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Geoffrey Rowan is a partner and managing director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada.
Geoffrey Rowan is a partner and managing director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada.

Leadership Lab

A leadership test for Rob Ford: Would he pass or fail? Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Anyone who has spent any time this month outside of a drunken stupor knows about Toronto’s leadership crisis. The story has bounced between the bombastic, aggressive style of the Ford brothers and a relentless demand for accountability pursued by just about everyone else. But does Mayor Rob Ford have any leadership credibility?

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To determine that, here’s his performance, mapped against the seven essential leadership attributes identified by the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor, a 12-country – including Canada – survey of perceptions held about leaders and the behaviours we expect from them.

For the purposes of this report card, we’ll make this a simple pass-fail exercise for Mr. Ford.

1. The good leader formula:

Responses from all 12 countries make it clear the most important requirements of a good leader are: Open communication, decisive action and personal presence.

Mr. Ford scores a pass on two out of three. He takes decisive action, and he has taken his story to the people wherever he feels he can control the forum. He fails on open communication, as he continues to be evasive, answering questions with a scripted message that is usually not relevant to the question. “I’m working out every day … I can’t change the past … I’m the best mayor this city has ever had …” But two out of three gets him a qualified pass on this one. PASS

2. Don’t spin me – talk to me:

People crave leaders who are honest about future challenges, clear in how to deal with them, collaborative in finding answers and practical.

Collaborating to find solutions is not Mr. Ford’s style. And in the past he has been far from practical. His actions to fix problems in his personal life may turn out to be practical if they succeed. Threatening war on city council colleagues, as he did earlier this week, is not practical. Nor does it demonstrate he is being honest about the challenges facing his leadership in the future. FAIL

3. Be honest, sell me good stuff and treat me right:

Trust is still the top leadership attribute, but the importance of caring for, and serving, customers with the right products has risen sharply.

Mr. Ford has been unwilling to tell the truth about even those matters that can easily be verified. He has been caught in countless lies and either denies the truth, evades, or apologizes when cornered. Yet he claims with some passion to care deeply about his customers (Toronto residents) and wants to provide them with the products (services) he believes they want. In this case, trust is the dominant factor and his credibility is impaired. FAIL

4. Trust your team and people trust you:

When it comes to trust, people trust the team more than the leader. That means trusting and having the trust of your team is essential. Mr. Ford gets a clear fail on inspiring trust by giving trust. One need to only review the turnover in his office. FAIL

5. Death to the say-do gap:

Having little or no gap between words and deeds matters a lot.

Mr. Ford says he’s an anti-elitist, man of the people. Yet he has often behaved like he was beyond the normal rules and laws of society. He advocated a tough-on-drugs, don't-hug-the-thugs position, while doing drugs and hugging thugs. Early in his term, he did exactly what he said he would do, privatizing some garbage collection and getting the motor vehicle tax repealed. He has slowed tax growth, and won approval for a subway. While he is not without significant say-do gaps, as a political operative he has largely done – or tried to do – what he said he would do. PASS

6. Tomorrow’s leader is today’s – but faster, higher, stronger:

The mark of tomorrow’s leader is building and inspiring teams, turning complex problems into opportunities and finding a clear future through the fog of today. Mr. Ford has not built or inspired teams, nor has he turned complex problems into opportunities, and with him at the helm we lack a clear future through today’s fog. FAIL

7. Over to you, hot stuff:

Rising-star Gen-X leaders (aged 35-50), who have patiently waited to take the reins from the baby boomers, are ready for prime time, according to the global survey.

Mr. Ford, who is 44, is squarely in the middle of the Gen-X cohort of leaders we’re ready to turn to instead of the old usual suspects. But he failed to make the most of the opportunity. If he recovers from his many personal mistakes and is somehow able to develop a collaborative-leader persona in place of the aggressive bully persona, he’ll be the old guard by then. He already cashed in once on the desire for a new generation of leader. You don’t get two rides on that train. FAIL

Total Ranking: FAIL

Geoffrey Rowan (@KetchumCanadaPR) is a partner and managing director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada.

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