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Thought Leadership


"Conference Board of Canada Council for Leadership Insights"

Remarks to Conference Board of Canada Council for Leadership Insights
May 30, 2006
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Thank you for your kind introduction Prem.

Good morning everyone and welcome to the 54th Floor of the TD Bank.

It's a pleasure to be here with you today because focusing on the principles of leadership is important to all of us.

To the Conference Board of Canada- Congratulations on the excellent work you are doing on facilitating these sessions, bringing interdisciplinary groups together to discuss many critical issues.

To all of you, congratulations for showing a lethal combination of competence and potential that compels your organization to make further investment in your development as leader!

I might add that is a pleasure to follow Carol Stevenson (a great Canadian leader in business/academics, friend and former classmate from HBS Advanced Management Program).

I am delighted to be here, because by presenting to you, I am honouring those leaders who gave freely of their time to help me to evolve my own leadership capabilities.

Today's dialogue on leadership perpetuates the virtuous circle of idea exchange that allows Canadians to evolve our collective leadership capability and compete on a world basis.

To set the table, I have been asked to speak about aspects of my own personal journey and to offer you some practical insights on day to day leadership.

As Chairman and CEO of TD Waterhouse, my role is to run the TD Bank's Canadian and International Wealth Management businesses.

I also sit on Ed Clark's Senior Executive Team which "runs" the Bank and I chair the Bank's Diversity Leadership Council.

It has been a long and winding road to get here, because I started out in an untraditional way, as a pro football player in the CFL where I played for the old Ottawa Roughriders/Hamilton Tiger Cats.

While this fulfilled one of my two great professional dreams, at 172 pounds, I was always aware that my next play might be my last so my second professional dream, of going into the financial industry was an absolute necessity.

After about 4 years of football I realized that the only way I was going to get into the Hall of Fame, would be to sneak into the building after midnight and put up my own picture.

So, a new career was launched, and pursuit of my second personal dream began. Over many years I worked in progressively more senior positions at brokerage firms Midland Walwyn, Richardson Greenshields, and then transitioned to banking and wealth management through RBC and finally TD.

To fill out the rest of my personal background, I was born in Bathurst, New Brunswick and grew up in Scarborough, in Toronto's East end.

I did my undergraduate degree at York University and my continuing education at Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program, which is where I met Carol Stevenson.

All of these life experiences played a significant role in influencing my perspective on life, on business and on leadership.

Growing up in Scarborough, I observed that leadership comes in many different forms as I learned about the value of hard work and sacrifice from first generation Canadians who dedicated themselves to building a foundation for their family's future.

From attending York University - I learned how to learn and went from being a disinterested student to being a committed advocate of the concept of lifelong learning.

From sports and professional football - I learned to know myself from the inside out, how to be coached and to accept constructive criticism, how to assess, adjust and improve … and most importantly to follow passion.

From attending the Harvard Business School - I learned to think strategically, that the search for best practices must be borderless in all ways, and that Canadian leaders benchmark well against other world business leaders.

And from 27 years in the financial service industry - I continue to learn how to apply all of the aforementioned things in a way that allows me to find joy in the success of my partners and my firm, and that contributes to the building of a great Canadian institution that emphasizes leadership, within a performance based culture, with ethical business practices, and an inclusive employee culture.

There is no doubt in my mind that you are also in the process of building a portfolio of life experiences that will greatly impact your perspectives on leadership.

So, let me start by saying that as you continue the transition from solid manager to capable leader and senior partner within your firm, there will be no more important task than to quietly assess who you really are, from the inside out…because this will have a significant influence on your leadership style.

To illustrate what I mean about really knowing yourself, let me draw from my days in professional football, my personal laboratory for self assessment. Talk about exploring the range of emotion!

In one brief four year span, I went from being told I was too small to play football, from too obscure a program, to becoming a first round draft choice in my rookie year and becoming a Grey Cup Champion.

I also went from being a critical component of a Grey Cup Championship Team to being in a hospital bed with broken ribs and a collapsed lung - hearing over the radio that I had been traded away.

I remembered lying in the hospital again post knee surgery, coming to grips with the reality that my career was coming to an end - when a young student nurse walked into the room, and 26 years and 4 children later she is still my wife!

The result of these experiences - Greater Insight! Greater Self Knowledge.

Through football, I was able to push to explore my maximum potential, to understand the limits of my endurance, physical and mental, and my response when exhausted, hurt, exhilarated or under pressure.

I learned that I had some leadership bones and that I was also fine with following good leaders in the right circumstances. In a competitive environment, I learned that I was happy if a teammate succeeded and happier if I played a part in that success.

I learned that there was always someone bigger, stronger, faster, smarter. So I had to learn to be resourceful on the field.

Indeed, the major thing I learned was that I didn't have to be the fastest guy on the field. I just had to be faster than the guy chasing me at that moment. To be very serious, I learned that I had to understand what my competitive advantage was.

I learned that I was capable of objectively assessing my performance, and of accepting feedback from coaches and others, then adjusting, and then improving. This has helped me considerably!

More than anything else, "the issue of focus," having it, losing it, was a critical lesson in self knowledge. When I played only football I was a good football player and when I worked full time in the off season things also went well.

But when I tried to do both at the same time, I lost my focus and became less efficient at both roles. I paid a big price and learned a big lesson. I swore never again to take the power of single-minded focus for granted, and in 27 years from a business perspective I have been a singularly focused individual.

All of these things have stayed with me throughout the years and shaped my style as an evolving leader. To summarize, self knowledge from the inside out is critical as you take the next step.

So let me ask you what has been your vehicle for honest self assessment?

- Do you know the outside ranges of your capabilities?
- The limits to your endurance, physically and mentally?
- How you react under stress, fatigue, pressure?
- About your ability to assess your performance, adjust, improve?
- About your fundamental orientation to power or influence as core style?

All are critical because as you move to the next level self knowledge positions you to:

  1. Leverage your strengths/work on your weaknesses.
  2. Understand where your personal competitive advantage lies.
  3. And understand what makes you passionate.

As you transition to the next level, leadership will taken on new meaning, a new dynamism.

Leadership will be:

- Less about tactics, more about strategy (the means by which you choose to compete).
- Less about how much you can do personally, more about your ability to fully deploy capable people.
- Less about how much you know, more about making a commitment to the concept of lifelong learning.
- Simplicity over complexity.
- Transparency over alchemy.
- And focus over just about everything else.
- Less about what's in it for you, more about understanding the needs of your various stakeholders (employees, clients, shareholders, communities).
- Less about command and control, more collaboration and dynamic interaction.
- Less about taking credit, more about absolute accountability.
- It's about taking a client-in perspective vs. an organization out perspective

Good leaders work hard to build a positive, stable environment in which talented people can prosper, maximizing the potential of all employees, not just a chosen few.

Enlightened leaders work hard to build the best aspects of diversity into the fabric of their organizations - acceptance, understanding, accommodation, and inclusion - while making sure that initiatives are practical, measurable, meaningful, and sustainable.

Great leaders have great passion, and they use that passion to see their roles not as a job but as a calling. And in doing so, they make possible the winning of the hearts and minds of their employees.

But for real leaders, even greater than this is the victory achieved when people come together with collective passion, shared vision, shared calling to realize their collective dream, whatever that dream may be.

This is the true essence of leadership.

Good luck on your journey.


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