Dare to re Discover

Eras are often defined by the visions of leaders: the Carnegie era defined the important connection between industrialist and philanthropist; the Kennedy era defined the culture of US risk-taking by charting a path to the moon; and the Jobs era defined unlimited innovation with the interdependence of technology and humanity.

Whether those leaders are local, global, political, industrial, dictatorial or libertarian, leaders with commanding visions define their eras.

On a local level, we had the Stephen Mandel era, the Cal Nichols era, the Don Lowry era, the Tony Franceschini era, the Dave Mowat era, the Indira Samarasekera era, the Shelia Weatherill era and the Ross Grieve era … all different leaders that left their mark in different ways.

What is important to note is that they all progressed their causes and left their mark. Leaders have to leave a mark … have to move their organizations forward … or they are often forgotten as part of “a lost decade” era … and that is a tragedy of leadership, especially when that leader was brought in specifically to steward a public-facing organization in a defined direction.

The University of Alberta is in need of an era … and it has the opportunity to define its next decade with the selection of a leader that heightens the vision, determination and relevance of this amazing institution. Our university has the opportunity to select a President that has the following:

– Clear vision for campus development focused on enhancing the student experience;
– Understanding of our industrial and societal needs for entrepreneurial graduates;
– Capability to engage alumni, to build pride in the community and to raise capital;
– Clarity of expectations for research & teaching excellence across core faculties; and
– Ability to align all Deans to one vision, one voice, one goal … of being the best.

If we get it right, that leader will not only define the next era for the University of Alberta, but also for the City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta. If we dare .. strive … and take risks … it will be a defining decade for all. The combination of our K-12 System, NAIT, MacEwen, NorQuest and University of Alberta has the ability to position Edmonton as the place with “the Brightest Kids in the World” and the University of Alberta is a critical cornerstone of that reputation.

So let’s Be Bold. Dare to Discover. Be Indisputably Recognized. Be a Leader.

Arrogance + Hypocrisy

When I was growing up, I spent many afternoons drinking Turkish tea with one of my mentors – a great doctor and Muslim leader from our community – who gave me lasting gifts with every conversation. We always discussed politics and religion and leadership … the very stuff we are told never to talk about … until the pot of tea was emptied … and then we would brew another pot and talk some more.

Mostly, I just listened.

“What is the worst combination of sins?” I remember asking.

After great contemplation, a long sip of tea … and then another … the wise elder leaned forward and whispered two words: “Arrogance and Hypocrisy.”

Long sip …

Five years ago, filmmaker and environmentalist James Cameron came to Ft. McMurray to observe the oil sands and made some public comments that came from a place of ignorance and ambition … another ruthless combination. Knowing little about the history, the geology or the science, the Hollywood director flew in on his private jet and aggrandized the unearthly degradation that was fueling the very things that heated his expansive home, built his movie studios and powered his luxurious choices of transportation … arrogance plus hypocrisy at its finest.

Some five years later, the oil sands now attracts withering celebrity icons on their personal “quests for relevance.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Neil Young, Robert Redford, Daryl Hanna (how she is deserving to be on any list?) have all graced us with their presence, their pontifications, and their self-importance … serving out the dangerous cocktail … a double shot of arrogance with a twist of hypocrisy.

But sometimes the world surprises you.

Last week I was in Montreal and had the opportunity to hear James Cameron being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos. I braced myself when the question from the audience inquired about his latest environmental crusade. However, after five years of fact-based research and a boat-load of humility, this is how James Cameron answered the question:

“What I have learned is that 19.5% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and greenhouse effect is caused by animal agriculture, which is more than the entire transportation sectors put together … all cars, trucks, planes, ships … everywhere. So with a simple food choice, we can basically switch off global warming. Now, what are the chances of people suddenly deciding not to eat meat and dairy? Probably pretty slim. But it is possible … as opposed to it is not possible to switch the entire energy and transportation grid to alternatives in one day.” James Cameron then went on with great humility to acknowledge some of his own past hypocrisies in his use of energy products and how his crusade has shifted from one of finger-pointing and condemnation to one of leadership through personal action.

James Cameron sipped some Turkish tea.

Now, I’m sure James Cameron would still like us to reduce our energy footprint. But what I was impressed with is ability to sit quietly and reflect, and to recognize that the supply of energy is not the problem in a world with insatiable human demand. Human demand is the root cause, and that knows no geography.

“What if the billions of dollars spent on environmental activism was spent on education and marketing – the changing of human behavior?” I ask.

Hmmm …. that’s a question that requires another pot of Turkish tea.

Our Fixed-Term Premier

I love urgency. I love the adrenaline of deadlines … of the need to move forward … of the necessity to make change. Maybe that’s why I have a propensity to take on risk and debt. I like a little debt … debt gets you out of bed in the morning … knowing at the end of the day you gotta deliver … or else there are consequences.

I fear complacency. I fear the thought of coming into the office every morning, sitting at my desk, reading the newspaper … growing old and fat in my chair. Maybe that’s why I have a stand-up desk? Maybe there is something inside of me that fears getting lazy and losing the sense of urgency.

That was, and still is, my biggest fear when I decided to step out of the private sector and into the public sector. Would I become a lazy bureaucrat? Would I simply manage the piles on my desk? Or would I keep the adrenaline and the urgency going that is all so important for moving our great city and province forward?

Seriously, that’s what I think about.

And do you know who inspires me today? Who I look upon with a sense of admiration? Premier Dave Hancock.

Why? Because the guy has a sense of urgency and purpose … and I’m lovin’ it.

The guy gets dropped into the role … doesn’t ask for it … just gets dropped into a really crappy situation. And Dave has a choice … he can sit there all comfortable in his big Premier’s chair and ride out his five months … ever to be forgotten. Or he can step in, pull up his socks like a knapsack over his shoulder, and set out to put his own dent in the universe. That that’s exactly what he’s doing … and I think we could all learn something about leadership from him right now.

Dave is genuinely inspired … hell, he’s king for five months … he’s gotta be inspired. And his positive energy is soooooo apparent, sooooo welcomed and sooooo infectious that it is actually moving the stalled ship forward. He’s set out to tackle those piles of negative energy that have been just sitting on the desks in the bureaucracy … stifled by a lack of leadership and urgency … files like the innovation system and access to capital … files that have bounced through a desert of ineptitude at the very time when Alberta should be seizing the opportunities in front of us.

But there was no urgency. And now there is.

Why? Because Premier Dave Hancock will no longer be Premier in September and he wants to get things done WITH URGENCY before he’s booted out. And for that I compliment him sincerely.

His selfless but missionary style of leadership in a time of rudderless drift has accomplished more than what anyone could have imagined. He has shown the importance of energy, accessibility, humility and humanity to the leadership role. He has restored the confidence of many incredulous Albertans. And he has done it with grace.

And for that, I thank him.