No Time for Tyrants

You’ll find it in figureheads, puppet masters, mediators and dictators. There’s no mistaking it: power. BCBusiness’ round table make it clear, there is no time for tyrants.


You’ll find it in figureheads, puppet masters, mediators and dictators. There’s no mistaking it: power.

Once upon a time, it was easy to pinpoint; spot the loudest, proudest white man in a suit and you’d likely find an organization’s key decision maker. It’s not so simple anymore.

Power has been divided and diluted throughout organizations. Leadership is being nurtured in ­innovative ways and as a result, power has a new face.

A new generation is set to take over as the boomers’ careers crest, and the concept of women leading in the workplace has gone from unthinkable to mandatory.

So who has the power now? How do they wield it? What is expected of them? How can organizations adapt to these changes? BCBusiness gathered a panel of experts to find some answers.

Christy Clark is a former B.C. MLA who has served as deputy premier, minister of education and minister for children and families, and now hosts the Christy Clark Show on CKNW.

Karin Kirkpatrick is the director of the Centre for CEO Leadership at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, a project that provides peer support and education to top executives.

Lisa Ryan is a senior consultant for Mica Interna-tional Inc. specializing in talent management and leadership training. She has developed programs for companies such as Best Buy Canada Ltd., Canaccord Capital Corp., Ballard Power Systems Inc. and the Government of Yukon.

BCBusiness: In politics there are lots of maneuverings where, at the end of the day, somebody’s idea or vision wins out. Christy, what qualities does it take to succeed in that sort of power situation?

Christy Clark: It’s not the things that you do every day that everybody else does that sets you apart. It’s all the behind-the-scene things; it’s the dinners, it’s the friendships, it’s the favours. So all of those relationships you create are critically important. Then it’s the ability to be persuasive, whether that’s making trade-offs with somebody else who has a little bit of power or just being able to make a good argument. But power is only what people perceive you have, and if people think you make a lot of bad judgments, they don’t care about you anymore. If people stop caring about you, you don’t have any power.

BCB: Do Christy’s comments ring true in the business world?

Karin Kirkpatrick: Yes, some of the best leaders I have seen are these people who have developed support systems where they can pick up the phone and they can say, “Hey I’m having this issue,” and they can get some feedback. Having that network and being involved with boards and other things, I think, is critical.

Lisa Ryan: At Mica we do a lot of leadership development, and we are asked more and more, “Can you help our leaders learn influencing skills?” They need to be able to work across the organization, to work with teams, to be able to influence others, and they often don’t have the skills to do that.

CC: I can recommend a few cabinet ministers for it.

BCB: How have the expectations for people who hold power changed in, say, the last 10 years or so?

CC: In politics the standard has gotten far, far higher and harder to meet. And I would say that is a terrible trend because democracy is all about being able to elect amateurs, your neighbours, to do the job. And if we set a standard that is so high that somebody has to have a level of education, credentials, a perfectly clean background, never been divorced, we will not have amateurs getting into politics and all you will have are these highly polished professionals. That is not a trend that we want.

LR: I would say there is a difference in expectations in business and I think the change is a good one. Back in my early days, the leaders had the answers and there wasn’t a lot of engagement or involvement in the workplace. Looking at organizations that are really effective, we now know that it makes sense for leaders to be different. And so the standard is higher in business, and that makes for better workplaces. In the past, we maybe had people who were technically competent, and the only way to promote them was to push them up into management, and they may not have even wanted to go there.

KK: Whereas 20 years ago a traditional CEO would have had very unilateral decision-making and was very control-oriented, now the style has evolved so that it is more collaborative, more relying on external people to help in decisions, and for teams and organizations to help in decisions. I think that has been a big shift. I think that people can be more themselves now, as opposed to: “I look like a leader and therefore I am a leader.” A lack of ego is really important.

CC: In politics it is the exact opposite. Walking around like an egomaniac in the corporate boardroom does not serve you well, but if you don’t have an ego in politics, you are dead. If people are burning you in effigy on your front lawn, you have to have a sense that you are better than they think you are.

BCB: With leadership becoming more collaborative, how are power structures in organizations changing?

KK: There’s a lot of reliance on senior-level managers. You’ve got more people with more specialization in areas – distribution, marketing – there is more reliance on a senior management team to make decisions. It is not as authoritative; it is not as unilateral.


CC: There is nothing more collaborative than government, and I think that’s why government is kind of the example of collaboration gone wrong in lots of cases. On one hand, it is great to come up with solutions that reflect a great deal of input; on the other hand, the solutions are so often working so hard to please so many different people that you don’t end up with a good product at the end of the day, because they are a compromise by their very nature. The bigger that it gets, the more watered down the compromise becomes.


BCB: Could a strong leader cut through a lot of the compromise?

CC: Yes. But you do it at your peril. Look at the strong leaders, such as Gordon Campbell. His critics would say that he was an extremely strong leader in that first term of government, but boy, it comes at a big cost. He came perilously close to actually not being the premier the next time after making all of those difficult decisions. It is almost instant death if you make a mistake with it.

KK: Different industries are going to have different requirements, but ultimately a strong leader does have to say, “I have listened to you all, but we are going to do this and we are going to do it now.” People respect that.

BCB: Is there resistance from the people who have to be trained for this collaboration?

LR: Certainly. To give up the reins a little bit. That is definitely one of the areas that I have coached on many times. Sometimes they resist that; sometimes they are just not clear about what it would look like.

KK: Is it generational as well? I mean, you have got people who have been in more traditional organizations and have a different, more traditional view of what leadership is, and then you have younger people who are coming up in the organization, and they are much more used to working in teams and being collaborative, so their leadership style is going to be different. It’s hard to change those people who are kind of set in their ways in terms of their leadership style.

CC: Some industries are more change-resistant.

KK: Oh, I know. I work at a university.

LR: It’s a great point, and I think that comes back to: if they haven’t experienced it themselves, then they don’t necessarily see that it is necessary. But the younger generations have experienced it, and they do have that expectation. Yes, there are generational issues for sure.

BCB: What are some of the expectations the younger generation has about their own power?

CC: I think there is a generation out there that has a sense of entitlement far greater than its ability to do the job. I meet people under 30 all the time who think they should be running the world. There is this sense of, “Gee, I can do anything,” that parents have instilled in their children, which is completely unjustified in lots of cases. I hear that from employers all the time; they don’t like hiring those people because they are a headache.


KK: But they don’t have any option.


CC: It is a vast, vast over-generalization, but I do hear that complaint from employers and I didn’t hear it 10 years ago. I have one millennial story from a friend of mine who says that he wanted to work hard, but he wanted to have balance in his life and not work too many hours. And I said, “You are 25 years old, you don’t have children, you don’t have a mortgage and you are worried about balance?” When I was 25 years old, I was worried about working my tail off as hard as I could so that I could succeed. And his look was: this is not unusual in my generation. He and all his friends are talking about balance.

KK: Do you think maybe they’re smarter than us?

CC: Well, they do make me worry about the future of our economy.

LR: I think the younger generations have seen what happened to their parents in terms of working long, long hours and the health and family implications of that. So who would be surprised when they come up with a different way? I think it’s a good thing employers are having to consider, “How do we find this work-family balance?” Because this younger generation demands it, and the labour market is looking at keeping women more involved. We have to come at things from a different perspective, and I think those changes are good changes.

KK: Absolutely. The millennials are going to be a generation of free agents. It is going to get to a point where organizations are going to have to take people that they wouldn’t have taken 10 years ago, people that don’t have the skill or the emotional maturity they’re looking for, and they are going to have to figure out how to deal with that. People don’t come into an organization presuming that they are going to be there for 20 years. I think the average tenure for an employee now is three years. There is this real change in our expectation. It is really moving to people being free agents, and you’re buying them as a commodity.

LR: There is also somewhat of a reluctance from the employer to spend a lot on development because, gosh, they are not going to be here. Yet the problem is, in the labour pool as a whole we all see the result of that. At some point, we all have to see our labour pool as more than just the employees of our company.

KK: I think that’s interesting because this is when we have needed training more than ever. We have heard from a lot of the CEOs that we are working with that you have to have a plan in place for recognizing who are the high potentials and who are the prospective leaders. Then you have to start to engage them really, really early in the organization. The more that you invest in training, the longer somebody stays with you. If they don’t see that there is an opportunity to learn anymore, they are much more likely to leave.

BCB: Are organizations having trouble finding the new leaders they need?

LR: I think the issue does come up, as Karin was suggesting, that we don’t have enough people in the pipeline. That is partly a demographics issue; we simply don’t have enough people and we’ve got so many retiring. We may not have necessarily done as much development as we need to do and we have left holes, maybe to save money. Now many organizations are changing, and we are really busy with all kinds of work as they say, “I see the need.”

KK: Many are in panic mode now. I’ll leave them unnamed. It was like the elephant in the room and nobody wanted to admit that 50 or 60 per cent of their workforce was retiring in the next five years. Then there is suddenly this big panic to get people trained up and try to figure out where they are going to find people. A couple of those organizations have done phenomenal jobs in a short period of time. But I think there are a lot of other organizations that are still not really realizing the dramatic impact it is going to have on their whole business.

LR: I think it is changing the deal somewhat between employee and employer. The employee has the power in that situation now simply because, “Gee, I am getting offers every week. If I am not happy here, then I am going to vote with my feet.”

BCB: How do these changes affect women having positions of power?

KK: We looked at the BCBusiness list that had the top public and private companies, and there were three women in 100 CEOs, and I saw almost no ethnic diversity. I was really surprised. That is an issue. It is going to be an issue when you are dealing with millennials.

CC: We always used to say in government that if you want to know who was going to get what cabinet position, the guys are going to get the guns and the money, and the women are going to get the kids and the women and the old people. When you look down a list of the top corporations, you are talking about the money, so the private sector and government are absolutely the same in that way.

LR: The labour situation does make it so that organizations are going to have to figure this out. Women, we know, are more naturally inclined at things like consensual behaviour and collaboration. That doesn’t mean men don’t do it; it just means that we see it more frequently in female leaders. So when we are talking about leaders needing more collaborative skills, women come to that easier, so there is a benefit to that. Now, where we may be challenged is more on the networking side and the influencing and persuading skills. Men seem more likely to be stronger in those skills. I think that there is a recognition that there is a problem here; we need to help women to be able to network and learn those influencing skills.

BCB: So how will all these changes affect our workplaces?

KK: I wish I knew because I would make a lot of money somehow around that. It’s going to be a dramatic difference in the way that we lead people. It is that shift away from making unilateral decisions. We are going to be running collectives and we are really going to have to deal with that. With the millennial generation, if we have the same kinds of leaders in five years or the same attributes in five years as we do now, our organizations are going to implode because they aren’t going to have that respect and understanding of the leaders of the organizations.