TORONTO -- Most leaders understand the importance of focusing on people and inspiring them. Retired Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Rick Hillier believes great leaders need to take those two steps one step further: “Focus on people, inspire them, and draw inspiration from them.”
Gen. Hillier, who keynoted the seventh annual AFP Canadian Forum last week, told attendees he believes it is imperative for leaders to inspire their people—so that later leaders can actually draw inspiration back from them when they need it. “I’ve found that’s a cycle that’s worked for me for decades,” he said. “It’s worked for everybody I’ve seen that was successful.”
Anyone—whether they are commanding officers or corporate treasurers—can apply Gen. Hillier’s personal mantra to their duty: “The time to do what’s right is always.”
Gen. Hillier completed three decades of service to Canada before retiring in 2008. “He has remobilized support of Canadian troops, worked closely with prime ministers, increased Canada’s significance within NATO, and solidified Canada’s reputation on the world stage,” said AFP Canadian Forum Task Force Chairman John Garofano, CA, CTP (CD), treasurer for HomEquity Bank, who introduced Hillier. “In terms of leadership, in terms of diplomacy, in terms of strategy, he has few peers.”
Gen. Hillier noted that, in an increasingly negative climate, today’s leaders should expect their employees to think the worst of them. In today’s climate, he said, people tend to view anyone in a leadership role as arrogant. The onus, then, is on those leaders to change that perception.
Employees also perceive today’s leaders as indecisive. One way to change that mindset is to avoid committees, Hillier stressed. “Committees are shared responsibility. Shared responsibility in my view is no responsibility,” he said. “If you are big on committees and that becomes the example of how you’re trying to shape a company, then you are going to positively enhance the negative view of you as a leader.”
Another way leaders can enhance their employees’ view of this is obvious, but often overlooked: get to know the people you want to follow you. Hillier recounted how, when he first took over as Chief of the Defense Staff, he held regular meetings with about 75,000 men and women in uniform. “I spoke to those soldiers and 98 percent of what I said, they already knew,” he said. “What they were waiting to see, though, was how I was going to say it. Every time I got a chance to speak to a group of men and women like that, I looked upon it as a job interview for myself. If I had credibility with them when I finished the opportunity to communicate with them, I was going to be okay as a leader.”
Furthermore, Hillier emphasized that the most effective leaders are the ones who spend the majority of their time looking after 95 percent of the organization—the hard workers who are responsible for the organization’s success. “As leaders, you’ve all found yourselves at one time or another, spending 95 percent of your time looking after the 5 percent of people who drag your organization down,” he said. “When you do that, you have to realize that you’ve just abandoned 95 percent of the people who are carrying you.”
Gen. Hillier added: “Define your vision. Include the people that are going to follow you in the definition of that vision. Aristotle said that the greatest form of respect you can pay people is inclusion. Make them part of defining that vision, and then from that, you can define priorities and a strategy to help you move forward.”
Hillier believes that learning defines professionalism. The most successful leaders and organizations are the ones that are constantly educating themselves, not the ones that simply observe and dismiss things. “Being professional means being a learning organization,” he said.