making the case for intelligence in leadership


sunrise from yesterday morning

I’ve given some thought to what has happened in Canada in the last month, and what is happening in the United States right now, both economically and politically.
Boy, if you could have told me that I would be writing about economics and politics on my blog about 6 years ago, I would have been very, very skeptical. Traditionally I have found the topics to be dull and boring, but not so in the last couple of months. That isn’t to say Canadian politics haven’t been boring – I give Canada’s quintet of leadership through boredom full credit for keeping up their usual bickering and knack for moving nothing forward and ensuring status quo for Canada – maybe it’s better that way. Perhaps we don’t need new laws (*cough* C-61 *cough*) so perhaps the leaders of our country can’t decide what to do because they don’t really know what they should be doing. The Copyright bill (C-61) would be the strongest indication of this – a minister by the name of Jim Prentice put forward a bill to do with photography ownership, mp3s, essentially anything to do with ideas. I have listened to quite a few radio shows on this subject and read a substantial amount through Michael Geist’s website since, and the conclusion that I have come to is that Jim Prentice put forward a bill after consulting with corporate and government groups – record labels, US DMCA, etc – none of them being the public (who he works for), and then put together a bill based on what they wanted. I do not get the impression that he particularly knows what he is talking about, especially after reading Michael Geist‘s hammering of his bill, where Michael made 61 recommendations to improve the bill – one exhaustive one each day for 61 days straight. If Jim Prentice had a read of this, I would think he would feel very humbled. There is nothing embarrassing about consulting the experts. There is so much intelligence in Canada, are we not big enough to employ it?
The less-than startling conclusion here is that Jim Prentice, after all of this, appears to be much less intelligent than Michael Geist. Does that boil it down too much to an uncomfortable level? Is that fair to say? I would say it is, and I would also say that it is how people are making decisions about how they decide who they want to lead their country. In this case, Jim Prentice was appointed to be Minister of Industry, and Michael Geist is not a politician but rather a Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa. So in this circumstance the matter of intelligence does not have a lot of impact on what is about to happen. But south of the border, the case for intelligent leadership is making itself.
From my observations north of the border, John McCain just does not articulate himself in a way that comes across as particularly intelligent. “I know how to do that” is he uses quite often without any suggestion of how exactly it is that he’s going to pull off the things he promises. And I believe it’s the source and the reason why polls are showing that McCain failed to win any of the Presidential debates. Perhaps people want transparency.
All of this at a time when the nation of the United States finds itself it financial turmoil, in a twisted puzzle of money and policy that will require a lot of thought to unravel and correct. People are not wanting an ordinary person to run their country when the problems are beyond the scope of ordinary inspirational leadership. There is a need for critical thinking that questions and rationalizes, instead of just “knowing how” to do stuff as John McCain suggests he does. This is too vague, too random, and frankly it underestimates the intelligence of the voters. I wont even get into his choice for running-mate – I think that is best summed up by John Cleese’s observations. (Thanks to Adam for the link.)

What makes good leadership?

When this question comes up to existing leaders in various fields – not just politics – there is usually some references that look like this:

  • Communicating complex ideas in understandable ways
  • An unthreatening ability to work with people to get things done
  • Being at the right place at the right time
  • The ability to empathize
  • Confidence to take action
  • Knowing when to let someone else lead
  • Seeing the big picture – it’s not just about you
  • Being recognizable as a leader, even when you don’t officially have the title on you – yet

Part luck, part skill, part instinct. One of the things that I have admired about the Clinton camp in this election is their ability to get behind Obama and lead from a position you’d not normally expect people to be able to lead from. That is part of their strength from my point of view, and I get a feeling a lot of others see it that way as well. While the Palin/McCain camp wants more aggression and literally chants “fight, fight, fight” at their rallies, we have something completely different with Obama/Biden – discussions of plans and solutions with tangible handles on them. It’s very different.
I have to admit that this post has been almost two weeks in the making – one of the items I’ve been wrestling with is “what does leadership mean to me?” I don’t have all the answers myself, but I did spend quite a bit of time on that very short list above. Everyone has an idea of what makes a great leader, and I have no doubt you come across one regularly. What is it to you that makes good leadership? What traits do you admire about that person you know that not only directs but also inspires those around them?

Cruise Ship Responsibility

Looking at cruise ships the other day, and talking about them more recently over the dinner table, it got me thinking – where does Corporate Social Responsibility fit in with cruise ship companies? What could they possibly do? It is a business based on luxury, burning fuel, and buffet-style indulgence. People don’t go on cruises to be efficient, or to save the planet. Or can they?

What the cruise ship companies are doing

I don’t actually know, so I am going to take 3 cruiselines and tell you what I find:

It sounds like Norwegian has the best program of the bunch, or at least they are able to explain it better than anyone else, which counts for a lot since then people can call them on whether or not they are doing what they are promising to do. Most people probably couldn’t call you on doing something that wasn’t ISO14001 compliant, but they would be able to tell when you put some cardboard in the garbage instead of the recycling bin.

Social responsibility for the sake of marketing?

In all circumstances, social responsibility appears to mean environmental standards to cruise ship companies. Fair enough, that’s also how they operate their business – cruises through the environment, so it makes business sense, and it’s more marketable than being “good to employees,” so it ties into their bottom line. Nothing that I could see addressed anything to do with customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, or communities though. I have heard all sorts of stories about how cruise ships treat their employees – from very good to really, really poorly. This didn’t come up with any prominence on the corporate social responsibility radar in my searches.
I am not in the market segment that cruise ships would consider going after – I am far too young, and my interest in cruises is not very high due to the time required for one. Still, if I was in the market for going on a cruise, I would want to know which companies treat their people and the world around them the best before giving them money.