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.

“Why I am supporting Don Iveson for Mayor. Don is an idea people.”

In this city, it’s common to see uncommon success stories. Frankly, that’s why I love it here. I love big thinkers, risk takers and people who suffer from delusions of optimism, ideals, progress, and prosperity.

In this City, people can challenge the odds of convention, and still build great things. This is true of business, arts, sports & culture and social enterprise.

Bill Comrie was an awe-inspiring 19-years of age when he inherited a struggling family furniture business. With the aptly named idea for a “Midnight Madness” sale, Comrie transformed an industry and created a billion dollar business legacy, here in Edmonton.

Dr. Maurice Lewis Van Vliet A lifelong academic, with no business experience, became the visionary, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Games of 1978. Driving this idea to reality because of his passion for sport and the city. Without doubt, a defining moment in our city’s coming of age as volunteers and major event hosts.

Brian Paisley a small-time theatre director with $50,000 in public funding created the Fringe Festival, the first, and still largest of it’s kind in North America. With dozens of cities copying the model. Edmonton has seen an unbelievable return on that $50,000 investment and it was a small amount of money behind someone with a creative vision and idea.

These people did not necessarily succeed because of their experience. They succeeded with their vision and an idea, and importantly because they could tap the energy of Edmonton itself. Be it Economic or Ideal. Creative or Compassionate.

In today’s Edmonton, more than I have ever seen in my life here, we are filled with potential. Not because of one generation vs. another, but because of a confidence blessed on it from an extraordinary economy, a diversifying economy and global thinking idea people.

But the City is also poised to capitalize on that potential, not from overflowing wells of age or experience, but from the endless energy and visions of an emerging new class of leaders. We know many of these people. New immigrants, university graduates, geeky policy wonks and crazily ambitious entrepreneurs. Most of them are much younger than me.  All of them are IDEA people.

Don Iveson - Idea People

Don Iveson – Idea People

This is why I am supporting Don Iveson for Mayor. Don is an idea people

I have no concerns that his business experience is limited to smaller companies; we are not hiring a business manager, we have a City Manager. Don has proven his ability to work with council and he knows that this is the lead role of a team of governors. Don will build consensus around the best idea, even if it’s not his own.

I have zero interest in play-it-safe politicians and I am ecstatic Don has the guts to chase the bigger challenge of Mayor, even at 34. People have really missed the important narrative here. In my opinion, Don had a guaranteed six-figure career as a councilor and many thought he should have served another term. But Don had the guts to take his shot and knowingly risk job security (with a young family), for the chance at making a bigger difference, based on a bigger vision for the City.

There’s no cloth from which you can simply cut out the perfect community servant. These people can be from all walks of life, ideology and experience. The good ones are action oriented and practical, yet idealistically rooted in public service. The best ones are thoughtful, personable, humble and big visionaries. Idea people.

Don is the best combination of these things, and unwilling to let anyone underestimate the City, it’s people and potential.

I’m quite cool with that; because neither am I*.

* I am proudly the current Chair of Startup Edmonton, Co-Chair of Make Something Edmonton, investor in three Edmonton startups, and Co-Founder / Co-CEO of Yardstick Software, one of Edmonton’s fastest growing knowledge-economy companies.