In negotiations, especially on issues that have not been tried before, there is inevitably lots to discuss. It is, as they say, uncharted waters. Anytime you are in such waters, ambiguity enters into the equation. With change and uncertainty comes risk. The two go hand in hand and how you handle them determines the degree to which you achieve success. In your career, you need to understand, and more importantly, recognize that you will encounter circumstances of uncertainty and that how you handle them matters.
I have been fortunate to have had many successes as well as failures. I have probably learned more from the latter than the former but I have learned from them all. They are not just recent; they have occurred over the course of my life, especially in my younger years, when the impressions are most formidable and lasting.
At the outset and throughout your career, you need to realize that you do not have a monopoly on good ideas. Others you work with have their own perspectives, based on their experiences and education. You should be listening to them in order to render the most effective decision and course of action. Who is smart? All of us. Everyone is smart at something They look at things differently than you do. It is that simple and is a universal truth.
Bob Peterson was the campaign chair of Queen’s University’s last fundraising campaign: the Campaign for Queen’s. We managed to raise almost $300 million. He is a chemical engineer by training and by virtue of his Queen’s education and he spent his entire career with Imperial Oil, latterly as its chair and CEO. He is short, to the point, tough and no bs. He taught me a great deal.
In your car, reverse is just as meaningful a gear as is forward even though you use one much more than the other. Going in one direction – forward – is as critical as the other – reverse. The same is true on your career. Not only should you look ahead at what you are going to do but you also need to look behind and see what you did. In looking back, one tends to celebrate successes and indeed, that is important. It is just as important to look back and learn from your failures. This is much more difficult.
The importance of choosing the right people is frequently overlooked. There is a tendency to focus on the problem to be solved rather than the solution or on how to go about finding the solution. Skills are just as important as values but if I had to make a choice between the two, I would choose values every time. You can accomplish many things without certain skills, which you can acquire, but you will not maximize the potential of your organization without consensus on shared values. Never.
I learned this lesson from my friend Tom O’Neill. He is the real deal, a good friend and he taught me this homily and I have never forgotten. It applies 100% of the time¾guaranteed¾and it is a valuable one. Tom is a chartered accountant by profession but does anything but act like it. He spent the majority of his professional career with PricewaterhouseCoopers where he was the auditor for many of the country’s finest companies and is now finishing his career with a series of blue chip board appointments, including a national bank and a telecommunications giant, both of which he chairs. Tom always believes in giving back and, as a ’67 graduate of Queen’s like me, he has a special place in his heart for his alma mater. Like the Eagles sing about Hotel California, he likes to cite about the university that you can check out but you can never leave.
This is one of my favourite homilies. For me, I have found that it applies 100% of the time and it explains much of what I have done – unintentionally and intentionally. When I began to write this homily and my thoughts started to crystallize, I was drawn to a letter I received in 2006, now framed and hung in a prominent position in my office. The letter was from Quentin N. Burdick, senior senator from North Dakota. I was leaving Saskatchewan for new pursuits and Burdick was kind enough to write a thank you letter to me. In his letter, Burdick, among other things, said:
“I have found that one of the biggest frustrations of working in the public sector is that often times doing nothing is the easiest thing for a bureaucracy to do. You are someone who takes action and that is why I expect that you will have many more successes in your career.”
My experience has been that your time and place within an organization is a temporary one and that the planning for your successor needs to begin very soon after you have accepted the position you occupying. The organization is an organic entity, people come and people go, including you, and you need to develop a leadership pool to ensure its viability and more than that, its prosperity and success. That is where the word successor comes from – success. It is not an accident and one comes from the other.
It is important throughout your career, but particularly at the outset, for you to understand that you will be judged on how well you do your job. We all are judged and being judged is a good thing. Knowing how you will be judged is essential. Results increase and performance improves. It is that simple. You need to think about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and being judged by your peers every day. You need to understand this and expect it – your performance depends on it.
Every organization takes its leadership from the person at the top. This is always the case and if for some reason it isn’t then something is seriously wrong. One of my favourite expressions is, “The Speed of the Boss is the Speed of the Team”. This is one of the most important leads I have taken and been given in the organizations of which I have been a part. The best leaders are the ones who are able to set the speed for the team. It is not necessarily one that it had in the past; almost certainly not. Changing the pace allows the organization to reach higher and further and allows the CEO to place their imprint. Speed matters not just for the sake of getting something done quickly but more importantly, the aggregated, overall accumulation of what you are able to get done to influence the institution and where it stands.