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"Remarks to Annual Commerce Banquet : Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba"

Remarks to Annual Commerce Banquet
Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba
November 17, 2005
Written by Rob MacLellan.

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On Leadership

Thank you Leonard. Your Worship, Honourable Minister, ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations to this evening's award winners. Please drop your resumes off at the TD table before you leave tonight.

This is the third time I've been in Winnipeg this year. On my last visit I had the pleasure of helping to launch TD's Inuit sculpture exhibit, ItuKiagatta. I also got to give a big cheque to Mrs. Asper for the new Human Rights Museum this city is building. There sure is a lot happening here.

I'm very honoured to be here tonight at an event that rewards and celebrates leaders and leadership. Manitoba has produced many outstanding Canadian leaders, including the man who made this business school possible, Izzy Asper. I see many current leaders from the community here tonight, and, of course, quite a few of our leaders of tomorrow.

I'm sure many of you have been spending more time than usual thinking about leadership. The recent and many failures of leadership in Canada and elsewhere have been regular items on the news and in conversations.

We can't seem to escape the stories of political leaders being dishonest with their citizens and business leaders betraying their shareholders. While we have many good leaders around us, the bad ones have been getting the attention and putting the question of leadership in the spotlight.

It's not just the headlines that have me worried. In a few years the giant Boomer cohort will be fading into retirement, leaving a massive leadership gap. When they are gone, who will lead? How can we ensure succession so that our organizations continue to grow? What will the leaders of the future look like?

PriceWaterhouse Coopers UK recently asked 1000 business leaders in 25 countries who they'd have on their dream board of directors. Winston Churchill and Napoleon Bonaparte made the top ten. Who would you have thought of? The fact is, these two usually make it onto lists of great leaders. But would they cut it today?

Winston Churchill was a great wartime leader who inspired a nation under attack and eventually led them to victory. But he was a heavy drinker, a maverick, and a loner. He had no succession plan and was defeated in his last election. I'm not sure he'd get the top job in today's team-player environment.

Napoleon? He was bold, courageous, a military genius. But he all but obliterated the French army on a hopeless campaign in Russia. And still he didn't think that was too high a price to pay for a possible victory. He ended up with the right job in the end - the leader of an island with no one else on it.

Now I know I'm not being entirely fair here, for as Mark Twain said, "to arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man's character, one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours." But I think he makes my point. Different times call for different leaders.

So what kind of leader would cut it today? Remember, we're in Canada. In the US they've got the Terminator running California, and people who watch TV think the Donald and others like him are running corporate America. Is that what Canada is looking for? I don't think so.

In Canada we don't like our leaders too flashy. Look what happened when Stockwell Day wore a wet suit in public. Not good. Other countries have military heroes and great presidents on their money. We mostly have birds. And not even the flashy kind.

The next generation of Canadian business leaders is not going to look like the last one. It will be far more diverse in many ways. Canada's population consists of over 200 ethnic cultures. Over a third of our population consists of immigrants or the children of immigrants. Our future leaders, along with their employees and customers, will come from a wide range of backgrounds.

In addition, the next generation of leaders will be more educated, traveled and technologically saavy. It will have learned (I hope) from the mistakes of the previous generation and will not (I hope) want to repeat them. The next generation believes in social responsibility and balance in life and not just making money. And the challenges that generation will face will be different too.

We live in a world of constant change. Business is becoming faster, more global, and more complex. As soon as a trend becomes known as a trend, it's over. In the old days, a leader might have said: We're going through a difficult period but don't worry things will go back to normal soon. In this world and the world of tomorrow, there is no "normal."

A big part of what's driving this is technology which is evolving at such a rapid pace that we need experts just to tell us what the newest best thing is. Technology will only become more important as companies figure out how to leverage it to stay competitive and improve their products and services.

In an ever-evolving post Enron/Worldcom environment, regulation has become more all-encompassing and time consuming. Public scrutiny has never been greater. Governance is not only a priority it has become the priority for many.

To these things you can add the rise of corporate responsibility, ever more complicated labour issues, and a list as long as your arm of geo-political and economic forces that affect the business environment every day.

Now that I've frightened all of you on to a different career path, you're probably wondering what on earth are the secrets of leadership.

In the first place, there are no secrets. So much has been written about leadership -- little of it has any meaning. Walk into any bookstore and you can learn the leadership methods of Attila the Hun, how to apply the ancient art of war to the boardroom and other revelations written by hundreds of "experts."

Or, you can do what we at TD and other organizations have been doing and think long and hard about what leadership means to your organization, and, more importantly, how to really bring it alive in your culture from one end to the other.

I think it's important for organizations to create a leadership model that can actually work. The model has to have principles that can be driven through the entire firm in order to help not just group heads and managers but all employees to think like leaders. If it's too complicated, too idealistic or too bureaucratic, then it just won't get applied.

At TD we thought if we defined what leadership means to us and broke it down into simple principles that everyone could apply, not only would it help us to identify our leaders of tomorrow, but it would have a positive impact on our entire culture.

Our leadership profile isn't fancy but we think it's workable. It has seven basic tenets:

  1. Make an Impact: Get things done, focus on what matters and never settle for average.

    One of Manitoba's favourite sons and a great leader, Izzy Asper made an impact. In a span of seven decades he started a newspaper, had a career as a tax lawyer, wrote columns for a national newspaper, ran the Liberal party of Manitoba, and built the biggest media empire in Canada. He did this while giving millions to support education, the arts, and healthcare in his community. And while we certainly don't expect all of our employees to accomplish quite that much, he's a good example of what hard work and a disdain for mediocrity can do.

  2. Build for the future: Have a vision and take action to implement it. Develop tomorrow's leaders. Make sure you have what you need to grow in the future.

    Sam Walton built for the future. He started out with a little store in Arkansas and then he discovered discounting. Well business took off and Sam needed to grow. He got in his little plane and flew around the countryside looking for clusters of towns. Then from the air, he triangulated the perfect intersection between them, landed the plane, found the owner and bought the land. And another Wal-Mart was born. He was preparing for the future growth of his company.

  3. Inspire the will to win: Be passionate, attract and retain great people, recognize and reward others, bring out the best in individuals.

    Inspire means "to breathe life into." Gwyn Morgan, CEO of Encana breathed life into the company when he formed it through a merger of Alberta Energy and PanCanadian Energy in 2002.

    This month CTV and The National Post named the Alberta native Canada's Outstanding CEO of the Year. Proud of the talented and independent team he's put together, he tells them:

    "Never play defence, always play offence, just keep on building, achieving…I want this company to be here and thriving long after I'm off sailing or riding my bike up the mountain."

  4. Work effectively in teams. Leverage the strengths of the team. Trust your partners. Share a vision and be driven to win.

    Ask geese about teamwork. The reason geese fly in V formation is because that shape reduces air resistance making the journey easier for the geese in the back. The goose in the lead takes the brunt but when he gets tired, he goes to the wing and another goose takes his place. That honking? It's the team encouraging the leader. Working together the team can fly 70% further every day.

    Buffalo on the other hand don't do teamwork very well. If the lead buffalo falls, the others just stand around - easy targets for hunters. And if the leader goes over a cliff, well….Not a lot of buffalo around these days. Lots of geese though.

  5. Live transparency - don't round corners. Admit to problems and fix them. Be authentic and know your strengths and weaknesses.

    Those of you who follow the fortunes of Canadian banks know that there's a big black cloud that hovers over Bay Street and moves from bank to bank. A few years ago that cloud settled over TD for a little while. We had loan losses that led to the first yearly loss in our history. What our leaders did set the course for our future. They owned up to the losses, took responsibility, apologized to shareholders and fixed the problem.

    That sent a huge message. To the market it said: You can always trust us to tell you the truth. And to our employees it said: Taking responsibility for a problem and doing your best to fix it is the right thing to do.

  6. Show excellent judgment - take prudent risks, make timely decisions using intelligence, experience and common sense. Deal with the tough issues.

    Banks are in the risk business. We can't make money without it. But we can manage it at every level. On the investment side, I caution people to avoid the "boiling frog" syndrome. For those who don't know, the theory goes that if you put a frog in boiling water, he'll hop right out. But if you put him in cold water, and bring the water slowly to a boil, the frog will not realize the water has become dangerous and he'll boil to death - killed by complacency.

    In the world of money management, judgment is really important. For example, if the Canadian dollar were to rise from 65 cents to 85 cents overnight, everyone would immediately focus on that issue. But if it happens slowly over a year, it's easy to miss that such an important change has taken place.

  7. Demonstrate unwavering integrity - do the right thing. Be ethical. Treat people with respect. Actions speak louder than words.

    About 18 months ago I had the good fortune to have dinner with Tommy Franks, the great American general. A college drop-out, he joined the U.S. army with no particular plan in mind. Yet, over the years he rose up the ranks to become the head of U.S. Central Command, and later led the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

    When I asked him how a buck Private made it to the rank of general he told me it was because he never thought he'd stay in the army. Even as he rose up the ranks, he figured he'd be around for two or three years max and then move on. Because he wasn't going to be around long, he didn't care what anyone thought. In meetings, while other officers held back, afraid of offending someone and suffering a career setback, Franks was always blunt and truthful and not afraid to share his opinions. That honesty and courage, the marks of a true leader, took him far.

    Making an impact, building for the future, inspiring the will to win, teamwork, transparency, judgment and integrity -- we think these principles will help us achieve our goals as an organization. They will help our current and future leaders keep us competitive in a fast paced, ever-changing world.

    We've just begun the hard work of driving these principles through our entire organization. We talk about leadership every chance we get, reinforce the principles through training, coaching and mentoring programs, and measure our leaders against them. We still have a way to go but we've made a good start.

    These principles will not work for everybody every day. And they may not work for you. In fact I wouldn't advise any organization to just adopt these or anyone else's leadership principles.

    Much of the benefit of creating a leadership profile is in engaging your leaders and employees in the process of thinking about leadership. It's a challenging and stimulating exercise because it forces you to think deeply about what matters to your own organization. Even better, it helps you as a group to imagine what your company can be.

    If you take only one thing away from these remarks I hope it's this: That on an individual level each of you will commit some time to thinking about your own leadership principles. What does your leadership profile look like? What matters to you? How will you lead?

    And maybe, a generation from now, you too will be on that top ten leaders list.


Executive Headshot :  Rob MacLellan
Rob MacLellan
Former Chief Investment Officer
TD Bank Financial Group

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