watching officers do things the right way, and the wrong way, and he includes himself in both groups. He related these points during the Automotive Conference for Executives, organized by the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, and held in Mont-Tremblant, Que.
“I didn’t do all the things I recommend,” says MacKenzie, who became the most public face of the U.N. peacekeeping efforts in the Bosnian Civil War as commander of the Sarajevo forces. He retired in 1993.
Far from being the perfect leader, he says he has had plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. “But I swore if I ever spoke about the subject, I would use practical tips as opposed to theory. The definition of leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do and have them enjoy it.”
MacKenzie says that some of the best lessons on leadership were not learned on the frontlines under combat, but under different circumstances.
An opportunity for a posting in Harlem allowed him to see the loyalty that a good leader commands. And an opportunity at a university provided the opposite. The new head of a military program visited the rank and file in the field at his arrival, and told them he wanted to be in touch with the troops. They never saw him again after that.
MacKenzie said that he put this lesson to work by ordering his aide to pull him away from his duties regularly so that he was compelled to visit the soldiers in the field. In the corporate world, this can be likened to leadership by walking around (LBWA), a philosophy he subscribes to.
He also says that there is a big difference between being a leader and a manager.
“Leadership is not management. Management is doing the thing right. Leadership is doing the right thing. If you are a good leader, make sure you surround yourself with good managers.”
A good leader also takes care of his people.
“Our job is to keep it from getting to the people who work for you. It is very important to protect those individuals who work for you. The fact is that a lot of people find that uncomfortable.”
MacKenzie says that regular communication is also critical. For him, his involvement in motor racing provided the jumping-off point and a common point of interest.
“Nine times out of 10 they ask about the racing, and within two minutes I am discovering what they think about the organization. The key is discovering what their passion is.”
Among his other pointers are setting difficult but achievable standards–“Nobody bragged about doing anything easy”; making sure that staff had the courage to disagree–“I get halfway through what I am going to say when there are 10 people running off to implement it, and I haven’t thought it all the way through yet”; and prepare subordinates.
“So that when the boss is away, he or she hasn’t been missed, and the organization hasn’t missed a beat,” says MacKenzie. The military used to be very good at that, but successive layers of administrators protecting their turf have eroded this quality. “The most important thing is to share responsibility in case they are killed, missing, or fired.”
From a personal standpoint, a boss should allow himself to be the butt of a joke. Humour is an important part of building camaraderie amongst staff.
He believes, also, that it is important to employ simple, honourable tenets when making tough decisions.
“It’s so simple. When you are faced with an ethical dilemma, merely imagine someone you love looking over your shoulder. You’ll do the right thing.”
And, when you or your staff have made decisions, take responsibility. You are either responsible or not. Relating the tale of soldiers in Somalia who tortured and killed a Somali teenager and the inquiry that followed, he expressed distaste at the way that senior officers reacted under questioning.
“Every one but one of the senior officers said the same thing: ‘I accept responsibility, but . . .’
“There is no frigging ‘but’! You can’t have a ‘but,’ because then you are explaining why you are not responsible. If you are the boss and accept responsibility, it gives you time to find the problem and nip it in the bud.”
Finally, he says, do not make your staff deal with meteoric mood swings. Your good days and bad days should not be their concern.
“Be an actor. It’s really important to avoid being the kind of boss that people come into the outer office and ask whether you’re having one of your good days. Inconsistency is just a cancer to the organization. It is tough to act your way through it.”
MacKenzie accepts the fact that these points won’t always work, but working at them will.
Canadian and American Similarities are Superficial, but Still Important
“It is far more important for Canadians to know about the United States than it is the other way around,” says Michael Adams, president of Environics Research.
Adams said that similarities mask significant differences in our respective cultures.
“There are these superficial ideas of these lifestyles. Financial elites, if you’re in Toronto or New York, you are united by the fact that you worship money. It also may reside in an idealism that we tolerate and celebrate differences, yet we become very sceptical about why differences in the rest of the world cause you to feel superior to others and create war on them.”
In automotive terms, says Adams, there are significant differences in not only the vehicles that Canadians and Americans buy, but how they view them.
“America is more of a car culture; they have more money to buy cars,” he says. Canadians buy more minivans, fewer SUVs, and, he believes, generally see vehicles as more of a utility. Still, consumers north and south of the border view their cars as an important means of self-expression.
“Cars are highly symbolic of your self-image. You project a lot of your self-image in the kind of car you buy. It is a big ticket item, but no product is more indicative of your socio-economic leaning. You project who you are or who you aspire to be by the car you buy.”
The roots for the differences may be in the very cultural differences that run deep in the two respective countries.
“Money is everything in the U.S. Money is suspect in Canada. They probably assume you got a government grant.
“[In the U.S.] it is winner takes all. In Canada it is income distribution.”
These are important distinctions that reach throughout the society, right to the Canadian political realm. “The new Conservative Party is muting its social conservatism that was the hallmark of Stockwell Day’s leadership and that was seen as the hallmark of Preston Manning’s leadership,” says Adams. “I suspect that while they may start from a base of more conservative social values, they will be the Canadian version of that. If anything, they will be more like the Democrats in the U.S than the Republicans.
“You do not govern this country from the right, you govern from the centre. Otherwise you relegate yourself to the periphery.”
Canada-U.S. Relations Can Stand the Strain, says U.S. Ambassador
Canada-U.S. relations run too deep to be destroyed by single areas of conflict, said U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Celucci.
“There will be strains at times, but I don’t think anything will fundamentally hurt this relationship,” Celucci told automotive aftermarket professionals at the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s Aftermarket Conference for Executives.
Celucci, who made headlines following the September 2001 terrorist attacks when he questioned Canada’s friendship with the U.S., said that the relationship and cooperation between Canada and the U.S. has been nothing short of astounding.
“There is a deep reservoir of goodwill toward Canada in the U.S. and, I believe, a deep reservoir of goodwill towards the U.S. in Canada.
“That doesn ‘t mean we always agree. There was a strain when Canada decided not to support the war in Iraq. Some statements were made that were quite harmful at the time. But our ties are too deep and too fundamental,” for those events to cause a permanent rift, he said. “It is in each of our national interests to work together.”
In his presentation, Celucci emphasized that a key area of cooperation is in cross-border issues. The need to ensure that trade can flow seamlessly across the border is critical.
“This is how families support themselves. This is why this relationship is so critical. It is also important to note that 80% of this two-way trade crossed the border by truck. This is a critical piece in keeping that border open to trade and tourism, but closed down to terrorism, smugglers, and drug dealers.”
“We [knew immediately following the September 11 attacks that we] could not allow this border to become an impediment.”
Accordingly, a set of programs and technologies have been put in place to ensure that the flow of goods and people has continued, while the undesirable elements have been largely kept out.
Turning to automotive matters, Celucci said that he was aware that many used vehicles had entered the U.S. from Canada.
He characterized this as a positive situation.
“Some 850,000 used cars have been exported in the last six years. This has boosted aftermarket sales and service jobs in the U.S.,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of safety regulations are standardized,” he said, “but air bags are not mandatory in Canada, daytime running lights are not mandatory in the U.S., so there is still a ways to go.”
Looking further downstream, he took exception to the assertion that the U.S. is not concerned about the environment, or making the transition to alternative fuels such as hydrogen power.
“The U.S. spends $4.5 billion per year on global climate change, more than any other country in the world–more than all of Europe and Japan combined.”
President Bush, he said, is committed to having a hydrogen-powered vehicle that is easy to refuel by 2020.
“The next time you read about the U.S. not being concerned with the environment, remember that we are putting the money into the science to make this right.”
Success Comes One Personal Story at a Time
Ron Buist, inventor of the Tim Hortons Roll Up the Rim to Win campaign, says that the company’s success, and its connection to the Canadian psyche, are based on the local approach.
“I lost a lot of skin off my back when I came in one day with the idea that we should use Freshness Made Us Number One,” said Buist. “[Owner Ron Joyce] said ‘Don’t you ever do that. We don’t want people to think that we want to be some big hooha.’ “
Buist said that he learned the value of the franchisee when he wrote to one in the Maritimes and neglected to put his wife’s name in the letter. “I am still known to this lady as the one who sent the ‘Sorry Roses.'”
Tim Hortons has been able to capitalize on its Canadian image with a series of commercials that tell true stories of people and Tim Hortons.
“Franchisees are as local as possible. These are true stories about real people.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that without that local connection, you wouldn’t learn about these stories.
“These are real Canadians, real customers. We do not make them up. Here is a Canadian company that has built itself on the little guy.”