The Tale of Two Leaders

Today served me a reminder of what leadership should look like. I have an ideal for leaders. It revolves around three key standards I personally wish to be judged on, and frankly for which I hope our Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and our Premier Allison Redford to subscribe to.

Leaders should be: Humble. Authentic. Servant Leaders.

My Don Iveson Leadership Observation:

You can read an interesting post here, by Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, who describes how Don Iveson may have slightly let us down today at his “State of the Union” event.

I agree with Paula in how she “felt” at today’s luncheon, which was attended by a record 2200 business people. Hell, we all stood in ovation before he even spoke… his is a political victory and style which makes us all feel proud and excited for his potential (and ours as a city). A narrative everyone wants to be a part of. But also a narrative he and his whip-smart team of handlers have created for him. It was bound to let us down.

I must admit, I know Don Iveson enough to have not been surprised by his speech today. Don is possibly one of the most articulate, thoughtful and policy wonkish politicians I have had the chance to meet. Paula’s description of him as Clark Kent ,when we perhaps unfairly set him up to be our Superman, is a fantastic analogy of who he is and where he is right now in his new role. It is by no means a reason for him to be criticized; in fact if anything, it should serve as a criticism of ourselves. We want the perfect politician. Populist, great communicator, fiery style and impassioned service person. We want what we ourselves are usually not.

But, Mayor Iveson is also at an important inflection point of his career as our Mayor and hopefully something greater in the future. Don, has been successful in inspiring what Edmonton can be. He swings a big vision. For that exact reason I am hopeful and ready to give him a free pass.

Don works tirelessly to try and be the perfect politician, in a modern context. He communicates openly. He tweets personally to the average citizen; he is accessible and coined (and lives) the phrase, “politics in full sentences”. That said, I think he has created his own problem. He wants to know everything about every issue. He wants to apply his own solution to each of these.

Don has won at everything he has applied himself too. That can create a feeling of invincibility. I don’t think for a second he thinks of himself in this way. Not at all, and possibly quite the opposite. But, perhaps someone who has won on every front thinks the best way to engineer the solutions to problems is by working harder. I think Don works tirelessly this way… but I think he will also have to learn how to let others help him lead. Don may mistakenly think he can do it all… because honestly… to now, he has.

That said, because he is humble, authentic, and a servant leader… I have every faith he will adapt. I think Don will become on of our greatest mayors, and one of our city’s most successful leaders. What he may lack in instinct and charisma, will undoubtedly emerge.

My Alison Redford Leadership Observation:

I have tried to give our Premier the same benefit of the doubt. Like many Albertans, I was intrigued with her resume and her narrative; at the same time when I had given up on the Alberta PC Party. An internationally experienced human rights lawyer, our first women Premier, a young and socially progressive politician, who seemed to also be willing to be a fiscal hawk when needed. I was somewhat smitten. The timing of her narrative peaked around an election where we had a choice between something scary or something seemingly smart and safe.

What a disappointment she has been.

The Premier’s mistakes are more alarming. The reason I find them as such, are based on what Paula Simons was trying to say today about Mayor Iveson (I think), and that is one based on expectations. I think we all wanted her to be a beacon of something, and she has taken a turn for the opposite.

I have given her the benefit of the doubt. Hell, considering what’s at stake, I am tempted to still do.  By winning the PC leadership as the initial third choice, she won the leadership on an arguable technicality. After that, she won the election in the middle of a storm of political uncertainty. The Wildrose party was the favourite, until truths were revealed about cracks in their readiness to lead. Their “lake of fire” candidate and “conscience rights” stance were simply too radical for a Province which has evolved to something more complex.

But, this is all a past reality. What this Premier has done with her opportunity is more worrisome.

The Premier has betrayed this opportunity by thinking her personal narrative was bigger than the responsibility of leadership. She is the antithesis of a humble, authentic servant leader. She can’t seem to connect with those of us who have elected her. She is uncomfortable with the rural Albertan, the back-room style Edmonton establishment and a firebrand Calgary ethos. She is lacking a cohesive vision for the Province, or at least communicating one for us to latch onto. She is also clearly unable to make us see her as one of us.

Each of these things requires a commitment to mix it up with the local community leaders who embody them. The Premier, in her failure, has relied on her initial success and confused it with the real ingredients of leadership. Unlike the Edmonton Mayor, she has stopped trying. Worse, she may not know how.

She has lost the faith of her caucus, some inside her cabinet, and the trust of the public. Our Mayor, in spite of a lack of “Superman” qualities in style, has a complete council behind him and can draw an ovation from 2200 business people. Out of trust in a narrative and because he works his ass off to earn that trust.

They are quite different leaders. They both have had success fall onto their laps in a mix of serendipity and hard work. One of them, the Premier, has run out of free passes.

From here on forward, and in as little as a few days or weeks, the Premier will face a tidal wave of objectors. Even more controversies will emerge. It will seem unfair if you are only a PC loyalist and it will be schadenfreude if you are anything else.

Me personally, I will wonder how two smart, surely caring, public servants can end up on the opposite side of history.  I can only guess it comes down to this. A commitment to the principles of what I think makes a great leader.

Humble. Authentic. Servant Leader.

Could the Alberta PC’s complete a much-needed Extreme Makeover?

Widely Popular Mayors Iveson & Nenshi

Young Progressives – Mayors Don Iveson & Naheed Nenshi

I have been puzzled lately by a widening dissonance in Alberta politics. In our non-partisan municipal elections, we have seen the undeniable trend of electing leaders who inspire our communities to think forward, to be our better selves, and who seem to have a skill for gathering massive followings of cheerleaders and proud evangelists.

Also, it seems, municipal elections last month were an indictment against unhinged rhetoric, as we saw candidate after candidate fall on their own sharp words. This noise, which can be found easily on both ends of the political spectrum, seems to have slayed many a candidate.  Those who chose to act with confidence in their policy and position, doing so with a humble smile on their face and chose positive even playful language, swung a near-perfect weapon against the stodgy establishment or simple angry candidate.

Large margin victories in most mid-sized and large urban centres, went to thoughtful, young, policy heavy candidates who pledged to ”politics in full sentences”. With balanced ideological style; forward-looking, aspirational and inclusive platforms. Modern ideas like open-government, responsible urban development, knowledge economy entrepreneurship, social-enterprise innovation and valuing diversity – seemingly table stakes for most political parties at a provincial level – were the key platform fodder for the next generation of successful municipal politicians.

Beyond this trend, we have also seen an emergence of a new successful personality trait for non-partisan politicians. They are fun, playful and prone to be more honest and human in front of their constituents. We get to know these folks as people like us. They are good citizens of their community, but have also learned something about the 24/7 social media communities they must learn to navigate. Be nice. Be honest. Be real and communicate, don’t just broadcast. Certainly don’t fight for a position if it’s only defensible by an ideology and can’t be reinforced with a good idea.

In Provincial and Federal politics, when we add a layer of partisanship, this model seems to implode. Frankly, it makes sense on one level. A meaningful conversation about ideas, attempt at progress-oriented discussion and eventual good government, suffer from many enemies:

  •     Attacks from ideological foes who will always be there, trying to drag you across to their end of the political spectrum
  •     The seemingly irresistible allure of criticizing any position held by a competing party
  •     A party/caucus/cabinet machine that fights against it’s own parts, to control messaging, consolidate power and manufacture outcomes

 

Traditional “party strategists” seem to want to argue that these things can never change. In fact, the “establishment” strategy suggests perfecting all three of these things, as opposed to transcend them, and victory is a cinch. But, this is shortsighted thinking. As parties focus on attacking others with constant, often mandated feigned outrage, or tie their own hands behind their back with command and control cultures, they are acting in the exact opposite way that the successful non-partisan municipal politicians, have acted, to win with impressive margins.

Probably, more simply stated, we want to elect people who behave like us. Get mad, sure, be passionate, of course… but live by a set of rules first that are respectful and aspirational and you have less chance of trapping yourself in a corner of ideology, ego or pride. It makes sense. In every workplace, home, church group or sports team, we will gravitate to people we like and trust first. They will almost always be hopeful, helpful and humble.

The Alberta Party

The Alberta Party

Many of you know that I was involved in the early days of the Alberta Party and it’s attempt at creating a new model for partisan political success. It succeeded, if only in shilling idealism and acting accordingly. Yet, it can only be considered a failure in electing an MLA. No matter how much it’s candidates exemplified the theories I am making around a new style of politics. I have asked myself why, many, many times…. Why didn’t it succeed?

I blame the Queen. Or perhaps more honestly, the Westminster Style of Parliamentary politics, with it’s plurality voting (first-past-the-post), and an emphasis on PARTY > LEADER > CANDIDATE in most voting situations. Add to that in the last election, a frenzy of last-minute fear around vote-splitting and Alberta possibly electing some radical minded social conservatives… and there you have it. Even I would have voted for my PC MLA if I honestly thought he had been at risk of losing to the Wildrose candidate.

Luckily(?) neither the Alberta Party or Wildrose candidate in my constituency was within striking distance of our popular MLA. So I could vote for the Alberta Party candidate with a clear conscious.  I am not so sure that same luxury will be given me, or the PC candidates next go around.

But, and there is a point to all of this, I think we are in a new and interesting time. The Wildrose have made significant progress in cleaning up their policy position and now shun their loose-end ideologues.  This may be window-dressing in an attempt to gain power, and should be easy to expose as disingenuous; but here is the problem… the PC Party is losing its ability to compete using traditional establishment politics. They are losing financial support; they are losing the war for new members, and influential past supporters are fading away. The establishment party, is losing it’s own establishment.

In Calgary, with its independence ethos, being anti-government can be fashionable and recent fights with the government between the Mayor’s office and the Province have replaced a very short-lived truce over the flood response. In Edmonton, where appeasement is a bit more widely held strategy, mostly because of our proximity to government as an employer and vendor, dissidents have simply gone into hiding. Fights over arena funding, university cuts and political meddling into board governance at AHS and other institutions have many questioning this government for the first time.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

Going into this weekend’s PC AGM and a mandatory review of Premier Alison Redford’s leadership, I would argue that the PC party is at an unprecedented inflection point. From every party insider I have talked with, I have heard of concern for the performance of the Premier and the Party; yet consistently have also heard the rational for supporting her. The party lacks the resources and an heir-apparent to make such a significant change with only two years to rebuild yet again. Up until just recently, I would have vehemently disagreed. In my experience, a fire-fast mentality always made for better outcomes. Now, I am not so sure.

It may be a last-gasp, but the Party with a 42-year monopoly has the single best opportunity to govern for another term over any party. Let’s face it; they have a majority power, and the pulpit from which to sell a vision. But it must be an abrupt change in style, and only that, which will save it. By and large I think the government has made the bigger policy decisions consistent with how most Albertans would like to see. Namely, don’t go into extreme austerity mode to balance a budget when we are at least for now debt-free, and experiencing massive growth and economic prosperity.  Sure, some of the cuts to services have been too harsh, especially in post-secondary funding, but to me this government has lost support as much on style. Or lack of it.

By that I mean, the Government has stopped creating a hopeful vision for Albertans, based on well-defined vision for the future and backed by smart policy. They seem possessed with arguing against the only political pressure it feels, from their right. Somewhere around the period where the Premier’s communication office lost 5 staffers in a month, and responded by promoting an attack-style Ontario transplant to Chief of Communications, things have taken a turn towards a nasty narrative. Not just the communications pro’s, but the Premier and her Deputy, have been particularly negative.

But, style can be fixed. Perhaps, it’s just a matter of an Extreme Makeover. This government might want to take some tips from the political success-stories, popping up all around them. Of course, a makeover usually requires throwing out some old things from the “wardrobe” that simply will never fit a new image. Leaning on the analogy, it’s time for the Premier to throw-out some of the worst offenders of a positive and forward-thinking style. At least, publicly and seriously rebuking the attack-antics politics and gamesmanship, at best learning all new habits and bring up some fresh faces into the mix. To avoid any ambiguity whatsoever about the communications department, let me be even more clear. AFTER you have made a humble commitment to act with a different style, hire yourself any of the amazing and thought-leading professional communicators who understand Albertans. They are out there, but in my experience, this line of business attracts idealists and inspired types, so you had better mean a new change in habit.

Obviously the PC’s more than any party, could impact the Province the most in the next two years, if they made a transformation in style and standing.  No matter their failures, the Party is also filled with people like you and me. People who voted for the inspiring forward-looking municipal candidates of the last election, and some MLA’s who want to embrace a new style of politics, to help Alberta be it’s best self. If they could be reinvented to a better version, we all would benefit. Immediately.

BUT and this is a BIG but; are they willing? On paper, this Premier was a ray of hope for many moderate forward-thinking Albertans. Yet many ill-deployed decisions and thoughtless political hijinks have undermined her success on every front. The list is endless if you value either responsible fiscal decision making or stable social programs. But, I am going to give this government the benefit of the doubt, for a moment, and suggest that based on the theory I have presented to you, they are killing themselves with a bad and outdated political model. Namely, shifting and swinging power at problems, instead of building an image of the future Province we all want, and then compelling us all together to build towards it.

If this government could double-down on ideas before ideologies, humility over hubris, acting real vs. contrived, then it’s possible they would find a tidal wave of new support. There can be no mistaking the fact that the political mindset of Albertans has shifted, as it has done again and again over the evolution of this place.

5 years ago, at the 2008 PC AGM, I saw a party that was broken and lacking vision. I left the party a month later, following many who chose the Reboot Alberta movement. I will return to the AGM this weekend a proud member of the Alberta Party, and a tentative renewed member of the PC Party. I am not going because I have already seen the change this Party needs to persist; I am going because I want to see if it’s even possible.  I am going to see if there is any indication of renewal, any spark of optimism, and any place for idealism. But to do so in good faith, I must also go with an open mind and willingness to help it, if I see it.

To many this might seem like a betrayal of one party over the other. In my perspective it’s the rejection of the very problem that has led us here. Partisanship. I am looking for the best ideas and the fastest way to achieve the best Province.

I’ll let you know what I find.

“…what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?”

Well… you might say… here we go again.

Since the 2012 election, I have been somewhat of a political agnostic. My experience helping build the Alberta Party into a new moderate option for Albertans was an experience I would never give back, yet one that opened my eyes to the difficulties and challenges of partisan politics.

Let’s not go into the story on why it didn’t find greater success, as it would take a book to do it justice; but I can summarize pretty much where I feel the movement Peaked: Just prior to The selection of Alison Redford as PC Party leader. It made sense really. On paper, the Premier was the perfect blend of potential. Our first woman Premier, young, a human rights lawyer with international experience, and yet a reputation for sternness when needed.

But perhaps what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?

After a couple years of an Alison Redford PC Government, it’s possible the conditions are emerging for the Alberta Party to be considered again as an option in the provincial political landscape? What are some of those things?

  1.  The likelihood of a Wildrose government. Danielle Smith is leading the only real organized opposition to the government, and on many issues, is looking more like a Premier than the Premier. They are beating the PC’s at their own game, raising piles of money from a very broad base of support, and they have very much softened their policy positions. The Wildrose will not make the same mistakes the next election, they did the last one.
  2.  The Alberta Liberals seem to be struggling with sustainability. Under the highly polarizing and some might say damaging ego leader Raj Sherman, it seems almost all large donors have left and so too much of the new blood needed to backfill this vacuum.
  3.  The PC Government under Alison Redford has acted erratically on many huge issues, and less than ever, we really don’t know their vision. They have tried to be everything along the political spectrum, and seemingly are beating themselves in the process. Even some bright lights in the party (yes they are there), have been dulled by the overbearing control from a Madame Premier who calls all the shots. These are the last couple years:

 

But… back to my point. The Alberta Party. What to do with this table scrap of the past election?

Firstly, I am happily surprised the experiment from 2009, 2010 and 2011 has somehow persisted. The retail support of the party has virtually disappeared, but as I revisited it over the last month, what I saw surprised me. Several new faces among their support and a fresh commitment to stay the course; build it responsibly, and maintain commitment for a fresh political palate. A new home for moderately minded political Albertans.

** Special shout-out to current Alberta Party President Will Munsey, who seems to personally embody almost every example of the Province. A rural farmer, who also works as a unionized train engineer; an entrepreneur who fits perfectly selling his fresh foods and plants to Urban local-food enthusiasts. Will holds a masters degree and has lived for two-decades abroad. He speaks fluent Japanese and knows a thing or two about the colourful language of hardworking Albertans as well. This man has been instrumental in holding the party up, even if just above the waterline, saving it from possibly drowning.

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

That said, the Alberta Party will not form the next government of Alberta and it would be a twice in a century story for them to form government in even two elections. But when I spent some time talking to each of the candidates currently running for leader of this boutique movement, I found a whole new extreme practicality. The two Calgary based candidates are similar in professional background, as computer and technology service consultants, yet they are also unique in their own approach. Yet again, as they are diverse, they also seem to typify the party in several ways. Fresh, young, new to the scene and VERY gosh-shucks idealistic.

So where am I going with this? Well I am asking myself once again, is it time to give the next chapter of this young book, another look? As I said, can the Alberta Party form the next Government, of course not. The real questions, which I WILL be asking at the only Edmonton leadership forum event, will be around how each of these men will lead the party over the next couple years to continue it’s growth?

How will they make it more sustainable, perhaps more applicable to all Albertans? When will Albertans understand the policy of the party in practical terms? How will that be developed? Finally, how will they afford to keep the lights on, or better said, how will the Party get better at the Business of Politics. Something it has prided itself on shunning… clearly a mistake if it wants to bridge itself to the mainstream.

So… I invite you to join me as I ask those tough questions of each candidate.   On Wednesday September 4th, (The Facebook event link for more information) – Edmonton will have it’s only opportunity to meet the candidates, ask them some tough questions, before you decide if you want to buy a membership, which is required to vote in this race.

A race that by many will be considered irrelevant… unless you love the challenge and risk of building something new… and some of us Albertans certainly do.

Is this the change Alberta wants?

The most recent Wildrose Alliance email newsletter just hit my inbox. (As spam goes, I must admit it entertains me a bit more than the tiring pleas of a multimillionaire from Nigeria.. or the potential of a Mrs. LaBossiere the 2nd from Russia.)

I have always been impressed with their rapid and topical communications on day-to-day events, even if sometimes they do seem to be reaching a bit. But today I was struck with the particularly negative / abrasive tone to their message. I am not a big fan of complete negativity. I love satire, I like tounge-in-cheek, but I really don’t like a baseball bat of meanness on every message. My hunch, which is completely unprofessional, is that Albertans will reject this type of politics. We may be fiercely independent, risk-taking cowboys and cowgirls here in Alberta; but we still subscribe to some good old-fashioned western manners.

Here’s an excerpt from the most recent email to Alliance supporters:

Dear friends,

They did it again.

For years, the PC Party has drifted farther and farther from Albertans’ core values – and they’ve become just as arrogant and scornful of democracy and conservative principles as the federal Liberals ever were.  But this fall, they had one last chance to get back on track. (Underline added by me…. you gotta love the reference to the Federal Liberals. Like that gun still has bullets).

Instead, they chose Alison Redford as their leader.  The PCs were hoping that by picking her, Albertans would be lulled back to sleep and go back to supporting their worn-out, 40-year dynasty.  But boy, were they wrong!  Redford has had one of the shortest political honeymoons I can think of.  Her claim to be an “agent of change” has been exposed as a sham, as she hides from accountability by trying to cancel the fall sitting of the Legislature and refusing to say when the next election will be. (emphasis is theirs).

That’s why today, we launched our first TV ad campaign, spotlighting some of the many ways the Redford government continues to fail Alberta.   It lets people know that now there is a better way, with new leadership and a new government: a Wildrose government.

Beyond the nastiness in the newsletter, we are informed of some new Television Advertising about to hit the airwaves…. now I am really starting to feel like I am in Texas… and the guns are blazing for the Governor’s mansion.

 

And finally… what I love best…. Danielle Smith’s last line in the video “Albertans are tired of politicians who will do anything for power“. If that were true, then I really look forward to hearing more from the fiscal hawk Alliance on why their party is hell bent on buying an airport in the middle of our City, which loses nearly $90M a year in opportunity cost revenue for the City of Edmonton. Since we can be assured that this was not simply doing politics for power, the justification of a nearly Billion $$ policy initiative without member endorsement, must be strong indeed.

I can’t wait to hear all about it. Assuming they can justify buying an airport…. maybe they’ll take our old bridge too?